Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Category

Guardian Article on Ethiopia Covering Up Its Slaving Past

January 18, 2023

Today’s Groaniad has published a fascinating article on Ethiopia’s refusal to acknowledge its history of slavery and slaving, ”If you had money, you had slaves’, how Ethiopia is in denial about the injustices of the past’, by Fred Harter. Here are a few extracts.

‘Histories of the country gloss over slavery and the subject rarely surfaces in public discourse. At the National Museum of Ethiopia in the capital, Addis Ababa, none of the exhibits deal with domestic slavery, while in Dalbo the chains once used to bind slaves have been melted down to make knives and farm implements. Little has been preserved.

“Slavery is a controversial issue,” says Nigussu Mekonnen, a guide at the museum. “There is limited evidence and information about it.”

“We tend to ignore certain kinds of history that would shape the negative image of the country,” says Kiya Gezahegne, an assistant professor in the social anthropology department at Addis Ababa University. Instead, official narratives focus on Ethiopia’s ancient Christian civilisation and its reputation as the only African country to have successfully resisted European colonisation.

“We are taught to be proud of our identity, and bringing in this narrative of slavery would be a challenge to that discourse,” says Kiya.

Yet slavery was once widespread in Ethiopia. Stretching back centuries, slaves served as soldiers, domestic servants and labourers, who were put to work at royal courts, in churches and fields.

Many were born into servitude. Others were captured in raids and during wars, or sold into slavery after they failed to pay debts. Much of the trade was domestic, although Ethiopian slaves were also sold across the Red Sea to Arabia and Turkey, where they were prized as concubines and servants.

Historical data on the slave trade is patchy. Ahmed Hassen, a professor of history at Addis Ababa University, says the number of enslaved people ebbed and flowed, especially during times of war, but estimates that up to one-third of Ethiopians were enslaved at different points in history.

In some districts, the proportion was likely even higher. The sociologist Remo Chiatti calculates that 50 to 80% of people were slaves in parts of Wolaita, a southern kingdom centred on Dalbo that was absorbed into the Ethiopian empire in the 1890s.

“Slavery was everywhere,” says Ahmed. “It was the backbone of labour; it was the source of everything. It was not only landlords and the court of the emperor keeping slaves, but also rich peasants. If you had money, you had them.”

Abolition came slowly, the result of “external and internal realities”, says Ahmed. The first big step came in 1923 when Haile Selassie signed an accord promising to end slavery to gain admittance to the League of Nations, although the practice was not stamped out entirely. In the 1930s, Benito Mussolini used the issue to justify his invasion of Ethiopia, which Italian fascist propaganda cast as a “civilising mission”.

In 1942, after Ethiopia’s liberation from Italian occupation, Haile Selassie issued the decree abolishing slavery. Even then, the practice lingered in some pockets and the influence of the former slave-owning aristocracy would not be smashed until 1974, when revolution swept to power the Provisional Military Administrative Council, also known as the Derg, a Marxist-Leninist military junta that introduced land reforms.

Today, the impact of slavery is keenly felt. After abolition, many slaves became part of the families of their former masters, but in some areas the descendants of enslaved people are seen as impure and are marginalised, barred from participating in ceremonies such as funerals or marrying into other clans. In Addis Ababa, it is common to hear light-skinned highlanders refer to darker-skinned people from southern Ethiopia as “bariya” (slave).

“Slavery in Ethiopia is not a historical phenomenon,” says an Ethiopian researcher, who did not want to be named. “Its legacy still affects people’s lives today.”

Little has been done to heal these rifts. In 2019, a year after Abiy Ahmed became prime minister on a tide of mass protests and promising reform, Ethiopia’s federal parliament set up a reconciliation commission to address past political repression and historical injustices, including the slave trade.

“It is one of the injustices that Ethiopian society inflicted on its members,” says Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, the head of Ethiopia’s Roman Catholic church, who participated in the commission. “We felt slavery should not be put under the table. It should be studied and addressed if there is to be real reconciliation.”

But the commission’s work was never published and it has now been subsumed into a broader national dialogue commission, which opposition parties claim is government-controlled. Critics of the government say political repression has crept back in after the outbreak of the war in Tigray in November 2020.

The polarised environment has made it harder to discuss issues such as slavery. A teacher in Addis Ababa, who did not want to be named, says he grew up with “zero knowledge” that slavery was once so widespread.“People are too preoccupied with ethnic-based politics,” he says. “If you talk about slavery, you are accused of trying to divide your group.”

He says: “I see a lot of posts online about George Floyd, talking about how racist America is, and of course that’s an issue. But we also need to talk about inequality here. There are still ethnic groups looking down on others.”

A new generation of historians are starting to piece together the history of Ethiopia’s slave trade, but discussions remain confined to academic journals and seminar rooms. Last year, there were no public events to commemorate the 80th anniversary of abolition, and most local oral histories are still hidden.’

This is interesting, as it shows that Ethiopia, like many of the other countries outside Europe that were involved in the slavery and the slavery, is also trying to tackle this aspect of their past. Historical slavery is an issue affecting many different countries and cultures, and certainly not a case of evil White Europeans and American enslaving noble Black Africans. Nevertheless, this is how it is viewed and presented by many activist groups.in Britain and America.

For further information, see https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/jan/18/ethiopia-slaves-in-denial-about-injustices-of-the-past

Book on Pioneering Victorian Explorer of Abyssinia, Sudan and Egypt Manfield Parkyns

January 6, 2023

Duncan Cumming, The Gentleman Savage: The Life of Mansfield Parkyns 1823-1894 (London: Century Hutchinson 1987).

I’ve been meaning to put up something about this book for a little while now, as I thought it might be of interest to any readers with an interest in Victorian travellers and explorers and their accounts of east Africa. I bought it from one of the remaindered bookshops decades ago now, and can’t remember much about it except that Parkyns was a member of the British gentry, who left Britain to explore the Middle East. He travelled from Egypt down to Ethiopia, where he learned the indigenous people’s languages and adopted their dress and culture, becoming a warrior in the Ethiopian army. He married a local woman and had a son by her, Johannes, before returning to England. Later on the son travelled to Europe in search of his father.

The blurb for the book runs

‘Mansfield Parkyns came from a landed gentry background in the East Midlands. As a young man he was sent down from Cambridge and decided to leave England for the excitement of travel in Egypt and Abyssinia, where he intended to discover the source of the White Nile.

