From David Maughan Brown in York: Britain’s Got Talent At Being Racially Offensive

Cecil Rhodes from Punch 1892 (wikicommons)The Rhodes Colossus: Caricature of Cecil John Rhodes, after he announced plans for a telegraph line and railroad from Cape Town to Cairo.

June 18th Scientists the world over are using their analytic skills to discover more about Covid-19 every day, but they appear not, as yet, to have come to any conclusions as to why the virus, or perhaps the resulting lockdown measures, appear to be having a seriously detrimental effect on the intelligence of prominent ‘leaders’ in our society, even when they don’t show other symptoms.  The last couple of days have evidenced so highly-charged a competition to see who can make the most offensively tone-deaf statements about the ongoing manifestations of the Black Lives Matter protests that one could be forgiven for thinking that one had inadvertently dropped in on the preliminary rounds of a national Britain’s Got Talent At Being Racially Offensive competition.   Boris Johnson’s scintillating record in the field would obviously have guaranteed him a pass directly into the final.

On the off chance that anyone can begin to compete with Boris when the competition gets to that final, my bets are currently on Dominic Raab to come third, and the light horse in the field, Louise Richardson, the current – for how long one wonders – Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, to come second.

Dominic Raab, our Foreign Secretary until such time as the Tory party changes the designation because ‘Foreign’ is such a dirty word, has just been gifted the Department for International Development by Boris because ‘International’ and ‘Development’ are also dirty words, and our English Nationalist Cabinet apparently thinks charity should begin at home.  Other people might think it is ‘Dominic’ that is the dirty word.   Anyone but Boris might even think that a degree of racial sensitivity could be a good idea in a Foreign Secretary, even when his role must be assumed now to include doing away with foreign aid.  But Raab’s latest entry in the competition involves suggesting that the Black Lives Matter symbolism of  ‘taking the knee’ derives from ‘Game of Thrones’ and asserting that he would only do it for the Queen (having once done it for his wife).   That level of crassness does, of course, equip him very well to lead a Little Englander drive to limit International Development. A drive that is so unutterably stupid in its long term implications as to rival the Tories’ parallel obsession with Brexit.   The only way to stem the tide of people flowing towards Europe from Asia and Africa, whether fleeing wars and oppression or driven by climate change, is somehow to make staying in their own countries a better option than trying to get to Europe.   Cutting the funding for foreign aid and international development is a very peculiar thing to do for people in Europe who dislike foreigners and are paranoid about immigration. 

Professor Louise Richardson’s entry for the competition this week was by way of invoking the name of Nelson Mandela as an ally in her argument that the Rhodes statue high above the entrance to Oriel College should not ‘Fall’.  This was in spite of the fact that, after four years of resistance, the governing body of the College has finally voted to remove it.  The Independent carried a report today to the effect that Professor Richards was arguing that Rhodes was a man of ‘great nuance’ and that Mandela had recognised “that we have to acknowledge our past but focus on the future,” and said that hiding history was not the “route to enlightenment”.   Museums, as Professor Richardson obviously knows full well, are buildings which exist for the purpose of ‘storing and exhibiting objects of scientific, cultural and historical interest’, as the OED puts it.   Far from ‘hiding history’, putting that statue, like the infamous Cape Town one, in a museum, would make it possible to contextualise it and confront and understand that history, in all its ugliness.   You can’t do that when the statue is stuck in a niche high above the street, usually noticed only by those who find it profoundly offensive.

Professor Richardson’s enlisting of Mandela in her defence of the Rhodes statue is deeply offensive not just to black people but to all those of us, particularly those of us who were lucky enough to know him, who regarded Mandela with boundless admiration and affection.   He was for many of us, pace the boarded-up statue of Churchill, without question the greatest moral and political leader of the twentieth century.   In response to the ‘hiding history’ brigade, I’ve heard it argued that Germany does not need to have statues of Hitler all over the place in order to confront its 20th century history.  That is obviously true, but the analogy is worth dwelling on.  Rhodes was not responsible for anything equivalent to the holocaust, but it is a fact that he was greatly admired by Hitler who is on record, according to Rhodes’ biographer Antony Thomas, as saying that Rhodes was the only person who understood the historical conditions for maintaining British supremacy, but had been ignored by his own people.  According to the same source, Hitler’s admiration for Rhodes is further evidenced in the former’s statement of his belief that ‘the German people are called by the divine destiny to be the leaders of the world for the glory of the German being as well as for the human race.’  This was, word for word, but for two key words, a direct quotation from the ‘nuanced’ Rhodes:  Hitler had replaced Rhodes’ ‘English ‘ with ‘German.’   Professor Richardson should have known better.

