Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Akila Hughes Loses Vindictive Court Case against Sargon. Obviously.

August 8, 2020

There was an interesting bit of legal news last week. Akila Hughes, a left-wing Black American activist, lost her lawsuit against Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. I’ve blogged about Sargon many times already. He’s a libertarian, Trump-supporting, Tory Brexiteer, so I really don’t share his politics. They’re closer to Hughes. But this time, I think Sargon was actually right and that Hughes has only herself to blame for her defeat. Sargon was the better person.

The dispute goes back to the American presidential election campaign between Trump and Clinton. Hughes was a supporter of Killary, and put up a video supporting her. Sargon disagreed, and in order to show that millions of Americans didn’t share her views, took clips from it and turned it into a YouTube poop intended to satirise her. YouTube poops, if you are blissfully unaware of them, are videos where the makers take clips of certain celebrities or personalities and edit them to make them look ridiculous. There have been any number directed against mad conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, which I find hilarious. And the peeps on YouTube regularly take videos and clips of material by others and include them in their own to critique or comment upon this. This is allowed under the copyright laws as fair use.

Hughes didn’t see it that way, however, and decided that Sargon was infringing her copyright. So she sued him for $150,000. She also showed just how personally vindictive she was by declaring on YouTube that she didn’t care if this bankrupted Sargon and took food away from his children, because Sargon himself should have thought of that. But this personal spite has backfired on her. Judge Sullivan founded in Sargon’s favour, and has ordered Hughes to pay the Sage of Swindon $38,000 in costs. The other day Sargon received a copy of the lawman’s judgement, and posted a video about it on YouTube. And it’s not only interesting in itself, but I’d say it was also relevant for other, similar vindictive legal actions. Like those, in my opinion, brought by Rachel Riley and Tracey Ann Oberman.

The judge decided against Hughes because of her suit’s ‘objective unreasonableness’. I don’t think she had been able to show how Sargon had harmed her through the video, but had shown instead her own personal spite against him by stating that she didn’t care about taking food away from his children. He also ruled that she had acted from improper motivations. While many such litigants are able to keep theirs hidden, she had displayed hers by boasting about her intentions to her many followers on Twitter and social media. Hughes had previously led a campaign to have Sargon thrown off Twitter, and when this succeeded, claimed it was due to her. Having received a message from YouTube that the company supported Black creators, she took this as a sign that she should go ahead and try to get Sargon deplatformed from there as well. She also told her followers she wanted to bankrupt Sargon, stymie his attempts to crowdfund his defence and use copyright law to silence her personal critics and opponents. The judge also ruled that she was also seeking to publicise her suit in order to enrich herself. He therefor found against her. Sargon isn’t out of the woods, as Hughes has 38 days to appeal the decision. But it looks very damning.

I have to say that while I dislike Sargon’s opinions, I don’t believe that he is personally racist or a White supremacist as Hughes and his opponents allege he. He has spoken on his channel to Black activists, and shares their concern about the breakdown of the Black family. Not that family breakdown hasn’t devastated White and other communities as well. Some of his criticisms of Black anti-racism are, in my opinion, entirely fair. In one of his videos he criticised a group of Black activists, who were complaining because the Equalities Commission were compiling statistics on anti-White incidents. He called them racists, which they are. He has also criticised Black Lives Matter and the demands for redressing historic western slavery, when real slavery has re-emerged in Africa. He has quoted a recent article from a paper, which stated that there are now three times more slaves around the world than were transported from Africa to the New World during the transatlantic slave trade. This is grotesque and horrific, but you hear very little about it. Emma Maltby took issue in the pages of the I a few weeks ago to attack right-wing critics of anti-racism movements like Black Lives Matter for trying to use the issue to distract on the real problems of racism and racial inequality in the west. She’s right, but so is Sargon, and I don’t believe that the real slavery that is experiencing a resurgence would have quite the same exposure without Sargon and Conservative critics like him. My sympathies in this case are with Sargon, not Hughes.

And I also note certain similarities between Hughes’ case and that of Rachel Riley and Tracey Ann Oberman to sue Mike and other bloggers for posting a piece about their maltreatment of a schoolgirl. They accused the girl of being an anti-Semite and told her they wanted to re-educate her, simply because she put up a piece supporting Jeremy Corbyn. Shaun Lawson put up an article about this, which other people, including Mike, reblogged and/ or commented upon. Riley and Oberman therefore took it upon themselves to sue Mike and others, including Jane Heybroek in a related case, for libel.

Now Riley and Oberman certainly haven’t gone on social media and revealed their improper motives, but the circumstances of these lawsuits are very suspicious and, in my opinion, certainly look every bit as vindictive and spiteful as Hughes’. Riley and Oberman are rich celebs. Riley is able to afford the expense of a QC, and has insurance against her losing legal suits. Mike, like Sargon, has had to crowdfund his defence. Riley, like Hughes, has attempted to stymie Mike’s defence. Her lawyer argued that the difficulty Mike was having obtaining a lawyer to act for him during the summer months was clogging up the legal system, in what looks suspiciously to me like an attempt to stop Mike raising any more money to defend himself. Despite her own claims that she is not doing it for the money, she did not proceed against Shaun Lawson, who creator the original article. He lives in Uruguay, and apparently doesn’t have much in the way of money so it apparently isn’t worth suing him. Her suit against Jane Heybroek was abandoned when her insurers decided that they would no longer fund her suit, and she would have to start using her own money. In addition, Riley also appealed to her followers to suggest people she should sue, as the charities she supported needed money. This, as Zelo Street pointed out, comes close to the very definition of grifting. And so it does look very much to me – and I stress this is my own personal opinion – that Riley is using the lawsuit and its publicity to enrich herself.

And I am absolutely convinced that she is, like Hughes, abusing the legal system to shut down her personal critics. Riley and Oberman like to present themselves as crusaders against anti-Semitism. But their interpretation of anti-Semitism seems to be the perversion used by the Zionist fanatics: criticism or opposition to Israel. Israel, it needs to be stressed, is a country. And like all-too many nations, it commits atrocities. In the case of Israel, these are against the indigenous Palestinians. It is not by any means anti-Semitic to criticise Israel for its crimes. Despising Israel’s atrocities does not mean that one hates its citizens, still less the wider Jewish community. However, Israel and pro-Israel groups have and are using claims of racism and anti-Semitism to silence critics and opposition groups, such as the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign against goods produced in the occupied territories. The misuse of such legislation to silence such criticism is termed ‘lawfare’. And it looks to me very much exactly what Riley and Oberman are doing in their lawsuit against Mike.

As I said, I don’t share Sargon’s opinions, but I’m glad he won. Just as I hope Mike and the others will similarly be vindicated when Riley’s and Oberman’s suit comes to trial. I hope the judge also finds their case vexatious and vindictive. Because it certainly seems that way to me.