His especially gift as a traveller was his ability to immerse himself in local life, which left him to abandon his western clothes and outlook, and to make, as Lady Palmerston put it, ‘the most successful attempt by a man to reduce himself to the savage state on record.’ Unlike many other Victorians he did not believe in the innate superiority of the white man and he therefore took a refreshing view of his surroundings which led to many fascinating observations. He became part of a village community, married a local girl and took part in raids on other villages. He travelled by a route no European had previously taken to Khartoum and then tried to cross Africa to the Atlantic, but was thwarted by civil war.’

Parkyns’ Ethiopian son, Johannes.

His respect for Ethiopian culture did not mean that he was entirely uncritical. He was shocked by what he saw as the abysmal state of the Ethiopian Coptic church, which I think he felt ought to be destroyed and replaced with something better. As for his adoption of Ethiopian dress and culture, this resulted in people singing ‘The King of the Cannibal Islands’ in mockery of him, which shows the racism in Victorian society. And I would have liked to know much more about his son’s journey to Britain to meet him, and what he thought of us.

History Debunked Wonders Why a Historic Chinese Visitor to Britain Became a Librarian, While Black Briton John Blank Was a Trumpeter

November 22, 2022

Yeah, this is yet another post about Simon Webb and History Debunked. It’s my attempt to answer a question he posed yesterday in a video talking about a Chinese visitor to Britain, or possibly emigrant, who ended up as a librarian helping with the Chinese manuscripts in the Bodleian. Webb asked why this gentleman was unknown, despite there having been Chinese communities in Britain for centuries, while the advocates of Black History had been doing everything they could to turn Tudor trumpeter John Blank into a household name. Blank, he said, was probably Portuguese, and only here for a couple of years. Why didn’t British Chinese people feel the need to celebrate their history in this sceptre’d isle as the Blacks?

I’ve discussed this question before, and I think it’s because Chinese and Indian Brits are much more culturally self-confident than Black Brits. If you look through any history of inventions, an enormous number before the modern period come from those great nations. Just as they do from Islam, although Muslims lag behind Whites, Chinese and Indians in educational and professional achievements. I think people of Indian and Chinese heritage are very much aware of their nations’ cultural and scientific achievements and so don’t feel the need to have them explored by a wider public in order to boost their performance in wider society. It’s the opposite with the Black community. They have a greater feeling of alienation and that their people’s history and achievements aren’t appreciated, leading to racism amongst Whites and poor social and economic performance among Blacks. If White people were more aware of their long history here, there would be less racism against them on the one hand, and Blacks would also have a greater sense of belonging and acceptance on the other. Hence the insistence of the importance of rather marginal figures like Blank.

But Webb also asked about the way these two also conformed to racial stereotypes. The Chinese gentleman was a learned scholar, while Blank was a musician. I don’t think there’s much mystery there either. The Chinese fellow came to Britain in the late 17th century. I think this was the age of the great Jesuit missions to the Middle Kingdom, and also an age when European merchants were beginning to trade directly with the Chinese. Chinese civilisation had been known about for centuries and its products highly admired. Scholars and merchants were clearly keen to know as much about the country as they could, and so would have been eager to acquire Chinese manuscripts and scholars able to interpret them.

Black Africa was somewhat different. It was cut off from extensive European contact through geography and climate. I think Europeans knew about Abyssinia, if only through the legends about Prester John, the ruler of a great Christian empire somewhere in Africa or Asia. It was to find Christian allies in Africa that Prince Henry the Navigator launched the first voyages of exploration to the continent below the Sahara. But he didn’t find any. There were great Black empires there – that of Mali, for example, but I think that the Black African states Europeans contacted were pagan. While these were culturally sophisticated in their own way, I don’t think they were literate and as scientifically and mathematically advanced as the Muslim kingdoms. Hence, when Blacks were imported into Europe, it would have been as slaves or artisans, not scholars. As for music, Arab racial stereotypes at the time said that Africans had a great sense of rhythm. One of the comments one Arab writer made about them was that if a Black man fell from heaven, he’d keep good time with his feet right up until he hit the ground. I can therefore see how Blacks would have a musical career in Europe, just as they had in later centuries. I think Beethoven wrote the Kreutzer sonata for a specific Black violin virtuoso of the period. One of the contemporary depictions of Blacks in 18th century Britain in Gretchen Herzen’s excellent Black England: Life Before Emancipation, is of a group of Black servants making music in Cornwall.

But that isn’t to say that there weren’t Black or African scholars in Europe. I can’t remember the details, but during the Middle Ages and 16th/17th centuries I think there were people from North Africa and Abyssinia, who were Christians, who ended up at the Vatican helping their scholars and researchers into these cultures. Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, was Christian and literate with a civilisation going back millennia. It’d be very interesting to know if there were any Abyssinians in Britain before the 20th century, and if they were ever employed in scholarly pursuits.

Simon Webb Asks ‘What’s Wrong with Fascism?’

September 16, 2022

Well, it looks like Simon Webb of History Debunked has finally gone full Mosley. And you never go full Mosley. He’s put up a piece today asking, ‘what’s wrong with fascism?’ He argues that fascism is viewed negatively because it’s confusion with Nazism. But socialism has also committed horrible atrocities and run death camps. In contrast to this, he points to the Portugal of the dictator Salazar in the 1960s, which was prosperous and had kept out of the Second World War. And fascism, he explains, is neither communist nor capitalist.

No, I’m not going to put the video up here. Because he’s arguing for fascism after all. Now he’s got a point in that some political scientists and historians do make a distinction between Nazism and Fascism. Nazism is at its heart a form of biological racism and has its own origins unique to Germany, while Italian Fascism was a form of militaristic nationalism which included elements of both socialism and capitalism. However, Italian Fascism was also imperialistic, calling Italy a ‘proletarian nation’ that had been unjustly deprived of colonies by the great powers of Britain and France. It invaded Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia, as well as Tripolitania in north Africa and Ethiopia. In nearly all these countries the Fascists committed horrendous atrocities. They also developed racial policies similar, but not as harsh as the Nazis, defining Italians as Aryans as contrasted with the Jews, who were expelled from various professions. Both Nazism and Fascism supported and protected private industry, but the economy was centrally planned by the state. Germany was a complete dictatorship under Hitler, in which the Reichstag was only called once a year to sign the act stating that Germany was still in a state of emergency and so Hitler’s dictatorship could legally continue, In Italy Mussolini let the Italian parliament continue for a few years until he replaced it with a chamber of Fasces and corporations. A corporation in this case was an industrial organisation, one for each industry, that contained both management and the unions. By the 1930s there were 27 of these. They were supposed to run the various industries, but in practice they served just to rubber stamp the decisions Mussolini had already taken.

