Just as we are told that some black men are errant fathers because ‘of the slave trade’, did the ‘Partitions’ result in a Varsovian's lack of civil pride?
It may seem a daft question (and when has the beatroot ever asked one of those?) but the recent commemorations of the 200 years since the abolition of the international slave trade has raised the issue of how - or if - we are affected today by events that happened many centuries ago.
This is black British hip-hop singer Ms Dynamite – whose father left her when she was 11 years old - on the legacy of the slave trade on black men today.
'There's stuff in the family and home which is…a result of slavery. Men were not allowed to be fathers but were used to breed to create more slaves. It's something that - not with everyone - is common in the black community, especially in our generation: the fathers are not always there. We're not that far away from slavery and that way of living, where a man is literally just a tool to reproduce.'
Slavery – which the British were celebrating ‘abolishing’ last week, but were, of course, one of the main engines of the trade in the first place – was indeed one of the most disgusting episodes in human history. But can it have an effect on the way people behave today? Surly we are not passive victims of something that happened over two centuries ago?
And isn’t it slightly illogical of Ms Dynamite to claim that the younger generation of black British men are more influence by their slave history than their parents and grandparents (who, believe me, because I know many of the older generation of Jamaicans etc, are almost Victorian in their moral outlook) are less affected by a history that they are chronologically closer too?
This view, however, is common among people today, and not just the younger black British. The idea that something other than our own free will is to blame for our failings is a neat piece of self deceit. It fits in with our very contemporary celebration of the victim.
It's all Russia's fault
And you can see it here in Poland. Many from Warsaw will tell you that the capital is messier, that the people get drunk more often, that nothing works quite as well as in some of the other cities in the country because, in effect, of the consequences of Imperialism.
Warsaw is messy, in other words, because of the Partitions (which began in 1772 and ended in 1918) when the Prussian, Russian and Austrian empires carved up Poland (see map above). This has left a cultural legacy in different parts of Poland according to which empire it fell under.
Warsaw was in the Russian part, and ‘Russian traits’ can be seen in the behavior of capital dwellers even to this very day.
Poznań was in the Prussian sector. If you ask someone from Warsaw why everything seems more efficient and cleaner in Poznań they will tell you it is because Poznańians were influenced by the Prussian culture.
Krakovians are culturally snobbish because of the Austrians. And so on…
Is this just historical determinism – the believe that our actions are caused by things beyond our control? Are we prisoners of our history? Are irresponsible black guys who father babies and then leave the home mere victims of slavery? Are the streets a mess in Warsaw because of the Russians?
And just as some of the Black community in the UK and US are claiming compensation for slavery over two centuries ago, should Warsaw send Moscow its street cleaning bill?