Eliminating Inconvenient History.

Recent events in America have unleashed a storm of protest against the treatment of black people all over the world. Not just current treatment, or the recent actions of the Police and other authorities, but historical ones too. This is understandable, and it has been suggested to me that the George Floyd incident was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In the last week, numerous corporations and organisations have felt it necessary to make public statements and even apologies on the issues of Black Lives Matter, and the long history of institutional racism in the western world. Laudable perhaps, and possibly also necessary for marketing purposes and attracting customers in future. Both Nike and Apple have been involved, ignoring the fact that they are happy to exploit Asian labour by paying the workers in countries like China a pittance for long hours, compared to salaries in the West. Is that not also a form of racism, and one that is acceptable to most customers who buy i-phones, or the latest trendy trainers?

So if this is just the beginning, then where does it end?

Pulling down and defacing statues has caught on quickly, following on from the same thing happening to Confederate Statues and war graves in America a couple of years ago, as well as this week. One commemorating an 18th century slave trader in Bristol was thrown into the water, and those in honour of Cecil Rhodes and Churchill in London were defaced last weekend. Having statues that supposedly honour such people (Churchill was a well-known racist) is questionable, I agree. But is it not better to learn from their mistakes in the past, and allow them to remain to remind us?

I would suggest it is.

Because when you begin to eliminate history, you start to re-write it. You conveniently forget that African and Arab trade slavers existed long before any white men became involved with them. In fact, many still exist in some countries today. I don’t see anyone protesting about that history, or those current events. What about the Egyptian and Roman empires? Both were built on slavery, and expanded by the use of slaves. Should we pull down The Forum in Rome? Demolish The Coliseum? Have any of those demonstrators pulling down statues ever enjoyed a holiday to Rome, or Egypt?

The Pyramids are said to be one of the seven wonders of the world. Mausoleums to pharoahs, built on the blood and sweat of countless slaves. We know that, we learn about that, and when we go to look at them, we appreciate that. Let’s blow them up though, because surely they commemorate cruelty and slavery? Let us topple the statues to Tiberius and Caligula, and cast them into the Tiber. If it’s good enough for one slave empire, why not for all of them?

How far back is far enough?

And what about churches, and western religions? Most built with the huge wealth of countries who dealt in slavery, or stole natural resources like gold from countries in South and Central America. They killed the people there that opposed them, (who were also slavers of course) before enslaving others to work in their mines and goldfields. The wealth generated was given in large part to the Catholic Church, who actively used to oversee all those operations on the pretext of bringing religion to heathens. So when we admire European cathedrals, and the amazing statues and relics stored within, let’s not forget where the money came from. Exploitation, and slavery.

Time to pull them down perhaps?

On the news today, I heard that the film ‘Gone With The Wind’ is no longer to be allowed to be shown on television in Britain. How long before they start banning others? What about all those Hollywood epics about Egypt? And the films ‘Young Winston’, or ‘The Darkest Hour’? They are about Churchill, so let’s ban those too. And what about books? How long before Margaret Mitchell’s book of ‘Gone With The Wind’ is banned too? She got an award for that, so let’s take that back hile we are at it. Then it would seem logical to ban ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, ‘Huckleberry Finn’, and any historical book that has a contemporary view on black people that has since been identified as racist?

An Asian reporter on BBC News declared this morning that he feels ‘uncomfortable’ about reading the ‘Tintin’ comic books with his young son, due to the way some characters are portrayed. Save his embarrassment, just ban them. Then everyone can start to forget history, and begin to change the facts to suit this new and different agenda.

Fortunately for me, I will likely be dead before all that has happened.

49 comments

  1. Doug

    I have an observation to make, Pete.
    I’ve been watching the replays of the black fellow in that London demonstration carrying the white guy and it is a strong image of some who still can have a grasp on their own compassion toward humanity. Much like you EMT’s have each day when you head off to work. But my observation is not that, although that in itself is very inspiring.
    One of my personal peeves as a white guy engaging with black folks is that many black Americans.. not all… but many… speak in this gawd-awful “Black-African Dialect”. It is loaded with poor grammar, very poor diction, and chock full o’slang. It’s tough enough sometimes to understand some of them face-to-face but over the phone, radio, etc. sometimes it’s just impossible and I get embarrassed asking them to repeat all the time… so many times I do the “nod” to affirm whatever the hell it is they are saying. Personally, seems to me if black folks can clear up some of that it might help diminish the image of being “uneducated”. If you look at American life the vast majority of black Americans of professional achievement and elected office do not speak with that dialect. Besides our basic appearance, the way we talk is part of how we present ourselves to strangers in life… the proverbial first impression. As an employer if I were interviewing two qualified black candidates for the same job I’d naturally be inclined to hire the one who can speak the King’s English and sound like someone with a basic education.
    Now.. I will admit… I am like many Americans who tend to romanticize foreign accents. It was likely the James Bond films that I was introduced to black people with Brit accents. I always thought the contrast between both cultures that way to be totally on some “cool” level. So I am watching an interview with the black Brit fellow who carried the white guy… and I couldn’t help but snicker aloud at his Brit accent given he physically looked like any American black guy off the street. But the fellow spoke like he had an advanced degree from Harvard.
    I’d be curious what your Brit followers might add to my observation… and the Brit perception of the average black American.