I’ve read some of the comments that have been left on the video. Some of them are rants against Tony Blair’s period in office and complaints that it was supported by a biased media. Well, one paper stood against him – the Daily Heil. And you can wonder who had the real power in Blair’s relationship with the media, as he was always worrying whether his policies would meet the approval of one Rupert Murdoch. And Blair was a Tory in all but name. Thatcher, remember, regarded him as her greatest achievement. I’ve also notice that several of the commenters can’t spell Nazism. They’ve spelled it ‘Natzim’.

Of course, it hasn’t just been the association with the Nazis that has tarnished Italian Fascism. It’s also the various brutal dictatorships that have appeared across the world that committed horrendous atrocities, like the various military dictatorships in Latin America, the most famous of which is General Pinochet’s in Chile, as well as Greece under the Colonels. You can also attack his argument by pointing out he deliberately confuses socialism with communism. Communism is a form of socialism, but it is not the definitive form. For most British Labour supporters and politicians before Blair and his stupid, Thatcherite ‘Third Way’, socialism meant democratic socialism, which supported and included parliamentary democracy, and a mixed economy. This was the type of socialism practised by the reformist socialist parties of western Europe, like the German Social Democrats. And this form of socialism was keen to support human rights and democracy to a greater or lesser extent, as shown in the various people who joined anti-apartheid and anti-racism movement and gave Khrushchev a hard time when he visited the country about the imprisonment of socialist dissidents in the USSR.

I’ve left this comment on Webb’s video. I wonder if anyone will reply.

‘Salazar is probably best viewed as a reactionary Catholic like General Franco, rather than a pure Fascist. His books apparently are pretty much about Roman Catholic dogma, rather the secular ideas which informed Italian Fascism. And Fascism wasn’t just nationalism or dictatorship. Would your readers want definitive features of fascism like a state-directed economy, even if it is done through private industry and the corporate state, in which parliament is replaced by a chamber representing industries, each corporation including management and unions, which is charged with running the economy?’

Simon Webb Has Written a Book on British Concentration Camps

August 16, 2022

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I have extremely mixed views about Simon Webb and History Debunked. I don’t share his High Toryism, heading into the ideological territory of parties like Reform, Reclaim or Patriotic Alternative, for example. I particularly reject his views that the IQ difference between Blacks and Whites is biologically determined, and that there is a further biological difference in IQ between Whites and Asians. Some of what he’s written about African history is just plain wrong, such as the statement that before the White man arrived, Black Africa was stuck in the Bronze Age. Not true – the Bantu cultures spread throughout Africa were very firmly Iron Age, as were the Kordofanian and Nilotic peoples and those of Ethiopia. His videos about the decline of South Africa after the end of apartheid and Zimbabwe after it passed to Black majority rule and the horrific dictatorship of Mugabe seem to be based on a nostalgia for White colonial rule.

But sometimes he also says something interesting and important. Looking through his website, there’s a piece on the non-fiction books he has written. Three are mentioned – one on the Suffragette Bombers, subtitled ‘Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists’, another on 1919; Britain’s Year of Revolution, which probably explains why he disputes the memorialization of Philip Wootton in Liverpool as an innocent victim of lynching, rather than a violent thug. But it’s the third that interests me here. This is British Concentration Camps: A Brief History from 1900-1975, published by Pen & Sword like his other books. He describes this book thus:

‘For many of us, the very expression ‘Concentration Camp’ is inextricably linked to Nazi Germany and the horrors of the Holocaust. The idea of British concentration camps is a strange and unsettling one. It was however the British, rather than the Germans, who were the chief driving force behind the development and use of concentration camps in the Twentieth Century. The operation by the British army of concentration camps during the Boer War led to the deaths of tens of thousands of children from starvation and disease. More recently, slave-labourers confined in a nationwide network of camps played an integral role in Britain’s post-war prosperity. In 1947, a quarter of the country’s agricultural workforce were prisoners in labour camps. Not only did the British government run their own concentration camps, they willingly acquiesced in the setting up of such establishments in the United Kingdom by other countries. During and after the Second World War, the Polish government-in-exile maintained a number of camps in Scotland where Jews, communists and homosexuals were imprisoned and sometimes killed. This book tells the terrible story of Britain’s involvement in the use of concentration camps, which did not finally end until the last political prisoners being held behind barbed wire in the United Kingdom were released in 1975. From England to Cyprus, Scotland to Malaya, Kenya to Northern Ireland; British Concentration Camps; A Brief History from 1900 to 1975 details some of the most shocking and least known events in British history.’

This looks like solid scholarship, and one those of us on the left can get behind. One of the female commenters on this blog years ago, a very staunch socialist, sent me information about the forced labour camps set up by the Labour party in the 1930s supposedly to train unemployed workers into the habit of working again. This was relevant because it was based on the same squalid attitude as Blair’s ‘welfare to work’ policy, in which the unemployed were only to be given their dole if they did unpaid work for various companies, including charities like Tomorrow’s People, and the big supermarkets. The declassification of government documents a few years ago following a court case brought by the victims of the brutal methods Britain used to suppress the Mao Mao in Kenya has resulted in another book about the concentration camps set up by Britain there, Africa’s Secret Gulags. Some of this book sounds very similar to John Newsinger’s book about the horrors committed under British imperialism, The Blood Never Dried. Newsinger is very much a man of the left, but his book also describes the atrocities committed by Britain when attempting to quell the independence forces of Britain’s former colonies. I did not know, however, about the concentration camps set up north of the border by the Polish government in exile to persecute its political enemies, including the same people targeted by the Nazis, Jews and gays.

The book and his research on this shocking topic clearly impressed others on the left. In the journalism section on his website there’s an article he wrote about it for Jacobin, a left-wing journal. He’s also written a fourth book, on the Barbary pirates, but this isn’t mentioned on his website.

In writing the book on British concentration camps, Webb’s clearly done something that can be supported by the left in bringing to light the way the British state and its allies have used forced labour and similar camps to exert its control in the home country and across its colonies. Brutal methods that should concern anyone who believes in democracy, human rights and humane government.

