We don’t yet know. But there might be something about slavery that’s attracted a young boy whose mother had a tattoo, because when young girls were in the home they had a lot more rights than the male ones. They were a bit more independent than the men were. And, I think, they weren’t quite as sexualised as the men in slavery. They probably could not have been, because it was very much a male-dominated world.
I think the first tattoo on a slave might have been a sign of weakness, because slaves were more vulnerable than the women. And I think some of the first signposts were very very male driven.
Did you find that slavery is something you’re quite comfortable talking about?
I think you’re very rare to find a modern, public discussion of slavery. You know, for example, that slaves were actually owned and sold, by individuals or corporations, and that slavery had very real psychological effects. And I think the thing that people don’t understand, that is not explained by this discussion, is that slavery was a cultural phenomenon, and we’re a bit late on that. And, that, I think, we have to look for a contemporary way to talk about slavery at a time when it’s being seen in all these more obvious ways, but it’s not getting the attention that it deserves.
So what did you do when you finished your book? What did you think?
Well, it was a year of work. I worked in a number of different universities across North America – University of Victoria in Canada, University of British Columbia in Canada, King’s College London and I worked together with the African-American History Program in the University of Toronto, and eventually went on to research in London. And it was during this period in my life that I began to question many aspects of the history I was working on. And I got quite interested in the slave trade, and I realized that a lot of what I wanted to focus on was more recent history, and I started writing a book with that in mind.
When you started talking about slavery, do you think you ever thought about how it would go down in history? Were you ever, at any point, thinking about it from the slaves’ perspective?
No, not really, in terms of the slave trade. Because I mean I know that they didn’t, for sure, but I didn’t think about whether it was an unfair trade.
So, if an
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