    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      Many young people here, (usually those under-21),black and white, often speak in a mixture of what I call ‘rap video’ English. They think it’s cool, whatever their colour. But a ‘normal’ black person will speak with the accent they grew up with, whether London, Scottish, Newcastle, or Manchester. In that respect, they do completely ‘fit in’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  2. Eddy Winko

    Well for starters you should rip down the statue of Henry Tate in Liverpool, after all he is probably responsible for the increase in Type 2 diabetes in the UK!
    I don’t honestly believe that many people knew of the significance of some of the statues in question (in the UK), which enforces the point about needing better education. So maybe we should do the democratic thing, present the history and facts about these symbols to the local population and let them vote on its future.
    Personally I just wish the same energy was put into getting the likes of Facebook and Twitter to take things down that incite hate and racial tension, misinform and basically provide an echo chamber for many of the individuals or organisations that would otherwise have been left on the side-lines of society with little voice at all, where they belong.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: Confederate Monuments | DearTedandJody
  4. lividemerald2013

    I mentioned on Twitter (where I found the link to this article) that the next big thing might be a push to demolish historic Southern plantations. Statues, books, movies, military bases… It’s like a snowball effect. Where will the madness end?

    Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      It won’t end, David, that’s the problem. Over here, they now want to remove the statue of Nelson from Trafalgar Square. They are complaining it depicts the black people on the base in a bad light. The point I made in the text is what will eventually have to happen. The Pyramids will have to be destroyed one day, when someone claims a heritage connection to the slaves used to build them. History is often evil, but we should learn from that, not try to cover it up.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lobotero

    Banning anything is just wrong……we can learn history but celebrating the slave trade by erecting statues is wrong….but then it would require a real education and not some soft soap learning just to get by. chuq

    Liked by 1 person

    • Doug

      I am wondering if removing statues is akin to burning a book. It’s a fear that if the monument stays there then we need to fear it… or more to the point, what it represents. It’s put up to memorialize.. and removed out of fear. Still, I think removing them from public property,(i.e. the town square, city hall, etc.) and allowing them to be displayed on private land is a valid compromise… retains free speech. Same with the display of the Confederate flag. Free speech protects that.. as it does the display of the Nazi swastika.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Doug

      What I think is an excellent idea is re-naming military installations away from Confederate generals (a number were pure strategic buffoons and did nothing to achieve any sort of victory). We have lots of far more qualified post-Civil War Medal Of Honor recipients to draw from… and some of them are from the South. Trump is an idiot.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. democratizemoney

    The historical record of statues going up in this country after the Civil War is one that speaks of defiance of the supposed outcome of that war and the freeing of the slaves. That makes for an interesting question of why they are there still, not why are they to be or not be torn down now. when I first went south in the late 1960s I quickly learned the Civil War was the War of Northern Aggression. The “whites only” and “colored” signs on drinking fountains and restrooms were still in place. I taught at a state university that was newly integrated (and then marginally). That raises the same questions as the one about statues. The answer is equality. Nothing more, nothing less. those statues are not important, equality is. Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  7. GP Cox

    We can’t change history – only the future. Removing movies like Gone With The Wind is an infringement on creativity and free speech as I see it. Every move we make is going to make someone uncomfortable. It has come down to whoever yells the loudest, gets their own way. And I am uncomfortable with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Doug

    One of the stories I recall hearing about a couple years ago was from a black citizen, a mother. in one of the Southern cities. She was walking with her young daughter and they passed by a statue of one of those Confederate generals. Her daughter asked, while looking up at the figure, what made him so famous? Now.. think for a moment.. you are black.. and your child asks that question as to how you respond to that “learning” moment.
    “He was a famous figure from the Civil War.”
    “What was the Civil War?”
    (You see where this is going?)
    The end conclusion for that young girl… no matter how the mother tries to sugar-coat it… he’s famous because he enslaved black people and fought a war with the North who wanted to free black people from slavery. (obviously the real reason for the North being in the war were a number of more complex reasons a young girl would be too young to comprehend… but that’s besides the point)
    By comparison it’s a tad different than a statue of Churchill… as his depiction is because of a war against Facism and Japanese imperialism which presumably benefited all the Empire and not just white Brits. This falls into that “new” category of classifying history whereby no matter what positive thing a person becomes revered for, if their personal life reflects some tainted social impropriety legal or illegal, the “good” is erased. Rather akin to the old Soviet classification of declaring a banished or executed individual as a “non-person”.. never existed.