Vile! Priti Patel Withdraws Funding to Britain’s Only Centre Against Female Genital Mutilation

August 3, 2020

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a very telling piece, which reveals precisely how low on their priorities is protecting vulnerable British girls from FGM. Priti Patel, the smirking minister, who believes it’s perfectly acceptable to conduct her own foreign policy for states such as Israel behind her own government’s back, and thinks that British workers should suffer the same horrendous wages and working conditions as the exploited masses of the developing world, because they’re too lazy, has decided to cut the funding to this country’s National FGM Centre. This was set up five years ago to combat Female Genital Mutilation, otherwise known as female circumcision. Feminists have also described it as ‘female castration’ because of its truly horrific nature. It’s the only centre protecting girls from communities across the UK from it. The centre’s head, Letheen Bartholomew, warned that FGM will not end if it is forced to close because of the cuts. Mike quotes her as saying:

“We will not be there to protect the girls who need us. We know that FGM is still being practised in communities across England.

“There are still girls who are being cut and so will face a lifetime of physical and emotional pain. It is a hidden form of child abuse.”

Mike connects this to the sadism in the Tory party generally, and their need to inflict pain and suffering on innocents. He also points out that Patel herself wanted to deport a girl so that she could undergo this truly horrific practise. There’s no way it can be decently described in a family blog, and it does seem to vary in severity. At its worst it leads to a lifetime of agonizing medical problems and health issues, including childbirth.

One of the communities in which girls are at risk is my own city of Bristol. A few years ago the local Beeb news propgramme, Points West, carried an item about girls of African heritage, who left vulnerable to it, and the courageous efforts of campaigners from these communities to combat it. This was when it was a pressing issue and voices were being raised across the country demanding that it should be fought and outlawed. And now that we find that the outrage has calmed down and it is no longer in the public consciousness, the Tories are doing what they have always done in these circumstances: they’re quietly ending it, hoping that nobody will notice. It’s served its purpose, which was to convince the public, or the chattering classes or some section thereof that the Tories really do hold some kind of liberal values, and are prepared to defend women and people of colour. But like everything they do in that direction, it’s always essentially propagandistic. It is there to garner them votes and plaudits in the press and media. And once it’s done that, these and similar initiatives are always abandoned.

Patel’s decision also shows you how seriously Johnson takes the general issue of racism and racial equality after the Black Lives Matter protests: he doesn’t. Not remotely. Remember he was going to set up an inquiry to deal with the issue, just like the last one the Tories set up under May when the issue raised its ugly head a few years ago. I admit that FGM is only one of a number of issues affecting Britain’s Black and BAME communities. It may not the most common, but it is certainly one of the most severe to those affected and there should be absolutely no question of the Centre continuing to receive funding. Young lives are being ruined. But Boris, Patel and the rest really can’t care less.

Part of the motive behind the Black Lives Matter protests, it seems to me, is that Britain’s Black communities have been particularly badly affected by austerity and neoliberalism. They aren’t alone – there are plenty of Whites and Asians that have similarly suffered. But as generally the poorest, or one of the poorest, sections of British society, which has suffered from structural racism, the Tories attacks on jobs, wages and welfare benefits has been particularly acute for them. It has contributed to the anger and alienation that led to the protests a few weeks ago and such symbolic acts as the tearing down of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol.

But now that the protests seem to be fading, the Tories are showing their real lack of concern despite the appointment of BAME politicos like Patel to the government.

And underneath this there’s also a very hypocritical attitude to the whole issue of FGM on the political right. Islamophobes like Tommy Robinson and the EDL use it to tarnish Islam as a whole. It’s supposed to show that the religion as a whole is dangerously misogynist, anti-feminist and fundamentally opposed to modern western conceptions of human rights. In fact the impression I have is that FGM isn’t unique to Islam, but practised by various African and other cultures around the world. Islamic scholars have said that it has no basis in Islam itself, but is a pre-Islamic practice that was taken over as the religion expanded. There have also been attempts by campaigners in this country and the European Union to pass legislation very firmly outlawing it. A few years ago there was even a bill passing through the European Parliament. But UKIP, whose storm troopers had been making such a noise about FGM and the fundamental incompatibility of Islam and western society, did not rouse themselves from their habitual idleness to support the motion. And this was noticed at the time.

There seems to be a racist backlash coming on after the Black Lives Matter protests. The Tories are trying to recruit members on the internet by stirring up concerns about the waves of illegal immigration. Over the past few days there have also been pieces stuck up on YouTube about this, and related issues from the usual offenders at TalkRadio, Julia Hartley-Brewer, and ‘Celebrity Radio’ Alex Belfield. My guess is that if we wait long enough, FGM will be revived once again by the right as another metaphorical stick to attack Muslims and brown people.

But all the while it should be remembered that the Tories wanted to tell us they were serious about tackling it. They weren’t, and aren’t.

And that tells you all you need to know about their attitudes to race, women and the poorest members of society generally, regardless of gender and ethnicity.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/08/02/tory-cut-killing-uks-only-centre-to-stop-female-genital-mutilation-is-in-line-with-priti-patels-behaviour/

 

Old ‘Financial Times’ Review by Caryl Phillips of Books on Afrocentrism and Black Identity

August 1, 2020

This is another very old clipping from my scrapbooks. Titled ‘Burdened by white men’s perceptions’, its a review by the Black British writer Caryl Phillips of the books Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes by Stephen Howe, and Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination by Adam Lively. Its from the Financial Times’ edition for August 15th/16th 1998, and so nearly a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, these are issues that are still present and which are still strongly influencing contemporary racial politics and motivating activist movements like Black Lives Matter.

Phillips begins his review with the book on Afrocentrism. This is a Black historical view that sees ancient Egypt as a Black African civilisation and the true source of the western cultural and intellectual tradition, which was appropriated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. He then moves on to the second book, which is about the issue of Black identity in majority White culture and the effects of White perceptions. Phillips writes

Stephen Howe’s candid book goes right to the heart of one of the most vexing of contemporary America’s problems: the question of “Afrocentrism”, and its legitimacy as an alternative system of thought to the “white racism” which has dominated American intellectual, social and political life. Howe (who is white) quotes the African-American professor, Manning Marable, who defines Afrocentrism as a system of thought which “looks to a romantic, mythical reconstruction of yesterday to find some understanding of the cultural basis of today’s racial and class challenges.” Howe agrees with Marable that Afrocentrism is not only romantic and mythical, but he sees it as ultimately dangerous.

His book is divided into three parts. In the first section Howe looks at the “roots” of Afrocentrism, rightly identifying the writings o the 19th-century writer Edward Wilmot Blyden as being perhaps at the head of this tradition. In 1866 Blyden travelled to Egypt, determined to see evidence of great Black achievements. He was overwhelmed by a sense of racial pride on first seeing the Pyramids: “This, thought I, was the work of my African progenitors … Feelings came over me far different from those I have ever felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius. I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built … by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I am descended …”

In the second part of his book, Howe focuses largely upon the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), identifying him as the originator of many of the ideas that form the basis of modern Afrocentrism. Diop believed that the biological origin of humanity took place in Africa, and that Egypt was the cradle of a Black civilisation that was appropriated by the Ancient Greeks. His writings and scholarship all speak to a need for those of Africa to see beyond the obfuscation created by European racism and colonialism,  and reclaim their glorious past.

The final part of Howe’s book looks at the current manifestations of Afrocentric thought, particularly in American academic life. He rightly castigates the anti-Semitism of Afrocentric “scholars”  such as Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin, and is tough but even-handed in his case against Molefi Asante (whom Howe calls the “Godfather of Afrocentrism”). The pseudo-scientific racism, the homophobia, and the lack of any serious scholarship which underpins the work of modern-day Afrocentrism is laid bare in a devastating, and at times humorous manner.

