Legacies and the Impact of Trans-Atlantic Enslavement on the Diaspora

By Kambon, Obádélé | The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online), October 2015 | Go to article overview

Legacies and the Impact of Trans-Atlantic Enslavement on the Diaspora


Kambon, Obádélé, The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)


On 28th July, 2014 as a panelist at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Pan African Diaspora Coalition's commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Slave Route Project, I was given the task of discussing and condensing the legacies and impact of trans-Atlantic enslavement on the Diaspora, more properly referred to as the Maafa 'catastrophe' or Maangamizo 'destruction'. Given the 395 years (1619-2014) since the first enslaved Africans were recorded as being taken to the United States, I was given fifteen minutes; making for 2.27 seconds per year. This was quite a task, yet much ground was covered.

With regard to this topic, in my thinking, the first issue in need of attention is the terminology used in the context of the 20th anniversary commemoration. Primary among these terminological issues is the use of the term "Legacy".

Although not exclusively so, the term "legacy" may tend to carry a positive connotation for many native speakers of English. When we think of legacy, we may think of the legacy of Ancient Kmt (Egypt) or the legacies of various prestigious African empires and the like. Indeed, when we look at the actual usage of English from the British National Corpus (a 100 million word collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of British English, both spoken and written, from the late twentieth century) and the American National Corpus (a text corpus of American English containing 22 million words written and spoken data produced since 1990 which may at some point of time include a range of genres comparable to the British National Corpus), we see recurring instances of legacy as something positive as in:

1. The historic landmarks of England are a wonderful legacy that must be preserved for the future.

2. Preserving a Legacy: A Tribute to Houston's Blues Concert featuring

3. But he is leaving behind an enduring legacy of innovation.

4. A-listers who look up to her father to show their respect for his life and legacy as a humanitarian.

5. He's got to feel there's a legacy of importance that can be embodied.

6. I go out and train every day to leave a legacy and to compete at the highest level. (Consortium, 2007; Davies, 2008-)

Other positive uses include "Building a legacy to stand the test of time". In this idea of building or bequeathing a legacy, we may consider the following:

The word legacy - used exclusively as a noun for nearly 500 years - expands the original meaning and now signifies a "gift" or "bequest" transmitted from one person (or one generation) to another. Used as a noun in this fashion, legacy carries a wholly positive meaning and represents an act of love, charity and care. Creating and preserving a legacy thus becomes the work of a lifetime, as it cannot be forged quickly and it certainly cannot be purchased. The great effort people put into "legacy building" testifies to its enormous importance. (Voss, 2012)

On the other hand, in the British National Corpus (BNC) we can find negative uses such as:

1. The legacy here was the musical incompetence of some soloists

2. This was partly due to the legacy of the bitterness over the 1990 budget [see p. 36969]

3. Behind the dramatic and sudden political, economic and social shifts sweeping through Middle Europe looms a grim legacy of 40 years of resource exploitation and environmental neglect.

4. Her father had been at pains to exclude all thought of his more immediate and darker legacy.

5. This "Red Scare" died down quickly, yet it left a legacy of suspicion about radicals and "foreign" agitators.

6. ...a programme to overcome the legacy of inequality and injustice created by Apartheid... (Consortium, 2007)

Thus, we can find both positive and negative usages of the word legacy. Again, from a technical denotative perspective, the definition of 'legacy' is simply "something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past" (Merriam-Webster, 2014) which is a pretty innocuous and neutral definition. …

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