    But returning to the Confederate statues… removing from public property seems to make sense, many being re-located to local cemeteries. I’ve speculated a positive alternative compromise would be to replace/cover the original plaques/carved inscriptions, with new plaques that provide a broader historical context of the role the historical figure had and the reason the monument was created.. and let the reader come to their own conclusion as to what the monument truly represents. While these figurine monuments were originally placed by veterans who may have fought in that war and/or by local popular political affirmations still felt in the South for generations after the war, many have been in existence for generations and become historical “oddities” themselves.
    America was founded by a bunch of white slave holders. Heck, Jefferson seemed to have spawned half of America on his visits to his slave quarters. Do we simply chuck the Declaration and the Constitution because these guys don’t fit a changing morality?

    Liked by 3 people

    • beetleypete

      Yes, if you follow it through to the logical conclusion, you have to trash the memory of all the founding fathers, destroy their monuments, and think seriously about the Constitution. Is America ready for that much change? I think not. But moving statues of Confederates, that’s fine. I don’t get ‘selective history’, Doug, and I never will. No matter what the argument, I will not be swayed on that main point.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  9. By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff

    Argh. I’m torn over this Pete. I understand what you’re saying, but then I think of black people having to walk by confederate statues in public venues on a daily basis. I’m for putting them in museums dedicated to preserving history: the good, the bad, and the ugly. As far as GWTW, HBO said in their statement that the removal is temporary while they put together something to go with it that provides accurate historical context.

    Liked by 2 people

    • beetleypete

      With the correct education, all people would understand that the Confederate memorials serve as reminders of bad times. The same applies to films like GWTW. You know what’s going to happen, Kim, you don’t need me to tell you. Books will be on ‘banned’ lists, as will films. First banned, then removed, then destroyed. When the books and films are gone, and all the statues replaced, history will have been changed by default. For me, all this is unacceptable, no matter how unjust the killing of George Floyd, or any other person, black or white, or any other colour or race.
      I have never heard of any Jewish person objecting to Auschwitz being retained as a memorial, and a reminder of what happened there.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      • By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff

        Auschwitz stands apart though where people who choose to can visit. The majority of confederate statues in question are in public areas where you have no choice whether to be exposed to them. That’s why I think an acceptable compromise is not to destroy them, but to have them in museums. As far as films like GWTW go, you know my views on censorship Pete, and I was initially outraged when I first heard about this today. I was somewhat mollified though when HBO said they’ll be bringing it back, and I’m willing to reserve judgement until I see what they’re doing with it.

        Liked by 3 people

      • M. L. Kappa

        On the contrary, I once had dinner with a group of Jewish people who were trying to raise money to preserve the buildings in Auschwitz. They don’t want the past to be forgotten.

        Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      Do HBO intend to censor it, I wonder? If so, bringing it back censored is equally disgraceful. I might well buy a copy of the original this week, before they mess with the DVD versions too. I take your point about the concentration camps being a choice to visit, but because they exist, everyone knows about them, and has heard why they are still there. I feel the same way about the uncomfortable presence of statues, wherever they are. History is just that, history. As much as so many people would like to turn that into something more comfortable, it wasn’t, and cannot be manipulated into being so with altering the truth behind it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      • By Hook Or By Book ~ Book Reviews, News, & Other Stuff

        Per their announcement: “Gone With the Wind is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society. These racial depictions were wrong then and are wrong today and we felt that to keep this title up without explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.” It goes on to say that the movie will return with a discussion of its historical context but the film itself will remain in its original format “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Maggie

    This is a struggle for me, Pete. Our country was built on the suffering of people of color. Any statues that commemorate those who supported or invested in slavery deserve no place of commemoration in our cities and our government buildings. I would rather see plaques that express the true history. What becomes a symbol of racism to some are unfortunately lauded by those who are, in fact, racist.

    I am not in favor of censorship. Books, especially, give us the ability to read, process, evaluate and decide. It is a double edged sword because the truth is often colored by the opinion of the author. We already see people trying to deny history of the holocaust and to me, removing the truth of what really transpired in history is a huge mistake. How can we deny that which has so much available proof? (But how do people deny the existence of Covid-19 with so much proof?)