This book performs a great service for all who are interested in the intellectual study of race and racism in the US. Howe builds his case upon facts, which most Afrocentric “scholars” seem incapable of doing. However, what Howe does not do is to ask the pressing question which arises out of his book: why is it that so many African Americans both leaders and followers, are prepared to invest in such an ahistorical sense of their world and their history?

The first half of Adam Lively’s book provides some kind of an answer, castigating as it does the European attempts to place Africa and people of African origin at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. Lively traces what he terms “the invention of race” in the modern world, and looks at racial theories in 18th and 19th-century Britain, examined how they clashed with Christianity, and Darwinism.

The second half of the book turns to the US. Lively announces his shift of locale and time, by stating that in the earlier period “If the African answered back, the European didn’t hear. In America by contrast … the American Negro could and did answer back to the White man.” This is not strictly true. Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative published in 1789 went into eight British editions, and was also published in German, Dutch and Russian. Equiano was but one of a host of contemporary Black writers who were undoubtedly heard by Europeans.

The American half of Lively’s book is largely composed of readings in 20th century American literature which support his central thesis that the contemporary imagination has great difficulty coping with a blackness that has been so deeply demonised by theories which originated in earlier centuries. However, whereas the first half of his book is underpinned by solid research, the second half becomes more speculative.

The book concludes with a short epilogue entitled “Beyond Race?” Unfortunately, here the text collapses into the infuriating academic doublespeak that the author has so eloquently avoided. “The idea of postethnicity accords with the modern tendency to see ethnicity as performative than essentialist. Blackness becomes a cultural style, a signifier that has floated free of its moorings in pigmentation. Stripped of any deterministic associations, its gift is the freedom (or, negatively, the alienation) of the mask.”

Blackness is not, and never will be, simply “a cultural style”. Being Black in the western world still means that one is burdened by White people’s perceptions of  one as either an object of taboo or one of sentiment. To scamper off into an imagined past of Afrocentric “achievement” is as foolish as the attempt to construct an imagined present of redemptive cultural equality based around baggy jeans and rap music. Lively ends his book with the following sentence: “The racial past cannot be erased, but it can be rendered impotent.” Neither Lively’s faith in postmodernism nor the Afrocentric’s “fake” history, will produce any viable solution to a problem that will dog us far into the next millennium.

I hope this prediction is far too pessimistic, and that this millennium won’t be as burdened with issues of race and racism as the previous. Regarding Afrocentrism, there is a serious point behind the romanticism. Egypt is geographically part of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians certainly portrayed themselves as darker skinned than the European peoples to the north. They traded extensively in the Mediterranean, including as far west as Spain, and did influence Greek and Roman culture. The White Afrocentrist historian, Basil Davidson, states that he believes that the Romans took their intellectual culture from Egypt because the Romans themselves said they did. On the other hand, it appears that the ancient Greeks took their mathematical knowledge from the ancient Near East, particularly Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

My problem with Afrocentrism is that, at its extreme, it just becomes a form of anti-White racism, the mirror image of White racist views of Black and African history. In the view of Afrocentric writers like Garakai Chengu, ancient Egypt was a superior Black civilisation that bestowed culture and learning on the backward White tribes of Europe. The Moors of Islamic Spain were ‘obviously Black’, and through their conquest brought backward, superstitious White Europeans enlightened philosophy and science. This isn’t history so much as a Black racist fantasy of imperialism and benign colonialism projected into the past. Chengu has apparently taught at Harvard, but when Counterpunch saw fit to publish a piece by him on their website the standard of scholarship was so poor that I really wondered how he got the job.

Ancient Egypt and the other great civilisations of Africa are awesome, inspiring and worth studying along with all the world’s great cultures. But this needs to be done without the grotesque distortions of racism, whether by Whites or Blacks.

‘Financial Times’ Review of Book on Real, Modern Slavery

August 1, 2020

This is another old clipping I’ve kept in my scrapbooks from the Financial Times, from May 29/30th 1999. It’s a review by their columnist, Ben Rogers, ‘Forced into human bondage’, of Kevin Bales’ Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global  Economy. This is another book that the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol had in its library. It’s an excellent book, but obviously very, very grim reading in its truly harrowing accounts of the brutality meted out to real, enslaved people across the world. I’m posting the review here because, while Britain and America are re-evaluating the legacy of slavery following the Black Lives Matter protests, real slavery and its horrors still exist around the world and I am afraid that this is being overshadowed by the debates over historic European slavery.

Rogers begins his review with the subtitled ‘Slavery today may be illegal, but it is still rife’. The review then goes on

It is tempting to think of slavery as a thing of the past. Its legacy lives on, disfiguring relations between Black and Whites everywhere, but surely the practice itself has gone?

This sober, well-researched, pioneering study shows that this, alas, is far from the case. Bales, an American social scientist who teaches in London at the Roehampton Institute, is careful to distinguish slavery from other forms of exploitation: the Pakistani child labourer, the Burmese agricultural worker, although paid a subsistence wage, are not necessarily slaves. Nevertheless, he argues that there are still, on a conservative estimate, perhaps 27m slaves in the world today – a population greater than that of Canada.

Most are located in the Indian subcontinent where they work as bonded labourers, but they exist in almost every country in the world. Paris harbours as many as 3,000 household slaves, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Arab states many more. In the Dominican Republic, enslaved Haitians harvest the sugar that we eat. In Brazil, child prostitutes are forced to service the miners of the metals we use.

Of course, modern slavery is different from the old variety practised in ancient Athens or the American South. But in certain respects, Bales persuasively argues, the new variety is worse. In the traditional version, slave holders owned their slaves, who were almost always of a different race or religion from their masters; slaves were relatively expensive “capital” goods and usually kept up for life. Nowadays legal ownership is outlawed in every country of the world (Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after all, states that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude”), so modern slavery is disguised and “ownership” is replaced by manipulative debt bondage or fictive long-term “contracts”. Modern slaves tend to be taken from the same ethnic group as their holders and, because they are cheap, they are often used for only months or a few years before being discarded. Another difference is the size of the profit slaves produce. Agricultural bonded labourers in India generate not 5 per cent, as did slaves in the American South, but over 50 per cent profit per year for the slave holder; a Thai brothel owner can make 800 per cent on a new teenage girl.

To illustrate the nature of the new slavery, Bales has travelled around the world to investigate five cases in detail (often at some risk to himself): that of an enslaved prostitute in Ubon Ratchitani, Thailand; a water carrier in Mauritania; charcoal burners in the camps in Matto Grosso do Sul, Brazil; brickmakers in the Punjab, Pakistan; and bonded agricultural labourers in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The cases varied in significant ways. Ironically the one that most resembles old-style slavery – that of the water carrier from Mauritania – proves perhaps to be the least vicious. Slavery in Mauritania represents a lightly disguised continuation of a centuries-old practice; there slaves are kept for life and many slave families have been working for the same masters for generations. The cruellest example, by contrast, is provided by “Siri” the Thai prostitute, who was sold into slavery by her parents aged 14. Her debts to her owners are manipulate to ensure that she will continue to work until she is too tired or ill to be profitable.