See: https://www.simon-webb.com/non-fiction-books.html

Explaining Simon Webb: History, Race and the Manipulation of History

August 12, 2022

Several of the great commenters on this blog have questioned why I have put up so many pieces about Simon Webb. Gillyflowerblog in particular asked how anyone, who called himself a socialist, could follow Webb in some of his assertions. It’s a fair question, and deserves an answer. Webb is a Torygraph-reading man of the right. He is staunchly opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, which he regards as destroying traditional British culture. He believes that racial differences in IQ are real and based in genetics, citing scientific papers showing that Black people have more of the genetic markers for schizophrenia than Whites. I’ve no doubt that this is true, but schizophrenia is not intelligence. Furthermore, a greater biological inclination to schizophrenia does not necessarily rule out environmental factors. A mentally vulnerable person may remain psychologically well in the absence of emotional stresses that could drive them over the edge. If there are more Black people needing treatment for psychological problems, it may be because of the particular stresses faced by the Black community, such as poverty, greater unemployment, lower educational and career prospects, racism and the destruction of the Black family and the violent drug gangs operating in many Black communities.

Genetic Basis for Racial IQ Differences Questionable, If Not Disproven

He also believes, almost needless to say, in the bell-curve nonsense, in which Blacks are genetically less intelligent than White, who are genetically not as bright as Asians. In fact Thomas Sowell, who talks favourably about the book, has demolished some of its arguments. There’s no difference in average intelligence between Whites and Asians. The tests that showed it used out of date and biased IQ tests, which skewed the results. However, Asians peoples like the Chinese and Japanese do perform above the level of Whites with the same IQ score. As for Blacks, the average Black IQ is 85, but this is the same or actually better than many White groups when they started IQ testing. Jews, who are now judged one of the most intelligent sections of society, also had the same IQ level, as did various peoples from southern and south-eastern Europe. Their IQs have risen, and so the unspoken implication is that there is no reason why Black IQs shouldn’t. Individual Blacks may score extremely highly. One example is a nine year old Black girl, who had an IQ of 160-80 on one set of tests, and something very close or above 200 on another. Black children raised with White families, such as the mixed race children of German civilians and Black American troopers in the army of occupation after the First World War, had the same IQs as Whites. There are cultural and environmental factors behind the lagging Black IQ, it seems, rather than genes. Although even if there is genetic cause, Black educational performance can still be raised simply by improving teaching methods.

Causes of Economic and Political Crises in African Countries after Independence

Webb has also published videos looking back to a year in the 60s when he claims everybody was talking about repatriation and discussing the decline of South Africa after the abolition of apartheid, and the collapse of Zimbabwe in starvation and dictatorship under Black majority rule. To be fair, this is part of a general trend in African nations after they gain independence. Sowell talks about this in Conquests and Cultures, showing that in all too many cases the economies of the newly independent colonies declines, sometimes catastrophically. This is because the indigenous Africans who take over don’t have the cultural capital and technical skill to run these countries. Sowell has also argued in various videos that the collapse of democracy in many of these nations and their descent into dictatorships is because they haven’t had time during the period of White rule to absorb properly the conqueror’s democratic institutions and traditions. This is probably true, but I’m not sure how much democracy there was in practice when these nations were under the rule of colonial governors. And Webb’s videos on South Africa and Zimbabwe look like nostalgia for White rule and the social order in these countries when Blacks were inferior and knew their place.

He appears also to be a small government Conservative, who says he wouldn’t vote for either Labour or the Conservatives, and laments their supposedly high-spending policies. He is sceptical of the rise of mental illness and the number of people claiming disability for it, presumably feeling, like so many of the right do, that these people should just pull themselves together. Until, of course, it happens to them or the people in their class. Then it’s different.

Webb and Black History

But Webb’s specific focus is on history and debunking what he considers to be historical falsehoods. These are, almost totally, those of Black history. But I do wonder if Webb wasn’t at one time an idealistic anti-racist. I think he’s said that at one time he may have had a Black girlfriend, and among his friends are a number of Black ladies, whom he’s helping home school their children. He’s put up pictures of himself surround by Black children, so I don’t believe he’s racist in his personal relationships. He’s also no anti-Semite, and has posted a number of videos attacking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the lie that the Jews are responsible for mass non-White immigration in order to destroy the White race. One of his most recent videos examines the origins of anti-Semitism. He also defends Israel and its claim to Palestine. He is also not an opponent of Islam as a religion. Another video he posted has as its title the description of Christianity and Islam as two aspects of a single jewel. He states that when he was home schooling his daughter, he took her to various places of worship, including a mosque. All this drives the Nazis and anti-Semites who comment on his videos right up the wall as they call for him to join Patriotic Alternative. Or suggest that he must be Jewish himself, or promoting their propaganda.

As to whatever made him like he is now, I wonder if it was simply the pressure of living in one of the deprived, Black majority areas of London. He seems to know places like Haringey extremely well, talking about how murders were extremely common there at one time as well as the problems caused when one of the local police forces declared they weren’t going to arrest people for cannabis possession. This, he states, resulted in drug dealers running up to people’s cars and banging on the roofs to get attention. If this did happen, along with the other problems of crime and violence, then perhaps seeing the very worst aspects of parts of the Black community eroded all the youthful idealism and anti-racism.

He has published videos denying that some of the great African cultures should properly be regarded as civilisations, because they had no written language, philosophy or science. They are not monuments to Black achievement in his eyes, because very many of them were based on the culture of Arab colonists. And the various histories of Black inventions are riddled with lies and appropriate the scientific achievements of Whites.

Genuinely Great and Forgotten Figures of British Black History

He wasn’t always quite so focused on race. An early video simply discusses the reasons the British shelled their cities during the Second World War. Another video asks whether the Victorians really were all that racist, citing as an example an Indian rajah who became a Tory MP. This could easily be a legitimate part of the Black history activists wish to be taught in schools. Much of this is about rediscovering and reclaiming lost Black historical figures. The classic example is the nurse Mary Seacole, but others include the son of a British planter and a Caribbean slave, who had a glittering political career and ended up as the Lord Lieutenant of one of the Welsh counties. This gentleman was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme a few years ago, though I’m afraid I’ve since forgotten his name. But those interested might be able to find him by Googling.

The Great Civilisations of Black Africa

As for Black African civilisations, it’s true that many were culturally influenced from elsewhere. The ancient Sudanese, for example, took over much of ancient Egyptian culture, including the use of hieroglyphs. These people invaded the Land of the Nile several times to claim the throne as pharaohs, before eventually being overthrown in their turn and expelled. They built pyramid monuments for their dead, and were a literate culture. Unfortunately their language was not related to any that have survived today, and there is no Rosetta Stone giving their ancient texts in their language and those which are known, thus allowing the language to deciphered. Scholars are therefore in the frustrating situation of being able to read their inscriptions, but have no idea what they say. We’re faced with a similar situation regarding the ancient civilisation of Meroe, also in that part of Africa.