    But we must be careful with who writes our history. A good example, my biracial granddaughter went on a field trip where they told the children the black people were immigrants that sailed to America to find work. They never once referred to those people as being enslaved.

    Do we feel differently about a book like “Roots”, written by a black author, than we do about “Gone with the Wind”, written by a white author?

    Like I said, I struggle.

    Liked by 3 people

    • beetleypete

      I have no such struggle. With correct education, history can be seen for what it is, good and bad. You granddaughter’s experience is an example of ‘bad education’, and not acceptable. Starting to re-write history, and to ban things, is exactly what happened in Facist countries in Europe in the 1930s. And some modern history appears not to concern anyone, hence my example about expolitation of workers in China. How many people, white or black, think about that before proudly showing off their new phones or trainers? It is what it is, and has to be shown to be so. The truth should be ‘official’, not a convenient version so as to not upset anyone.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. theshammuramat

    Excellent and well written – it’s such a complicated issues. Feelings are running high right now and anything that is symbolic of racism will be a target. What we must do rather than pulling down statues is to systematically address through education, housing, and health care creating multiple opportunities that have been systematically denied to people of color in most Western societies. One idea is create a mortgage fund that is interest free for people below a certain income. Provide access to health care for everyone who can’t afford it – not provided through small businesses and corporations but through the state and taxes. Address schools in poor school districts by funding them and making sure they’re delivering a high standard of education. Lots of high quality after school programs for all children with working parents. Extremely high quality day-care that pays the staff well. Additionally paying one parent to stay home for a year with health benefits. Wiping out all college debt. Raising the minimum wage to $20.00 an hour and equal pay for women. Teaching kids in school about good nutrition and how to grow gardens in inner cities. Creating community gardens on land outside the city. Retraining the police force so that it becomes a valued community institution which people love and value because they’re part of a community. Getting rid of all military equipment provided to the police.This would be a start and we can afford it by levying fair taxes on people with high incomes and also corporations.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Ian Gibson Photography

    You ask how far back we should be looking.

    For me, I think looking back as far as those who also look back. The days of Empire, the once subversive song “Rule Brittania,” and the good old days when Britain bestrode the world as a buccaneering trading nation we are told will return once we are free from the yolk of EU membership.

    They forget that Buccaneers were not the good guys, and that the trading was in human misery and the produce thereof.

    I’m all for tearing down statues erected in honour of slavers. In fact, I’m in favour of tearing down all statues, and replacing them with temporary pieces of modern art.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Ian Gibson Photography

        I heard an interesting comparison yesterday. Well, two.

        The first was how many of the people against statue removing cheered when Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled.

        The other was, how would English people feel if there statues of Hitler, Himmler, Goering etc, all over the place?

        Liked by 1 person

    • beetleypete

      I thought removing Hussein’s statue was the same thing. Playing with history by removing evidence of that history. If they had left statues of Hitler up in Germany, that would be a constant reminder of everything he did wrong. So, my basic argument still applies. With no memories of Nazism, it is too easy for the deniers to get fresh support from the young and impressionable. I just think (and strongly believe, as you can guess) that history, however unpleasant, should never be re-written to suit taste and mood.
      Cheers, Pete.

      Like

    • beetleypete

      I can’t agree with you on this one, Ian. The statues should make people ask why they are there in the first place. Removing them eventually removes the history they were connected to from the public consciousness, and then it will no longer be written about in books.

      Like

  13. wilfredbooks

    It’s a very emotive subject, for sure Pete. On the subject of statues, I’m ambivalent: even if information plaques were attached to statues of questionable personalities [and who gets to decide?], detailing their failings in addition to their achievements, I can appreciate that the detractors might be justified in taking the view that the very existence of the statue implies that the failings are less significant than the achievements; but at the same time, I guess one could apply that logic to every human being who has ever lived, to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t agree with banning any form of artistic expression merely because tastes have changed [there is a well-known piece of classical music by Debussy called the Golliwog’s Cakewalk: that is its name, perfectly acceptable when it was written, but you won’t hear it called that on the radio these days]: we can generally choose whether or not to read a book, watch a film, look at a painting, etc., and make a conscious decision based upon the content, but banning books or films is only one step away from the Nazis’ so-called purification of culture by deeming certain art-forms “degenerate”. Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

      • democratizemoney

        To take the analogy one more step, here, in the US, the current phase follows the decrying of political correctness. so the new Nazis are those who decried political correctness or are they the defenders. In either interpretation, it is all about the belief of the day.

        Liked by 1 person

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