Despite the differences, however, two continuities run through all the cases Bales so  graphically describes. In every case the worker is tricked or forced into bondage; in every case he or she is provided with the barest means of subsistence and sometimes not even that. In the charcoal camps of Brazil the men are often denied medication and left to die – on the principle that it is cheaper to acquire a new worker than repair an old one.

The western world has been slow to recognise the problem of the new slavery – in part because it is carefully disguised. The slave holders hide it from their government, governments hide it from the international community. The result is that, unlike, say, torture or censorship, slavery has yet to become a major human rights issue. The main international organisation dedicated to the abolition of slavery, Anti-Slavery International, has only 6,000 members. And without grass roots pressure, the World Bank, IMF and national governments are not inclined to show much concern.

“What country,” as Bales asks, “has been sanctioned by the UN for slavery? Where are the UN inspection teams charged with searching out slave labour? Who speaks for the slaves in the International Court of Justice? Governments and business are more likely to suffer international penalties today for counterfeiting a Michael Jackson CD than for using slaves.”

Modern slaves face the same conditions as the poor of the third world – they are the victims of industrialisation, population explosion and government corruption. Where labour is abundant, wages low, bribery rife, workers often face a stark choice between enslavement and starvation. Slavery, however, calls for its own particular solutions. Bales shows how strict enforcement of existing laws combined with programmes aimed at enabling slaves to set up on their own, have had some effect in diminishing debt bondage in northern India – although, as he reminds us, unless steps are taken slavery is set to grow.

Incredibly, Bales’ study is about the first to explore slavery in its modern international guise. The picture it offers remains patchy, given the limited resources at Bales’ disposal. He makes much of the west’s role in aiding and abetting slavery, yet most of the cases he studies belongs to local economies. This remains, however, a convincing and moving book. One can only hope that it will draw some attention to the terrible phenomenon it describes.

Although this was written 21 years ago, I’ve no doubt that it’s still acutely relevant and the situation has got worse. Since then there have been a series of scandals involving the enslavement of migrant workers in Britain and eastern European women trafficked into sex slavery. And, as the book Falling Off the Edge, shows very clearly, poverty around the world and the consequent exploitation of the poor has got much worse due to neoliberalism and globalisation. One of the programmes due to be shown on the Beeb – but I can’t remember whether it’s on TV or radio – is an examination of global terrorism. One of the groups looked at are Maoist terrorists in India. They’re a horrifically violent outfit, but they’re the result, according to Falling Off the Edge, of the horrific poverty and exploitation foisted upon the agricultural workers of central India.

And then there’s the increasing poverty and mounting debts of the British poor, thanks to Thatcherite welfare cuts, wage freezes and the replacement of loans for welfare payments and services. I wonder how long before this morphs into something very much like debt bondage over here.

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

July 31, 2020

Sir Alan Burns, Colour and Colour Prejudice with Particular Reference to the Relationship between Whites and Negroes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1948).

I ordered this book secondhand online a week or so ago, following the Black Lives Matter protests and controversies over the past few weeks. I realise reading a book this old is a rather eccentric way of looking at contemporary racial issues, but I’d already come across it in the library there when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. What impressed me about it was that it also dealt with anti-White racism amongst Blacks as well as the book’s main concern with anti-Black racism, discrimination and growing Black discontent in the British Empire.

Burns was a former governor of Ghana, then the Gold Coast. According to the potted biography on the front flap of the dust jacket, he was ‘a Colonial Civil Servant of long and distinguished experience in tropical West Africa and the West Indies.’ The book

deals with the important question of colour prejudice, and pleads for mutual courtesy and consideration between the white and the coloured races. Sir Alan analyses the history and alleged causes of colour prejudice, and cites the opinions of many writers who condemn or attempt to justify the existence of prejudice. It is a frank analysis of an unpleasant phenomenon.

He was also the author of two other books, his memoirs of colonial service in the Leeward Islands Nigeria, Bahamas, British Honduras, the Gold Coast and the Colonial Office, Colonial Civil Servant, and A History of Nigeria. The Gold Coast was one of the most racial progressive of the British African colonies. It was the first of them to include an indigenous chief on the ruling colonial council. I therefore expected Burns to hold similar positive views of Blacks, given, of course, how outdated these would no doubt seem to us 72 years later.

After the introduction, the book is divided into the following chapters:

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

II. The Attitude of Various Peoples to Racial and Colour Differences

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

XI. The Effect of Environment and History on the Negro Race

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

I’ve done little more than take the occasional glance through it so far, so this is really a rather superficial treatment of  the book, more in the way of preliminary remarks than a full-scale review. Burns does indeed take a more positive view of Blacks and their potential for improvement, but the book is very dated and obviously strongly influenced by his own background in the colonial service and government. As a member of the colonial governing class, Burns is impressed by the British Empire and what he sees as its benevolent and highly beneficial rule of the world’s indigenous peoples. He is in no doubt that they have benefited from British rule, and quotes an American author as saying that there is no other colonial power which would have done so for its subject peoples. He is particularly impressed by the system of indirect rule, in which practical government was largely given over to the colonies’ indigenous ruling elites. This was peaceful, harmonious and had benefited the uneducated masses of the Empire’s indigenous peoples. These colonial subjects appreciated British rule and largely supported it. He did not expect this section of colonial society to demand their nations’ independence. However, this governmental strategy did not suit the growing class of educated Blacks, who were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment as inferiors and demanding independence.

As with other, later books on racism Burns tackles its history and tries to trace how far back it goes. He argues that racism seems to go back no further than the Fifteenth century. Before then, culture and religion were far more important in defining identity.  He’s not entirely convinced by this, and believes that racism in the sense of colour prejudice probably existed far earlier, but there is little evidence for it. There have been other explorations of this subject which have attempted to show the history and development of racism as a cultural idea in the west. Other historians have said much the same, and I think the consensus of opinion is that it was the establishment of slavery that led to the development of ideas of Black inferiority to justify their capture and enslavement.

Burns is also concerned at what he and the other authorities he quotes as the growth in anti-Black racism that came following the First World War. He compares this unfavourably with a comment from an African lady, who went to a British school during Victoria’s reign. The women recalls that she and the other Black girls were treated absolutely no differently from the Whites, and that the only time she realised there was any difference between them was when she looked in a mirror. This is interesting, and a good corrective to the idea that all Whites were uniformly and aggressively racist back then, but I expect her experience may have been very different from Blacks further down the social hierarchy. Burns believes the increase in racism after the First World War was due to the increased contact between Blacks and Whites, which is probably true following the mass mobilisation of troops across the Empire.

But what I found as an historian with an interest in African and other global civilisations is the book’s almost wholly negative assessment of Black civilisation and its achievements. Burns quotes author after author, who states that Blacks have produced no great civilisations or cultural achievements. Yes, ancient Egypt is geographically a part of Africa, but culturally and racially, so it is claimed, it is part of the Middle East. Where Black Africans have produced great civilisations, it is through contact with external, superior cultures like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Arabs. Where Blacks have produced great artistic achievements, such as in the Benin bronzes of the 16th/17th century, it is claimed that this is due to contact with the Portuguese and Spanish. This negative view is held even by writers, who are concerned to stress Black value and dignity, and show that Blacks are not only capable of improvement, but actually doing so.