Many of the great civilisations of Africa were part of the Islamic world. These included Mali in West Africa, and the Swahili in what is now Tanzania. I think their written language was Arabic, in the same way that medieval European civilisations used Latin as the language of religion, government, philosophy, history and science. But that doesn’t detract from their achievements or the sophistication of these cultures. Medieval books from the library of Timbuktu’s madrassa shows that the scholars there were copying and studying scientific texts from the wider Muslim world. One Black historian presenting a programme on Black African civilisation showed such a book. This had a diagram, which she was told showed that Muslims in the region knew that the Earth went round the sun. That’s entirely possible. One of the ancient Greek scholars presented an alternative to the geocentric universe of Ptolemy, in which the Earth did revolve around the sun. But all the other planets still revolved around the Earth. In east Africa, the Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre languages in Ethiopia are based on the south Arabian language introduced by settlers from that part of Arabia. But even if that part of modern Ethiopian culture isn’t indigenous to the continent, it still doesn’t detract from the achievements of Ethiopian civilisation.

All Civilisations Advance by Borrowing from Each Other

Back again to Thomas Sowell, who states very clearly that cultures across the world borrow from each other. Europeans, for example, adopted gunpowder and paper from China and the numbers system, wrongly called Arabic, from India. Europe was able to rise because of its geography. The east-west nature of the Eurasian landmass meant that inventions in one part of it, such as China or the Middle East, could easily pass to other parts. Thus Europe was able to benefit by adopting and improving on inventions produced by other peoples. Africa lagged behind because it was cut off from the rest of the world by oceans on three sides and the Sahara desert on the north. There were few navigable rivers, so that trade and communication was difficult, unlike in western Europe, where there were many so trade, and hence industrialisation and economic development was easier, along with the passage of ideas and culture. Africa also suffered from highly variable rainfall, which can make agriculture and sailing on the navigable rivers difficult. In some places the soil is unsuited to agriculture, thus making it suitable only as pasturage for nomadic peoples, who are able to move on to better, more fertile land after it becomes exhausted. And the disease environment makes it unsuitable for pack and draught animals, unlike Europe. Goods therefore have to be carried by porters, which is much more expensive than horse or river transport. This also limits the value of goods that may be transported. Because these high costs, only very valuable goods could thus be transported across land. Which probably explains why Africa’s exports tended to be gold, ivory and slaves. Africa was held back, not by any lack of intelligence by its people, but simply because of the isolation created by its physical environment, just as nations and countries elsewhere were similarly aided or held back in their social and economic development by the same geographical factors, even if they were on other continents.

Also, some of the cultures that did not have a written literature could nevertheless be extremely sophisticated. I read somewhere that in one of the African city states, members of it aristocracy would engage in a ceremony in which they would perform a ritual dance accompanied by music. At various intervals they were expected to stop, and point to one of the city’s 17 shrines. If they didn’t point accurately, it would bring disgrace. But Webb is right in that Europeans took some time before they recognised some of the states as civilisations, not just from cultural prejudice but because of the differences between African and European ideas of civilisation. For example, several of the cities Europeans believed were the capitals of these kingdoms weren’t centres of government in the European sense. They were religious centres, which might be abandoned for most of the year.

Falsehoods and Mythmaking in Black History

But if some of his history is wrong or questionable, I think he has a point with others. There are problems with the accuracy of part of Black history writing. This can be seen at some of its most extreme in Afrocentric literature. This can range from claims that are controversial, but which can nevertheless be defended, to racist fabrications. At its heart, Afrocentrism holds that ancient Egypt was a Black civilisation and that it laid the basis for subsequent western culture. It’s a fair question whether the Egyptians were Black. They certainly depicted the men as reddish brown in colour and the women as yellow, in contrast to Europeans, who were painted pink. Herodotus describes them as Black. As for their influence on European culture, Basil Davidson in one his books states that he took the view because this is what the Greeks and Romans believed. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians also show Caucasian heritage and the Greeks seem to have taken much of their mathematical and scientific knowledge from the ancient near east, and particularly Phrygia in what is now Turkey. However, some Afrocentrists have gone on to argue that ancient Egypt also conquered the rest of Black Africa, where they were responsible for all its peoples’ cultural achievements, and that the original peoples of Britain, China and just about everywhere else were also Black, based on long discredited 19th century White writers.

And there are severe questions about other Black history writing. Webb put up a video last week criticising the claim that the phrase ‘the real McCoy’ was based on a 19th century Black engineer, citing Brewer’s History of Phrase and Fable. I’ve come across the same assertion in a book Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. This also claimed that the refrigerator was also a Black invention and that open heart surgery was invented by a Black doctor over here during the Second World War. This man performed an emergency operation on a man injured during the Blitz. Webb denies that he invented the operation, but states that he was the first to perform it in Britain. Which is still a proud achievement. Not as spectacular as inventing it, but still very impressive.

Mary Seacole – No Nurse, But Pioneering Black Female Entrepreneur

And then there’s the matter of Mary Seacole. For many Blacks, she was a pioneer of modern nursing equal to Florence Nightingale. To her detractors, she was a businesswoman who went to the Crimea to open a hotel for the British officers. She may have done a bit of nursing on the side, but that wasn’t the real purpose of her time there. Webb sides with the latter view, citing her autobiography. And again, I think he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that Seacole should be written off as a lost Black historical heroine. Even if she wasn’t a nurse, she’s still important as an entrepreneur. For Black Conservatives like Sowell, what Blacks need is not state handouts, but to develop the entrepreneurial skills to enable them to allow them to rise economically and socially, as other ethnic groups like the Jews, Chinese, and Japanese have also done. You don’t have to be a Conservative opponent of state aid and the welfare state to adopt such a view. The motion put before Bristol city council the other year by the Labour deputy mayor Asher Craig and Green party councillor Cleo Lake for the payment of reparations for slavery wanted such monies to be given to Black organisations to develop self-reliant and sustainable prosperous Black communities. Which entails encouraging and supporting Black entrepreneurs in those communities.

