After my recent post about the removal of Confederate monuments, I had decided to leave this whole issue well and truly alone, believe me. But Britain loves to take a lead from America, whenever it can. Burger chains, Baseball Caps, and Halloween parties are all good examples of the British love of American ideas. This has now extended to copying the idea about removing monuments that cause offence. Especially those that can be identified with slavery.
This is the article that started today’s furore.
Where we live, in Norfolk, they are very proud of Admiral Nelson. He was born here, and is celebrated in museums, street names, hotel names, and even on the county road signs, which proclaim “Norfolk. Nelson’s County”. But despite his reputation as the saviour of England during the wars with France, and his death in action on the deck of the flagship ‘Trafalgar’, it seems we are honouring a man of little worth. Someone who used his position in Parliament to oppose the abolition of slavery. His statue high on a plinth in Trafalgar Square is one of London’s landmarks, but we now find out we should be ashamed it is there. Of course, this was a long time ago, when we remember he was killed in 1805, but no matter. History is not what counts here, whether it is good history, or bad. We have grown since then, and learned to be better. Time to get his statue of of that plinth, and take down those road signs, surely?
Once again, I am reluctantly drawn into this argument, and cannot look away. I don’t know Afua Hirsch, though I am sure that she is a nice lady. She is a barrister, and a successful journalist, so I am comfortable in my presumption that she is well read, and highly intelligent. She has a background of an English father and Ghanaian mother, and was born in Norway. Interviewed on TV this evening she spoke confidently and with great assurance, defending her argument that we had to look again at memorials to anyone connected to slavery in any way, and remove them.
The reporter debated the issue with her, based on Nelson alone, and his reputation as an English hero. It was local news, I hasten to add, and not much happens in Norfolk. But he didn’t ask her the questions I wanted to ask her. He didn’t ask her about the once great Zulu nation, which was formed on slavery. He didn’t ask her about the African slave traders who sold their own people to western countries. I know it doesn’t make it any better that those places were involved in slavery. I don’t defend it, and it is unacceptable in any society, at any time. But it isn’t just about pre-Civil War America, or Imperial Britain.
He didn’t ask her if she had ever been to Rome, or visited the Pyramids in Egypt. Perhaps she has enjoyed a trip to Central America, to see the famous temples there, or ventured down to Peru, to marvel at the mountaintop remains of once great cities? All built by societies that had slavery at the heart of their very existence. A weekend in Athens perhaps, gazing at The Parthenon? Ancient Greece, the founding stone of Democracy, built on slavery. Or doesn’t that matter? Are they too far back to worry about? When does it end, and what is the cut-off date? Or does it only matter about black slaves from Africa?
I wanted to ask her all of those questions, because nobody else did.