Since then a series of historians, archaeologists and art historians have attempted to redress this view of history by showing how impressive Black African civilisations were. Civilisations like ancient Nubia, Ethiopia, Mali and the other great Islamic states of north Africa, and advanced west African civilisations like Dahomey. I myself prefer the superb portraiture in the sculptures from 17th century Ife in west Africa, but archaeologists and historians have been immensely impressed by the carved heads from Nok in Nigeria, which date from about 2,000 BC. Going further south, there is the great fortress of Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that bewildered western archaeologists. For years it was suggested that Black Africans simply couldn’t have built it, and that it must have been the Arabs or Chinese instead. In fact analysis of the methods used to build it and comparison with the same techniques used by local tribes in the construction of their wooden buildings have shown that the fortress was most definitely built by indigenous Zimbabweans. There have been a number of excellent TV series broadcast recently. Aminatta Forna presented one a few years ago now on Timbuktu, once the centre of a flourishing and immensely wealthy west African kingdom. A few years before, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford presented a series on BBC Four, Lost Civilisations of Africa. I think that’s still on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth a look. Archaeologists are revealing an entire history of urban civilisation that has previously been lost or overlooked. Nearly two decades or so ago there was a piece by a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria, who had discovered the remains of house and courtyard walls stretching over an area of about 70 km. This had been lost as the site had been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation. He lamented how there was little interest in the remains of this immense, ancient city among Nigerians, who were far more interested in ancient Egypt.

This neglect and disparagement of African history and achievement really does explain the fervour with which Afrocentric history is held by some Blacks and anti-racist Whites. This is a view that claims that the ancient Egyptians were Black, and the real creators of the western cultural achievement. It began with the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop. White Afrocentrists have included Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Basil Davidson. Following the Black Lives Matter protests there have also been calls for Black history to be taught in schools, beginning with African civilisations.

More positively, from what I’ve seen so far, Burns did believe that Blacks and Whites were equal in intelligence. The Christian missionaries Samuel Crowther, who became the first Anglican bishop of Africa, and Frederick Schon, had absolutely no doubt. Crowther was Black, while Schon was a White Swiss. In one of their reports to the British parliamentary committee sitting to examine slavery and the slave trade, they presented evidence from the African missionary schools in the form of essays from their pupils to show that Blacks certainly were as capable as Whites. Possibly more so at a certain age. As Black underachievement at school is still a very pressing issue, Crowther’s and Schon’s findings are still very important. Especially as there are real racists, supporters of the book The Bell Curve, keen to argue that Blacks really are biologically mentally inferior to Whites.

Burns’ book is fascinating, not least because it shows the development of official attitudes towards combating racism in Britain. Before it became such a pressing issue with the mass influx of Black migrants that came with Windrush, it seems that official concern was mostly over the growing resentment in Africa and elsewhere with White, British rule. The book also hopefully shows how we’ve also come in tackling racism in the West. I’m not complacent about it – I realise that it’s still very present and blighting lives – but it’s far, far less respectable now than it was when I was a child in the 1970s. My concern, however, is that some anti-racism activists really don’t realise this and their concentration on the horrors and crimes of the past has led them to see the present in its terms. Hence the rant of one of the BLM firebrands in Oxford that the police were the equivalent of the Klan.

Burn’s book shows just how much progress has been made on, and makes you understand just what an uphill struggle this has been.

 

 

From 1997: Financial Times Article on Free Market Creating Global Poverty

July 18, 2020

This is another piece I found combing through my scrapbooks. It’s by the Financial Times’ columnist, Joe Rogaly. Titled ‘Market Victims Who Are Free to Be Poor’, and with the subtitle ‘One set of figures shows the capitalist road leading to paradise; a better set shows it leading to misery for many’ it compares and contrasts two reports on global poverty, one by the UN and another by a group of free market think tanks led by the Fraser Institute. And Rogaly comes down firmly on the side of the UN. The article, published in the Weekend edition for 14/15 June 1997, runs

When pictures of skeletal children or abandoned babies appear on the TV news do you (a) lean forward to catch the commentary (b) change channels (c) switch off and head for the kitchen? Some of us have seen about as many images of third-world distress as we can bear. Our assumption is that we know the cure for deprivation: unshackle the free market and the globalised capitalist wealth-producing machine will do the rest.

No it won’t. The 1997 Human Development report, published this week by Oxford University Press for the United Nations, demolishes the idea that the bounty created by the genius of market economics will trickle down. You have to spend tax -payers’ money to help the worst-off, or they will be dead before they are rescued.

Not everyone accepts this. It is contrary to the spirit of the 1997 Economic Freedom of the World report. Right-thinking and therefore expressive of familiar sentiments, it was published last month by the Fraser Institute, Vancouver, in association with 46 other pro-market think-tanks dotted around the planet.

This clutch of capitalist theologians, which includes London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, has invented an index of economic freedom. Its 17 components include growth and inflation rates, government spending, top marginal tax rates, restraints on trade, and so on. These are expressed in hard numbers and therefore “objective”. Hong Kong tops a list of 115 countries thus appraised. The US comes 4th, Britain 7th and France 36th.

You can guess what follows. A few clicks on the mouse-button tell you that between 1985 and 1996 the economies near the top of the economic freedom index grew fastes, while those at the bottom – the “least free” fifth – got poorer. That unhappy quintile includes Russia, Ukraine, and the well-known African disaster areas. The lesson is obvious. Impede the market, and you pay, perhaps with your life. The unobstructed capitalist road is the highway to  paradise.

Wrong again. The UN’s Human Development Index is closer to the truth. it does not measure progress by the rules of conventional economics alone. To be sure, it factors in real gross domestic product per head, as do the freedom-theorists. But GDP is only one of three ingredients. The other two are life expectancy and educational attainment. The resulting list puts countries in a different order from the free marketeers’ league table.

On the latter, remember, Hong Kong comes first. On the development index it falls to 22nd. France, which believes in government expenditure, moves up from 36th on the economic freedom ladder to second place on human development. The United Kingdom falls from 7th to 15th. It’s not just the wealth you generate. It’s how you spend it.

The Human Development report introduces another index this year – for “human poverty”. It counts the people who are expected to die before turning 40, the number of illiterates, those without health services and clean water, and underweight toddlers. Once again you get changes in the rank order, particularly among developing countries.

Cuba, China, Kenya and Peru have all done relatively well at alleviating human poverty. Egypt, Guatemala and Pakistan score less on poverty relief than on human development. It is not only how you spend it, but who you spend it on.

The obvious message is aspirational. If the rich countries would put their hands in their pockets, poverty could be eliminated. We know this will not happen, in spite of the determination to give a lead expressed by Britain’s new Labour administration. Government to government aid is no longer fashionable. The money does not always reach its destination, as the worst case story, that of Zaire, teaches us. The US poured in the dollars, and they went straight into former president Mobutu’s Swiss bank accounts.

Tied assistance is better. Big donors usually demand that markets by set free. This is not quite enough to meet the needs of Human Development or the alleviation of poverty. Happily, contracts tying aid to certain actions are getting more sophisticated – although so are the means by which recipients contravene them. Anyhow, aid is but a part of what is needed.