From David in York: Soweto Day. June 16th

https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/videos/the-world-witnesses-the-soweto-uprising/


June 16 th – Soweto Day. Forty-four years ago today in Soweto, at five to nine in the morning, a South African Policeman opened fire on a crowd of black South African schoolchildren singing freedom songs on a peaceful protest march. Hector Peterson was killed and the Soweto revolt was triggered. Forty-four years ago today, at five to nine in the morning, our eldest child, Anthony, was born.
So June 16 th is a memorable day. The photograph of the dying Hector Peterson, being carried away from that shooting by an anguished Mbuyisa Makhubo, seared itself into the memory of innumerable newspaper readers around the world, even as it enraged so many of us in South Africa. There have been very few iconic photographs in my lifetime that have managed to encapsulate an important historical moment so vividly and memorably. The two others that come to mind are the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phúc, the naked Vietnamese child fleeing her napalmed village during the Vietnam War, and that of the drowned body of three year-old Alan Kurdi lying on the Mediterranean beach in 2015. They were all images that captured
the anguish and pathos of a dire situation that encompassed a great many people beyond the subjects of those individual photographs.
So Anthony’s 44 years have carried him through the stormy death-throes of
apartheid all the way to the becalmed waters of Covid-19 lockdown in York. When he was a child I used to tell him that one day his birthday would be public holiday and he would never have to work on it. Now it is, indeed, a public holiday in South Africa – now designated as Youth Day rather than Soweto Day – but he is no longer there to enjoy it, so he has to work on his birthday after all.
The children in Soweto were protesting against the imposition on them of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in their schools, in a situation in which neither they nor their teachers had much, if any, facility in Afrikaans, which would in most cases have been the children’s third or fourth language. No one government ever has a monopoly on stupidity. The Soweto revolt spread countrywide, with hundreds of black casualties, was greeted with international revulsion, and was one of the milestones on the long road to freedom. But it is good that the public holiday was renamed Youth Day: both in recognition of the role played more widely along that
road by young people all over South Africa, and by way of signalling hope for the future.
Today is not recognised as Youth Day in UK but it brings cause for celebrating youth. After a weekend in which large, ethnically-mixed, crowds of mainly young people came together to assert their belief that Black Lives Matter, braving the attentions of cohorts of right-wing racist thugs (and, potentially more rashly, Covid-19) in the process, Marcus Rashford has more or less single-handedly forced a government U-
turn on free summer lunch-vouchers for economically disadvantaged schoolchildren.
It may not be too much to hope that the groundswell of support for the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few weeks could, like the Soweto protests, be a milestone on the long road to genuine racial equality in this country. In the meantime Anthony’s birthday appears to be heralding a shifting of the order of the generations: whereas it was always we who took our children out for special dinners on their birthdays, tonight Anthony is bringing a take-away dinner to us from Mumbai Lounge, arguably the best of the many curry restaurants in York. So the old
order changes.

From David Maughan Brown in York: the road to Damascus.

15th June

It is reported that Boris has recently been sighted on the dusty verge of the road to Damascus.  In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, he has declared a commitment to the establishment of a commission on race and ethnic disparities that will look into ‘all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.’  Somebody doing something about inequality would be very welcome, but Boris Johnson genuinely concerned about inequality and ethnic disparities?  We can perhaps be forgiven for taking that with a spadeful or two of the proverbial salt.   It is not unknown for commissions to serve very well as very long drawn-out holding operations.   Boris has declared a variety of commitments many times before, as some among his string of wives and girlfriends would no doubt be happy to testify.   The chances are that he has merely alighted fleetingly at the roadside, hoping desperately that the main force of the winds of change will pass him by, like a migratory bird taking brief shelter after being blown off-course by a powerful storm.