Invented and Exaggerated History A Response to Continued Racism and Exclusion

In many ways I’m not surprised that various Black writers have made exaggerated claims for Black civilisations and Black inventiveness. They aren’t alone in appropriating great figures from other ethnic groups. Mussolini, for example, claimed that Shakespeare was Italian. Well, some of the Bard’s plays, like Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet are set in Italy, but I think this may partly reflect the dominance of Italian renaissance culture. Some of the claims about historic Black communities in Britain, which present them as far larger and more numerous than they probably were, seem to me to be an attempt to assert their right to live in this country in the face of still being regarded as somehow foreign and not really belonging. I’ve met Black people, who do feel like that. They were ordinary people with White friends, and not angry radicals. And the promotion of Black cultures and civilisations as sophisticated and advanced seems to me to be partly a reaction to the previous generations of historians and academics, who dismissed them completely. It makes depressing reading going through the book Colour and Colour Prejudice by the last governor of Ghana and seeing one scholar after another make this assertion.

Black Commenters also Against Memorialisation of Violent Thugs as Victims

I also think Webb has a very serious point when he questions some of the assertions and memorialisation of Black persecution. For example, David Olasuga and Reni Edo Lodge were present at a ceremony a few years ago, where a memorial was laid at the docks in memory of Philip Wootton, who was a victim of lynching in the 1919 race riots. Except it seems from contemporary newspaper accounts that Wootton was a violent thug involved in fighting between a group of West Indian, Swedish and Russian sailors. During this a policeman was stabbed several times and there was an attempt to garrotte him. The West Indian gang shot several times at the police after fleeing back to their lodgings. Wootton attempted to escape out the backdoor, but was spotted and pursued by an angry mob towards the docks, where he slipped and fell in. This is very different from the victims of other lynchings, like young men who were killed for having a White girlfriend, or who spoke insolently to a White man.

For some Blacks, violent thugs like Wootton should definitely not be defended or promoted by the Black community. One of the Black American YouTubers got very angry and tearful about the BLM protests last week against the shooting of Tekle Sundberg. Sundberg had had some kind of episode and started shooting through his apartment wall, trying to kill a young mother and her two children. Fortunately the woman and kids were able to flee. The cops turned up and after a six hour stand-off, shot him dead. His adoptive White mother tearfully claimed that it was a racist shooting, as White perps would have had longer to comply. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter turned up and started a protest to the justifiable fury of Sundberg’s intended victim. The Black YouTuber commenting on this angrily denounced BLM for celebrating criminals like Sundberg. This, he believed, was why everyone else looked down on Blacks.

Checking Reni Edo Lodge about Medical Experimentation on Blacks

As for Reni Edo Lodge, Webb stated that in one of her books she claims that Blacks in Britain were experimented upon and denied medical treatment. This is a serious claim and deserves to be investigated. It did happen in America. I’ve seen YouTube posts about the horrendous experimentation on pregnant Black women by a particular 19th century surgeon. In the ’90s there was outrage when government files released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the American state had been conducting nuclear experiments on the poor and people of colour with neither their knowledge or consent. In the same decade, the American conspiracy journal, Steamshovel Press, carried an article by one man, who stated that he found Black Americans more likely to believe that AIDS was a germ warfare experiment escaped from Fort Dettrick because of the Tuskegee experiment. This was a nasty medical experiment in which a group of Black sharecroppers were infected with syphilis and denied treatment in order to investigate the disease’s spread. In return their funerals were paid for and their families looked after.

I am not aware that any similar experiments were done over here, apart from the nuclear tests on British servicemen, which wasn’t, I believe, racial. If such experiments didn’t happen, then Lodge is writing fake history. Dangerous fake history – it’s addressed to an audience that already keenly feels that British Blacks have been victimised and persecuted, and such claims only exacerbate such feelings. As if the terrible conditions in many Black communities aren’t bad enough already without inventing even more abuse and discrimination. That’s why I wrote to Lodge’s agent last week requesting Lodge to state where she got these claims from. If she can support them with government documents or properly researched secondary literature, well and good. I’ll support her claims. But if she can’t, then she’s manufacturing false history and in doing so actually making race relations worse.

Conclusion

This is why I’m interested in some of Webb’s videos. History is important, which is why there is so much interest now in Black history. It’s an attempt to recover forgotten Black politicians, nobles, writers and inventors in order to provide role models for contemporary Blacks, in the hope that this will inspire them to do better at school, and in the outside world.

But this has to be good, truthful history, whoever writes it. Otherwise, even if it’s being written with the best of intentions, it’s just propaganda. And that’s wrong, whether done by Whites, Blacks or whoever.

A History of Racism in the Islamic Middle East

May 27, 2022

Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (Oxford: OUP 1990).

Bernard Lewis is a veteran scholar of Islam, and this book is an examination of the emergence and development of predominantly Muslim Arab racism in the Middle East. The book is a reworking of two previous studies from the 1970s, one of which was first published in French. It started off as part of an academic examination of intolerance, concentrating on religious bigotry. Lewis, however, believed that issue had been solved and so moved on to racial intolerance. Unfortunately, as the past fifty years have unfortunately shown, religious hatred and bigotry has certainly not died out, as shown here in Britain with the sectarian violence in Ulster.

Arab Ethnic Identity Before Colour Prejudice

Islam is viewed as an anti-racist religion, and the Qur’an states categorically that Blacks and Whites are both equal and should be treated as such. This admirable attitude was maintained by its theologians and jurists. However, with the emergence and expansion of the Islamic empires this began to change and prejudice and racism, based initially in ethnic differences and then on skin colour, emerged. The book argues that the pre-Islamic and early Islamic Arabs, like the other nations around them, had a strong sense of their own superiority against those of the surrounding peoples. This was based on ethnicity, not colour. A variety of colours were used to describe the variations in human complexion, and were used in relative rather than absolute terms. Thus the Arabs saw themselves as black compared to the ‘red’ Persians, but white compared to the Black peoples of Africa. As the new Arab ruling class intermarried with the peoples they had conquered, so there developed an attitude which saw Arabs of mixed descent as inferior, leading to dynastic conflicts between those of pure and mixed race. Muslim Arabs also saw themselves as superior to converts to Islam from the indigenous peoples of the Islamic empire, and a set of rules developed to enforce the converts’ inferior social status. At the same time, the Arabs formed various explanations based on the environment for the ethnic differences they observed among different peoples. An Iraqi writer believed that Whites had been undercooked in the womb due to the coldness of the environment they occupied. Blacks, on the other hand, were overcooked. The Iraqi people, however, were brown and mentally and physically superior to the other two races.