The true value of the Human Development report lies in its implicit challenge to narrow-focused concentration on the market mechanism. Compiled by a team of economists and others directed by Richard Joly, it has evolved within the broad discipline of economics. It would be better still if someone could come up with an acceptable index of political freedom, to measure both economic and human development and democratic practices. That would require judgments that could not be quantified. How would you have treated 99 per cent votes in communist countries?

The outlook is not all so dolorous. Poverty is declining overall, largely thanks to the improvement in China, which has moved up the economic freedom tables and reduced destitution. Not many countries can make that boast. There are still 800m people who do not have enough to eat. We have some clever indices, but so far no great help to the misery on our TV screens. Only a change in the way we think can achieve that.

That was published nearly a quarter of a century ago. I don’t doubt that with time and the progress of neoliberalist, free market economics, things have become much, much worse. The book Falling off the Edge, which I’ve reviewed on this blog, is a full-scale attack on such globalisation, showing how it not only has created worse poverty and exploitation, but has also led to political instability and global terrorism. And as more British children go hungry, as more people fall into poverty due to the Tories’ privatisations and destruction of the welfare state, I wonder how long it will be before conditions very like those of the Developing World appear here.

This was published when the Financial Times’ weekend edition was still worth reading. It had good reviews and insightful columnists. It declined in quality around the turn of the millennium when it became much more lightweight. It has also switched its political allegiance from liberal to Conservative in an unsuccessful attempt to gain readers.

This article shows that neoliberal free market economics, of the type pushed by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs, has always been a fraud, and known to be a fraud.

But our mendacious, vicious press and political establishment are still pushing it, at a massive cost in human lives and wellbeing. Even in Britain.

‘I’ Newspaper: England Could Run Out Of Water in 20 Years

July 11, 2020

Yesterday’s I for 10th July 2020 carried an article by Madeleine Cuff, ‘England ‘at risk of running out of water’, which reported that MPs had criticized the water authorities for the state of the country’s water supply. The article ran

MPs have issued a stinging rebuke to England’s water authorities, warning the country is at “serious risk” of running out water within 20 years unless “urgent action” is taken to shore up supplies.

“It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out – but that is exactly what we now face,” said Public Accounts Committee chair Mog Hillier.

In a report published today, it accused the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, and the water regulator Ofwat of having “taken their eyes off the ball” in the race to secure a sustainable long-term supply of fresh water. It follows similarly stark warnings from the national Audit Office in March.

England is already extracting groundwater at unsustainable rates, and as climate change brings hotter, drier weather, water supply will come under more intense pressure.

Yet every day more than three billion litres of fresh drinking water is lost through leakages, a fifth of the total volume used. Urgent action must be taken to reduce this “wholly unacceptable” level of leakages.

Meanwhile, industry action to persuade the public to use less water has “failed”, the MPs added.

The water crisis has been going on a long time, and doesn’t only affect England. It’s all over the world. Viewers of Stacy Dooley’s documentary a few months ago into the massive environmental impact of the ‘fast fashion’ industry will remember the scenes of the dried-up wastes of what used to be the Caspian Sea, caused by Uzbekistan diverting the water to irrigate the fields for its cotton industry. Way back in the 1990s the Financial Times covered the emerging water crisis in arid countries in Africa and the Middle East, and predicted that in this century conflict over water would become the major cause of war.

The I and other papers also published reports years ago about the declining state of Britain’s own water supply. Even at the time water extraction, including that for industrial purposes, was exceeding the supply. And when I was at Bristol University studying for the archaeology doctorate nearly a decade ago, we had a visiting archaeologist tell us in a seminar about the effects of climate change on civilizations across the world down through time that we needed to save water.

It is not, however, just the water authorities’ fault. The real responsibility lies with the water companies and their privatisation. They were sold to mostly foreign companies with the promise that this would bring extra investment. It hasn’t. The foreigners who own our water supply simply regard it as a profit-stream, rather than a vital utility. The profits have gone out of the country, while they themselves have done precious little to maintain the water supply to an acceptable standard.

And if the water authorities haven’t done much about this, it’s because they were deliberately prevented from doing so by the Tories when the water industry was privatized. There were a series of reports in Private Eye about how the Tories had cut back the scope and regulatory powers of Defra, Ofwat and their predecessors, so that their ability to interfere in the running of the new, privatized companies was severely limited.

The crisis has been going on for a long time. And it is partly due to Margaret Thatcher and her insistence on the primacy of private industry. But private industry has shown itself incompetent to run the water supply. It’s one of the reasons its renationalisation was in the 2019 Labour manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn.

But Corbyn was massively smeared and reviled by the establishment right and their poodle media. Which is why we now have a parliament, who will do nothing about this, adding drought and thirst to the misery they are inflicting on the poor.

 

Radio 4 Programme On Rise of Eco-Fascism and Anti-Humanism

July 10, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times for 11-17 July 2020, Monday’s edition of Analysis on Radio 4 is about ‘Humans vs the Planet’. The blurb for the programme on page 119 of the magazine reads

As Covid-19 forced humans into lockdown, memes emerged showing the earth was healing thanks to our absence from nature. These were false claims, but their popularity revealed how seductive the idea that “we are the virus” can be. At its most extreme, this way of thinking leads to eco-fascism, the belief that the harm humans can do to Earth can be reduced by cutting the number of non-White people. But the Green movement is also challenged by a less hateful form of this mentality known as “doomism” – a sense that humans will inevitably cause ecological disaster.

These sentiments have been around for a very long time. Earlier this year, a female professor of Queer philosophy at one of the new universities published her own manifesto for saving the planet. Dubbed ‘professor Goth’ by one of the Conservative news sites that covered the story, she advocates saving the planet through making humanity extinct. It’s a radical, misanthropic, anti-human stance that neither unique nor original to her. About a quarter of a century ago in the mid-90s the radical Green group, VHMNT, was agitating for the same policy. VHMNT, pronounced ‘Vehement’ , stood for Voluntary Human Extinction. It was peaceful and didn’t advocate violence, but wanted humanity to save the planet through voluntary extinction. Those who joined it vowed not to reproduce.

Some left-wing, ecologically aware scientists have been accused of possessing the same mindset, but willing to contemplate much more aggressive tactics. Over a decade ago, back in the early years of this century, Conservatives accused a scientist of advocating the extermination of humanity through disease. He had been speaking at a conference on the ecological crisis, and made some comment about the threat of new diseases to humanity as the environment deteriorates. His defenders argue that he was not advocating it, simply stating that such a disease would arise. Many Conservatives have a deep hatred of the Green movement. At the extremes, they see it as an anti-human, pagan nature cult aimed at the communistic redistribution of wealth and with its origins in Nazism. Hence all the rants by conspiracy-peddler Alex Jones about Obama taking over America by declaring a state of emergency and forcing Americans into FEMA camps and his denunciation of eco-friendly ‘Hobbit homes’.

The SF author, Bruce Sterling, also predicted that there would spring up guerrilla groups also dedicated to the mass culling of humanity to protect the planet. His 1990s novel, Heavy Weather, is set in a Texas turning to desert through the aquifers drying up, devastated through violent hurricanes created by a climate becoming increasingly extreme. These have left masses of Americans homeless, living in refugee camps. The story follows the adventures of the alienated son of one of the rich families, as he falls in with an underground group of outlaw storm chasers. One of the characters he encounters is an angry young man, who belongs to a terrorist organization attempting to save the planet through violence. The man describes how people might be killed by poisoning, after model boats are floated on the water of a reservoir. People die, but nobody is responsible. He compares it to the lynching of Blacks by the Klan. Blacks died, but again, nobody was responsible.