Boris’s ‘piccaninnies’ with their ‘water-melon smiles’, and his burka ‘letterboxes’, suggest that it would take a conversion of Pauline proportions for anyone to believe this new commitment to racial equality. He can try to explain those garishly coloured turns of phrase away as irony, and others might try to exonerate them merely as ill-judged attempts at linguistic embellishment.  But it seems clear that they are more than that: they look much more like the pointers to a deep-lying conviction of racial superiority.   If any further evidence of that is needed it is to be found in a 2002 article from The Spectator cited in this morning’s Independent.   The racial paternalism and stereotyping of sentences like ‘If left to their own devices, the natives would rely on nothing but the instant carbohydrate gratification of the plantain….’ would feel entirely at home in a colonial-settler account of life in Kenya in the 1920s.   And that, of course, is anything but coincidental: Johnson then proceeds to demonstrate his colonial credentials by asserting that, “The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers, or their citizens, scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

How lucky would Africa be if, for example, the present government of the United Kingdom were to succeed in Johnson’s hypothetical scramble to recolonize Africa?  This morning the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention cited 6,464 as the total number of Covid-19 deaths from all 54 countries of Africa combined.   Even making very substantial allowance for undercounting, the grand total seems unlikely to come anywhere near matching the duplicitously understated ‘official’ total of rather more than 40,000 deaths, and counting, that history will surely hold Johnson and his incompetent government culpably accountable for. That’s racial superiority for you.

Johnson is going to need to find some way of convincing people he has sloughed off every last shred of the racist skin he has worn with such nonchalance for so long if he is going to carry any conviction whatever as an upholder of racial equality.  Setting up yet another commission to find the facts, instead of implementing the recommendations of all the other commissions looking into institutionalised racism and racial disparities over the past forty years, won’t cut it.  It is known as kicking the can down the road.   As a serious way to address the important issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, setting up a ‘cross-government’ commission across this government of xenophobic Brexiteers is too ridiculous for words.   

From David Maughan Brown in York: Dickens and the San

June 12th

David Vincent’s very pertinent blog about Charles Dickens, with its vivid quotation from Little Dorrit describing Victorian lockdown in London, raises an interesting issue in the context of the current Black Lives Matter protests.  That relatively short quotation is enough to illustrate Dickens’ excellence as a descriptive writer whose extensive body of fiction fully justifies his reputation as one of England’s leading novelists.   In addition to being a powerful novelist, Dickens was a social reformer whose fiction is regarded as having assisted with bringing about positive social change during the nineteenth century.  But, unsurprisingly perhaps, there were other sides to him, as there were to the ‘philanthropists’ Cecil Rhodes and Edward Colston, not the least of which was, by all accounts, the way he behaved towards his family.

In the context of the Black Lives Matter protests, the mention of Rhodes and Colston in a blog reflecting on Dickens is not inadvertent.   Dickens visited the exhibition of ‘Bushmen’ in the Egyptian Hall in London in 1847, and wrote an article in Household Words in 1853 excoriating the notion of the Noble Savage.  In that article, he announces that he ‘abhors, detests, abominates and abjures’ the ‘horrid little’ leader of the San group on display ‘in his filth and his antipathy to water, and his straddled legs, and his odious eyes shaded by his brutal hand.’  But he goes further than merely expressing his abhorrence when he declares: ‘I have not the least belief in the Noble Savage…. I call a savage something highly desirable to be civilized off the face of the earth… he is a savage – cruel, false, thievish, murderous; addicted more or less to grease, entrails and beastly customs….”  Dickens’s casual countenancing of the genocide which took place in parts of South Africa in the nineteenth century, which is implicit in the desirability of “civilizing” savages off the face of the earth, is made explicit later in the same essay: “All the noble savage’s wars with his fellow savages (and he takes no pleasure in anything else) are wars of extermination – which is the best thing I know of him, and the most comfortable to my mind when I look at him.’

While the language is as vivid, and the description of the San leader as powerful (in this instance as powerfully offensive), as it often is in his fiction, this is clearly not the Dickens of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol.  In so far as Dickens appears to be advocating genocide, the extent of the explicit racism expressed here goes beyond that of Rhodes and probably, although I haven’t read any of his writings, of Colston.   Colston needed his slaves to be alive if they were going to bring any money in for him; and Rhodes needed black labourers to dig for his diamonds.  So should the Black Lives Matter movement be moving on to have statues of Dickens removed as well, and while they are about it, have his books removed from our library shelves and burned, once all the statues of Victorian slave owners and other overt racists have been removed?

The obvious answer is a resounding “no”.   That, of course, is what anyone would expect from a retired English professor.  But isn’t that a bit hypocritical, coming from someone who has been a strong advocate for the removal of the Rhodes statue at the University of Cape Town, and has expressed regret the Colston’s statue wasn’t removed in response to earlier petitions?  Why not statues of Dickens as well?  The argument that Dickens has enriched our cultural life immeasurably, and that his fiction was promoting progressive social causes won’t wash.  As philanthropists, Rhodes with his scholarships and other donations, and Colston with the money he gave to schools in Bristol will unquestionably have brought social benefit, in spite of the sources of their wealth.  The tired argument that Dickens, like Colston and Rhodes, were ‘men of their time’ isn’t any more convincing.  There were plenty of mid-Victorians who didn’t think that genocide was a good idea.

