My family and slavery - memory, shame and denial

Cox, Christopher C. (2021) My family and slavery - memory, shame and denial. Doctoral thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

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My Family and Slavery shines a light on uncomfortable aspects of Pinney family history and asks this question: ‘As a member of the Pinney family, directly descended from 17th and 18th century slave-owners who enriched and elevated themselves through exploitation of enslaved Africans – how can I acknowledge and atone for my forbear’s crimes?’ After years of avoidance I have chosen to explore this shameful legacy with as much honesty as I can in a multi-modal, practice led research project with a screenplay as its primary output, supported by photography and film. I researched my own family history and that of other Pinney relatives; the historic archives known as the Pinney Papers; slave narratives and testimonies; the phenomenon of post-slavery trauma -and the critical discourse around race and white supremacy. Additionally, I collected photographic and other data in Nevis and the USA; considered narratives based on invented as well as factually based characters and events -then combined my research and imagination to write a fictional narrative inspired by historical facts. Titled History is Not the Past, my screenplay has four main characters. An enslaved African boy OBI, first encountered in 1764 on a slave-trading ship in mid-Atlantic. An upper-class misfit girl called BETHANY, is a character based on my mother. Writer/photographer LEO is part fictional and part based on myself. His mother dies, and his Nevisian partner leaves him without revealing she is pregnant. GRACE is the daughter Leo knows nothing about, who later comes to England to study -and search for her father. My research opened my mind. My creative practice changed it. The deceptively simple screenwriting discipline of writing strictly in the present tense obliged me to truly walk in my character’s shoes – and led to this: Empathetic understanding is the path to acknowledgement and atonement.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Accessibility note: If you require a more accessible version of this thesis, please contact us at
Keywords: slavery, Pinney, white supremacy, trauma, denial, shame
Faculty: Theses from Anglia Ruskin University
Depositing User: Lisa Blanshard
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2021 16:18
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2021 15:54

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