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.
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.