Leaving aside the obvious argument that burning books isn’t a good idea in principle, there seem to me to be three main arguments for distinguishing between Dickens on the one hand and Rhodes and Colston on the other.  First, Dickens’ abhorrent views about ‘noble savages’ didn’t inform his fiction in any significant way, unlike, for example, the way Wilbur Smith’s racist ideology has informed his best-selling novels and influenced for the worse hundreds of thousands of readers’ racial attitudes in the process.  Second, leading on from that, Dickens’ racial views have not led to thousands of deaths.   The genocidal Afrikaaner settlers who murdered all the San in the Orange Free State were not inspired to do so by having read Dickens’ articles in Household Words.  Third, anybody looking at a statue of Dickens will recognise it as a tribute to an unquestionably important novelist whose major legacy is his body of fiction, not anything he wrote in Household Words.  In fact, perhaps regrettably, the chances of anybody, including any possible San visitors to U.K., knowing anything about his views on the San are vanishingly small, so it is highly unlikely that his statue, unlike those of Rhodes and Colston, is going to be hurtful or offensive to  anyone.   

From Shannon in Florida: America is on Fire

2020 has been nothing short of a crapshoot, where it seems nothing can go right. First, Australia is on fire and it seems like it may last forever, then a helicopter crash kills 7 people, including Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter Gigi.  All of this seemed bad enough for the first few months of the year (if only we would have known). After that Covid-19 hit. What seemed like it was happening in Asia spread to Europe and quickly was happening around the world. Countries went into mass lockdown, people in Paris weren’t allowed to leave their homes for more than an hour or two per week, and needed to have documentation on them that they were allowed to. Trump kept saying, “we have this under control, this “Chinese virus” won’t effect us.” Obviously he was massively mistaken. 

Florida never really took it seriously, it still really has not. For about a week people were supposed to. “Shelter in place” and wear masks when they went out. The week after they lifted the ban, and you saw thousands on tv headed to the beach. I saw people on social media having quarantine parties and saying things such as “if I get it, I get it” as if it was acceptable. Events stopped, hospitals are over flowing, people are dying and many. Have lost their jobs. From every angle you can look at 2020 as a travesty and yet somehow the current administration is saying ‘we’re handing this great, and doing a tremendous job”. If you don’t know, those are some big buzz words they like to use to describe themselves. 

If we would have closed the chapter on 2020 there it would have been widely seen as a terrible year, however it just seems to get worse. Anyone who watched the news knows that police brutality is a grave issue which effects the United States. Let me be more specific, police brutality towards the African American community is a grave issue caused by some horrendous individuals in the United States. I will be honest and say I cannot name the amount of victims who have been killed by the police because there have simply been too many.

Amadu Diallo was unarmed and not committing any crime when he was shot 41 times by 4 undercover cops in 1999, they were all acquitted and walked free.  In 2014 the police shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and his killer also walked free. Three days ago George Floyd was arrested, and one officer knelt on his neck, while he was handcuffed for 9 minutes. The last minutes of George’s life, he was humiliated, and begging for his life while 3 other cops stood and let it happen. 

There are three examples spanning over 20 years, and countless others that are not included showing the racial discrimination and brutality used against African American men. People are protesting, and those protests are turning to riots because it seems like nobody listens. Atlanta was set on fire, DC was set on fire, and Trump was taken to the bunker as the protest neared the White House. This is an awful time for everyone in 2020, but it seems like it has and will continue to be an awful time for those targeted by police. I will say I do believe that 95% of officers are good and are as disgusted by this as the rest, but 95% is too little for the amount of power they have. Of course people are mad and it seems like peaceful protests have never gone anywhere. 

This is the first time that Corona is not the headline news. Everyone has to stand up to injustice, demand George Floyd’s killer be convicted of murder, and not stop fighting for equality. This is 2020, we should not have to be fighting that everyone regardless of skin color, belief, gender, or sexual orientation deserves to be treated equally. 

The virus has gone on the backburner, because awareness and justice is necessary, and 6-feet apart is not good enough to stop people from protesting and showing they refuse to accept this. 

Black lives matter.