The book was a work of fiction and Sterling is very definitely not a racist or an advocate of such terrorism. It’s simply a a fictional treatment of what might arise if climate change and the deterioration of the environment becomes acute.

As for the hatred of the non-White peoples of the Developing World, this no doubt comes from the fact that families in these nations are traditionally larger than those of western Whites. The birthrate in Britain is actually below the level required for the maintenance of the population at the present level. The country’s population is only increasing due immigration. Without it, it would be falling. Hence the racist alarm at the growth of Britain’s Black and Asian populations. It is the expansion of the human population that is causing the current environmental crisis, but much of this is due to excessive consumption of energy and resources by the Developed West.

The birthrate is also falling in the Developing World as literacy rates rise and these countries modernize. This has led some demographers to fear that instead of a population explosion, as feared in the 1970s, there will be population crash. It’s predicted that this will happen, if at all, sometime around 2050. Fearing a shortage of labour, they predict that states will compete to encourage immigration. It has also been predicted that one of the African countries, that today has a terrible infant mortality rate and left-expectancy, will become the first country to suffer catastrophic population decline.

The programme, Analysis: Humans vs the Planet, is at 8.30 pm in the evening on Radio 4.

History of Global Slavery in Maps

July 10, 2020

James Walvin, Atlas of Slavery (Harlow: Pearson Education 2006).

I’ve blogged several times about the importance of putting western, transatlantic slavery in its global context. Slavery was not something that only White Europeans did to Black Africans. It has plagued humanity across history and the globe. It existed in ancient Greece and Rome, in the Arab and Islamic worlds and even in sub-Saharan Africa itself. And it reappeared in the 20th century in the Nazi concentration and death camps, and the gulags of Stalin’s Soviet Union, as well as the Russian dictators deportation of whole ethnic groups and nations to Siberia.

While concentrating very much on European transatlantic slavery, in which Black slaves were transported to the Caribbean and North and South America, Walvin’s book does place it in this global, historical context. James Walvin is a former history lecturer at the University of York, and was the co-editor of the journal Slavery and Abolition. He has also published a series of books on the subject. Walvin’s Atlas of Slavery presents the history of slavery throughout the world in maps. The blurb for it on the book’s back cover runs

The enslavement of Africans and their transportation across the Atlantic has come to occupy a unique place in the public imagination. Despite the wide-ranging atrocities of the twentieth century (including massive slave systems in Nazi Europe and the Russian Gulag), the Atlantic slave system continues to hold a terrible fascination. But slavery in the Atlantic world involved much more than the transportation of human cargo from one country to another, as Professor Walvin clearly explains in the Atlas of Slavery.

In this fascinating new book he looks at slavery in the Americas in the broadest context, taking account of both earlier and later forms of slavery. The relationship between the critical continents, Europe, Africa and the Americas is examined through a collection of maps and related text, which puts the key features of the history of slavery in their defining geographical setting. By foregrounding the historical geography of slavery, Professor Walvin shows how the people of three widely separated continents were brought together into an economic and human system that was characterized both by violence and cruelty to its victims and huge economic advantage to its owners and managers.

Professor Walvin’s synthesis of the complex history of Atlantic slavery provides a fresh perspective from which to view and understand one of the most significant chapters in global history. We may think of slavery as a largely bygone phenomenon, but it is a practice that continues to this day, and the exploitation of vulnerable human beings remains a pressing contemporary issue.

After an introduction, the book has the following chapters:

  1. Slavery in a global setting.
  2. The ancient world.
  3. Overland African slave routes
  4. 4 European slavery and slave trades
  5. Exploration and the spread of sugar
  6. Europeans, slaves and West Africa
  7. Britain, slavery and the slave trade
  8. Africa
  9. The Atlantic
  10. Crossing the Atlantic
  11. Destinations
  12. Arrivals
  13. Brazil
  14. The Caribbean
  15. North America
  16. Cotton and the USA
  17. Slave resistance
  18. Abolition and emancipation
  19. East Africa and the Indian Ocean
  20. Slavery after abolition.

The book concludes with a chronology, further reading list and index.

This is slavery minutely described. The maps and accompanying texts not only discuss the history of slavery itself, but also the general trading systems of which it was a part, the goods and agricultural products, like cotton, it served to produce, and the regions, towns and cities that produced and traded in them and the routes across which they were transported. There is even a map of the currents of the Atlantic Ocean as part of the background to the horrendous Middle Passage – the shipping route across the ocean used to transport slaves from Africa to the New World.

The book’s an excellent resource for people studying or simply interested in the history of slavery. The book is almost totally devoted to transatlantic slavery, as you’d expect. But not totally so, and as I said, this global historical context is needed if an equally racist, anti-White view of the history of slavery is to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Correspondence with Deputy Major Asher Craig on Slavery Education in Bristol

July 9, 2020

Asher Craig (below) is Bristol’s deputy mayor from communities, which takes in public health, public transport, libraries, parks, and events and equalities, and the Labour councillor for St. George West.

Councillor Asher Craig

I sent an email to her on Tueday this week, 7th July 2020, expressing my concerns at a brief interview she had given to BBC News Sunday night, and which had been repeated that morning on Radio 4. This was about Edward Colston and the legacy of slavery in the city. The Beeb had dispatched Lisa Mzimba to Bristol to investigate this lingering issue, and sound out local people about their opinions on it. One of those he spoke to was Asher Craig. And her comments frankly annoyed me, because they appeared to show that she was unaware that the city had tackled slavery and produced books and exhibitions about it, and that there was now a gallery devoted to it at the M Shed museum on Bristol’s docks. She kindly replied to me, and I include this with my email in this article, as well as my own comments on this.

I’m very well aware how sensitive racial issues. Please don’t anyone troll her or send her abusive or threatening messages. There’s far too much of this on the net as it is, and I don’t want to stoke up more of it or increasing racism instead of trying get rid of it.

Craig had declared that Bristol had covered up its history of slavery, and that she wanted to see a museum of slavery opened here. She also said that the council was introducing a new curriculum, which would educate children about this aspect of the city’s past. This also concerned me, as I feel very strongly that western slavery needs to be put into its global context. Slavery has existed in many societies right across the world, including Africa and Islam. It was Black African kingdoms who sold the slave to us, rather than White Europeans raiding Africa directly for slaves, although that had also gone on. Furthermore, in the 16th and 17th centuries the Barbary pirates of Muslim north Africa raided Europe for slaves. Ships from Bristol were also attacked and their crews enslaved. I am concerned that these aspects of the slave trade should also be taught in order to avoid teaching a view that is equally racist but against Whites, that racism and slavery is something that only Whites do to people of colour.  And anti-White racism has also existed in Bristol alongside hatred of Blacks and other people of colour.

I therefore sent Deputy Mayor Craig the following email:

Dear Madam,

This morning Radio 4 broadcast a brief interview you did with the BBC’s news presenter, Lisa Mzimba, about the current controversy surrounding Edward Colston’s statue and the need to confront the city’s participation in the slave trade. You, like many people, feel that it has been insufficiently addressed and more needs to be done to tackle racism. Unfortunately, you made several statements which were factually incorrect and suggest that there are areas about Bristol’s education system and the various displays the city’s museums have put on to address this, of which you are unaware.