Development of Anti-Black Prejudice

As Islam expanded into sub-Saharan Africa anti-Black racism developed. This did not initially exist, not least because Ethiopia had been one of the major superpowers in the Arabian peninsula with a superior culture. Muslims also respected the Abyssinians for giving sanctuary to many of Mohammed’s followers during their persecution by the Meccan pagans. Over time, however, an attitude of contempt and racial superiority emerged towards Blacks. This racism even extended towards highly regarded Black Arabic poets and the governors of provinces, who were reproached and vilified for their colour by their enemies. Here Arab racist views of Blacks is nearly identical to those of White European racists. They were seen as lazy, ugly, stupid and lustful. The prurient view of Black women as boiling with sexual desire mirrors the racist attitude towards Jewish women amongst western anti-Semites. On the other hand, Blacks were also seen as strong, loyal, generous and merry. They also had excellent rhythm. Although both Whites and Blacks were enslaved, White slaves had a higher status and different terms were used to describe them. White slaves were mawlana, literally, ‘owned’. Only Black slaves were described as slaves, abid, a term that is still used to mean Black people in parts of the Arab world today.

The expansion of the European states and empires effectively cut off or severely diminished the supply of White slaves, and as a consequence the value of Black slaves began to rise. Unable to afford White slaves and concubines from Europe and the Caucasus, the peoples of the Middle East turned instead to Abyssinians and the Zanj, Black Africans from further south. Abyssinians in particular were prized for their beauty and other qualities, and its from this period that the Arab taste for the beauty of Black Africans rather than Whites developed. And as anti-Black racism developed, so Muslims scholars and authors wrote pieces defending Blacks from racism, not least because many of Mohammed’s Companions had been Black and the emergence of powerful Muslim kingdoms in Africa.

Islamic Slavery and Slave Armies

Islamic slavery was comparatively milder and more enlightened than western slavery. Although technically slaves could not own property and were disbarred from giving evidence in court, there was limitations on the punishments that could be inflicted on them. Muslims were urged to treat their slaves humanely and manumission was praised as a noble act. It was particularly recommended for the expiation of particular sins. At the same time Islam permitted contracts to be made between master and slave allowing the slave to save enough money to purchase his freedom at an agreed date. There were stories of particular Muslims who freed their slaves even in circumstances where punishment would have been expected. One master freed a female slave after she asked him why he was still alive, as she had been trying to poison him for a year. Slaves could rise to high office. The viziers and other chief dignitaries of the Ottoman empire were slaves. Slaves were used to staff Muslim armies, and there were separate regiments for White and Blacks slaves. Sometimes this resulted in battles between the two, as during the dynastic battles where one side used Black soldiers and the other White. The mamlukes, the Egyptian warriors who ruled Egypt and who expelled the Crusaders and stopped the Mongols conquering the Middle East, were White slaves. They were freed after completing their military training and their leaders preferred to purchase other slaves for training as their successors rather than pass on their position to their own children.

Islam’s acceptance and regulation of slavery, like Judaism, Christianity and other religions, as well as the views of ancient philosophers like Aristotle, also meant that there was opposition to its abolition. Muslim defenders of slavery produced the same arguments as their Christian counterparts, including the argument that Blacks and other infidels were better off enslaved as it introduced them to a superior civilisation. When a 19th century British consul inquired of the king of Morocco what steps he was taking regarding slavery and the slave trade, he was politely informed that all the legislation was based on the Qur’an and sharia and that there was no intention of banning slavery as it was permitted by Islam. Indeed, the Ottoman province of the Hijaz, the area around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, was exempt from the Ottoman ban on slavery and the slave trade after the ulema and nobles declared it to be an attack on Islam, along with legislation allowing women to go in public without the veil. The Turks were declared to be apostates, who could be killed and their children enslaved. Many of the pilgrims to Mecca came with a number of slaves, who acted as living sources of funding. When the pilgrim needed more money, he sold one or two of them.

The Myth of Muslim Non-Racism

In the last two chapters, Lewis discusses the emergence of the view of Islam as completely non-racist and that its slavery was benign. He argues that this was largely the creation of western scholars reacting to the horrors of New World slavery during the American Civil War. Christian missionaries also contributed to this myth. They attempted to explain their failure to make converts by arguing that it was due to Black African revulsion against harsh western slavery. In fact it was due to differences of colour. Islam spread because it was promoted by Black African preachers, rather than White westerners. Particularly influential in the creation of this myth was Edward Blydon, a Black West Indian who was educated in Liberia by the missionaries. He became convinced that Islam was more suited to the needs of Black people, and his books also stressed White guilt, contrasting it with Muslim tolerance. Lewis also believes that the myth is also due to a widespread feeling of guilt among western Whites, which he sees as the modern counterpart to Kipling’s White man’s burden.

Along with the text of the book itself are extensive notes and a documentary appendix containing texts including a Muslim discussion on national character, the rights of slaves and diplomatic correspondence and observations on the 19th century slave trade.

Race and Slavery Compared with Brown’s Slavery & Islam

This book should ideally be read alongside Jonathan A.C. Brown’s Slavery & Islam, as the two present contrasting views of slavery and racism in Islam. Brown is a White, American academic and convert to Islam. While he condemns slavery totally, his book presents a much more positive view of Islamic slavery compared with western servitude and even the conditions endured by 19th century free European workers. He also extensively discusses Islamic abolition and the voices for it, while Lewis lays more stress on Muslim opposition. Brown recognises the existence of racism in the Islamic world, but also emphasises Muslim anti-racist texts like The Excellence of the Negroes. But as Lewis points out, these texts also show the opposite, that there was racism and bigotry in the Muslim world.

Lewis also recognises that Muslim slaves generally enjoyed good conditions and were treated well. However, the real brutality was inflicted on them during the journey from their place of capture to the Islamic heartlands. He also suggests that this relatively benign image may be due to bias in the information available. Most Muslim slaves were domestic servants, unlike the mass of slave labouring on the plantations in America. There were gangs of slaves working cotton plantations and employed in mining and public works, and these laboured in appalling conditions. It may also be that there were more slaves working in agriculture than recognised, because the majority of the information available comes from the towns, and so ignore what may have been the harsher treatment in the countryside.

He also discusses the absence of descendants of the Black slaves, except for a few pockets, in the modern Middle East. David Starkey in an interview for GB News claimed it was because the Muslim slave masters killed any babies born by their slaves. I don’t know where he got this idea. Lewis doesn’t mention such atrocities. He instead suggests that it may have been due to the castration of large numbers of boys to serve as eunuchs in the harems. The other slaves were forbidden to marry and have sex, except for female slaves purchased for that purpose. Slaves were also particularly vulnerable to disease, and so an epidemic lasting five years could carry off an entire generation.