Firstly, you claimed that the city has covered up its involvement in the slave trade. This is myth, and I am shocked that it is still circulating. I understand that it comes from an incident in the 1970s when a member of Bristol’s Black community telephoned the city council whether there was anything available about the city and the slave trade. The person answering the call denied that Bristol ever took part in the trade. Obviously that is clearly wrong, and it is understandable that after this many of Bristol’s Black citizens would feel that the city was engaged in a cover-up.

However, educational materials produced at the time for teaching the city’s history in schools do cover the slave trade. The book Bristol: An Outline History for Schools, by H. Chasey (Bristol: George’s Booksellers 1975) discusses the slave trade on its page on 18th century trade. 13 years ago there was also a book published about Bristol in 1807, which was specifically brought out to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. While this was a work of general history, it made a point of discussing the city’s participation in the slave trade. The book was available from the Central Library among other venues. The Central Library has also published a booklet of materials they hold on slavery. This was published by the Reference Library, and titled Bristol 1807: A Sense of Place – Our City in the Year of Abolition. It had the subtitle, Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: A Reading List. The local branch of the historical association also published a booklet,Bristol and the Abolition of Slavery, by Peter Marshall.

In the 1990’s the City Museum presented an exhibition, ‘A Respectable Trade’, about Bristol and the slave trade, which coincided with the drama of that name then showing on BBC television, based on the book of the same name by Philippa Gregory. This exhibition has now ended, but there is an entire gallery devoted to the subject at the M Shed. I realize that a gallery or exhibition is not the same as the museum you wish to be built, but it does show that the local council has addressed this issue.

You also said that you had created a curriculum for schools across the city that would cover this and other aspects of Black history. I’d be very grateful if you could tell me whether this includes the participation of African states in the slave trade, and their resistance to its abolition. As I’m sure you’re aware, the slave trade was not simply a case of White Europeans kidnapping Black Africans. Many African states, such as Dahomey and Mali, had slavery long before the appearance of White Europeans in Africa. Europeans were largely confined to ghettos in some of these states’ cities, and it was these African states that led the raids and obtained the slaves, which they then sold to Europeans.

The slave trade was also not confined to White Europeans either. There was also the Arab and Indian slave trades, which saw people from central and eastern Africa enslaved and then exported to India, Afghanistan, Arabia and other countries. It was partly to suppress this slave trade that the British empire first made treaties with Imam of Muscat, who was then the region’s suzerain, and then invaded this part of Africa.There was also the Turkish slave trade, which saw Black Sudanese enslaved and transported north to Egypt and the other states of the Maghreb.Moroccan slave trade only ended in 1911, because the British empire actively opposed its conquest by the other European powers.

I realize that this goes beyond merely local history, but it is important to avoid perpetuating a simplistic view in which slavery in only something that Whites ever did to Blacks. You have made it very clear that you wish to stamp out racism. However, in my experience racism is far from being confined to Whites. There has been anti-White as well as anti-Black racism in Bristol’s schools, as well as vicious ethnic hatred between Asians and the BAME community. As difficult as this, I feel very strongly that this also needs to be addressed.

I would also like to know what you are doing to cover the subject of the White Bristolians, who were also enslaved. As you know, Bristol’s participation in the slave trade actually predates that of the transatlantic slave trade.The city sold English slaves abroad in the 11th and 12th century centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Bristolian seamen were also kidnapped and enslaved by the Barbary pirates. Five of Bristol’s ships were captured in one year. While the enslavement of White Europeans was obviously minuscule compared to that of the Black Africans enslaved – 2 1/2 million compared to 12 1/2 million, nevertheless it occurred and is, I believe, partly responsible for modern prejudices towards Islam.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me what you are doing to address these issues, and look forward to your reply

Yesterday I got this reply from her.

Thank you for your email.

I am very much aware of the history of slavery in this city and the resources & educational materials you refer to in your email.

It’s a pity that my interview was edited because if you had heard my full response you would not have sent me such an email.

The One Bristol curriculum will tell the full truth not the half truths of history we were all taught in school. It will celebrate our black history from Africa, Caribbean, UK but will also expand to look at the wider local history of poor white working class communities. The History Commission the Mayor is putting in place will  also I form our work going forward.

We have to start somewhere and we’ve always known that the burning platform, I’m sure you’d agree, is eliminating racial hatred & discrimination which is deeply embedded in this society.

Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing. We work inclusively not exclusively which I’m afraid is the centuries old way of white men in power.

It’s possible that the appearance of ignorance on her part was caused by the Beeb’s editing. I think if you challenged them, the Corporation would probably tell you that it was all for time. But considering their shenanigans in trying to present as biased a view of the Labour party as they can get away with, I’m not sure you can completely discount malice. I doubt it in this case, however, as by and large the broadcast media has presented Black Lives Matter sympathetically. I am very much aware that there are glaring exceptions to this from the usual crowd of right-wing shills. There is a problem with the broadcaster’s own ignorance of Bristol’s history. An ITV report on the pulling down of Colston’s statue recited some of the old myths including that about Black Boy Hill. This is supposed to be named after a slave, but the 1990’s exhibition at the City Museum showed that this probably wasn’t true, and that it was most likely named after a race horse owned by Charles II.

Councillor Craig’s statement that the history curriculum would include that of the White working class is interesting, and a positive step if that is the case. However, I’m not impressed her comment about White men. It’s been true of western society,  but in nearly all societies across the globe power has been in the hands of elite men. And most societies have been extremely nationalistic as well as hierarchical, excluding other ethnic and social groups from power and privilege. I’ve met people, who have been really shocked at how racist some non-Western nations, like China, can be.

Bristol has also been an ethnically diverse city for centuries. The latest issue of the Postscript bargain books catalogue contains a book on this aspect of the city’s history. Written by Madge Dresser and Peter Fleming, two of the history lecturers at the University of the West of England, it titled Bristol: Ethnic Minorities and the City 1000-2001 (Phillimore 2009). The blurb for it runs

Over the past thousand years, Bristol, as one of England’s most important ports, has been a magnet for migrants. From medieval Jews to 21st-century asylum seekers. This pioneering study examines the activities of the various ethnic groups who have settled in the city. Investigating how the survived economically, how they dealt with social dislocation and discrimination, and how they constructed identities for their communities, it offers insights into the wider history of the city and the nation.

Dr Dresser was one of those involved in the creation of the 1990s slavery exhibit along with several others. I think one of them might have been Dr Mark Horton of Bristol University and then Time Team fame. Dresser teaches 18th century history and the slave trade at UWE, and has published a book on how the city continued slaving after its formal abolition, Slavery Obscured. If the city is putting together a commission to produce a multicultural approach to the city’s history, then it almost certainly will contain her.

As for Craig’s statement ‘Thank you for the history lesson but we know what we’re doing’, apart from showing a certain tetchiness – she obviously doesn’t like being pulled up on her history by a member of the public – it remains to be seen if the council does know what it’s doing. They won’t be short of experts, with real insights into these issues from the city’s universities.

It’ll be very interesting to see.