Importance of the Book for an Examination of Contemporary Racial Politics

I was interested in reading this book because of the comparative lack of information on slavery and racism in Islam, despite the existence of books like Islam’s Black Slaves. Lewis in his introduction states that researching the issue may be difficult and dangerous, as it can be interpreted as hostility rather than a genuinely disinterested investigation. I think there needs to be more awareness of the history of Muslim slavery and Islam. For one reason, it explains the emergence of the slave markets in that part of Libya now occupied by the Islamists. It also needs to be more widely known because, I believe, the emphasis on western historic slavery and racism can present a distorted image in which the west is held to be uniquely responsible for these evils.

Video on Black American Jewry and Its History

April 1, 2022

Unpacked are a YouTube channel that specialises in short documentaries on the Jews and their history. This fascinating video below explores the history of Black American Jews, presented by a Jewish lady of colour. The video begins by explaining that while the stereotypical image of a Jew is a White person, the Jewish community has always been diverse and included people of many different races. there were Black Jewish communities, like the Bet Israel in Ethiopia, in Africa and that some of the enslaved Africans taken to America may have come from these communities. There are very few records, but some of the enslaved Africans had Jewish names and so were probably enslaved Jews. As slavery expanded, slaves took over their masters’ religion. This was largely Christianity, but it also included Judaism where the masters’ were Jewish. She also talks about how many Blacks after emancipation moved closer to Judaism after being inspired by the line in the Psalms that speaks about a people coming from Egypt, and Ethiopia lifting its arms to the Almighty. These founded Black Jewish sects, but many of their members then made the passage to traditional Judaism. She also talks about how many Blacks in the 20th century converted to Judaism because they were struck by the parallels between the Black and Jewish experiences. One of these converts was the Hollywood film star Sammy Davis Junior, whose parents were Baptist and Roman Catholic. He was led to convert to Judaism through his friend, the comedian Eddie Cantor.

However, not all Black Jews are converts by any means. Many are the children of marriages between White Jews and people of colour. About 20 per cent of the present Jewish American population is non-White, comprising a number of ethnicities including Latino. She lists the various organisations that have been founded to defend and advance the rights of Black Jews in America. And while many Black Jews supported Black Lives Matters, she regrets that the organisation is critical of Israel and Zionism, which has led to a conflict in the identity of many Black Jewish Americans. She also discusses a number of prominent Black Jewish entertainers, including Drake and Lenny Kravitz. She ends by celebrating Jewish racial diversity and the efforts to bring peoples of all races together.

I was particularly interested in this because one of the insults hurled at Jackie Walker after she was expelled from Labour for ‘anti-Semitism’ is that, as a woman of colour, she couldn’t possibly be Jewish. This video puts the lie to that. Walker herself is the product of a mixed marriage – her mother was a Black civil rights worker from Georgia, her father a Russian Jew. They met during a Communist party event. Jews were particularly sympathetic and involved with Blacks during the civil rights campaign. Many of the teachers in Black schools, as well as social workers and other professionals working in Black communities were Jewish, and so shared the concerns of the people they were working with. Regarding Blacks finding commonalities between their experience and those of Jews, the Black British writer Caryl Philips said in the pages of one of the British literary magazines back in the ’90s or so that he was impressed by these similarities to the extent that he sometimes thought he was Jewish. He was criticised for this by Hilary Mantel, the author of the prize-winning Wolf Hall, who said that the Jewish experience was unique. That’s true, but both Jews and Blacks have a shared history of exile and persecution, and I think this is what has drawn some Blacks and Jews together. As for Latin American Jews, there was a book a few years ago tracing the history of the Pereira family, Sephardic Jews from Spain who settled in Latin America. After the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian peninsula, many of them settled in north Africa while others emigrated to the Spanish and Brazilian colonies in Latin America. Black Lives Matter does present a problem for Black Jews wishing to support both their own racial liberation and Israel and Zionism. But there is a genuine problem in that Israel is a White settler colony, that is subjecting the indigenous, Palestinian population to apartheid and expulsion. It was the awareness of this that prompted Jackie Walker to protest against Israel as well as apartheid South Africa, and which today is causing an increasing number of western, including American Jews, to turn away from Zionism. This is shown very much in the demographics of the people expelled by Labour’s witch hunters for alleged anti-Semitism. Four-fifths of them are Jewish, which shows that this is all about enforcing support for Israel and absolutely nothing to do with genuine Jew hatred.

This is an excellent little history of this part of the Jewish diaspora, clearly demonstrating that people can indeed be Black and Jewish against the sneers and abuse of bigots.

My Email to Bristol Green Party about Their Slavery Reparations Motion on the Council

February 26, 2022

I’m still furious about the motion for the payment of reparations for slavery to Britain’s Black community which was passed last year almost unanimously by Bristol council. It was introduced by Cleo Lake, the then Green councillor for Cotham, a ward in the northern part of the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the deputy leader of the council and head of equalities for the city. All the parties of the left supported – the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. It was only opposed by the Conservatives, who said it was well meant. In many ways it was a continuation of the affirmative action programmes giving aid to Black communities. It was very definitely not, as the proposer stated, a hand-out to individuals but finding to Black organisations to create prosperous, self-sustaining Black communities.

My problem with this is the connection to slavery. This is a more complicated issue than simply rich western Whites dragging Blacks off to oppression and forced labour in the plantations. Slavery existed in various forms in Africa long before the arrival of Whites in the continent. Black states, some of which had slave populations of 75 per cent, preyed on each other, and sold them to outsiders like the Arabs. They were also enslaved by the Turkish empire and Christian Abyssinia. From east Africa they could be exported overseas as far as India, where Bengal had been a major slave trading centre since the 14th century and Indonesia. At the same time, the Barbary pirates, Muslims from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, raided Europe from Spain and Italy to Britain, Ireland and Iceland, carrying off 1 – 2/12 million Whites. But this isn’t mentioned in school history and, although there are an increasing number of books about it, I doubt very many people are aware of it. In America and Europe the global nature of slavery is played down so that the focus is almost wholly on Black transatlantic slavery.

This is understandable as slavery is held to be the ultimate source for the continuing problems of the Black community – unemployment, drugs, crime, racism, poor academic performance and marginalisation and alienation from mainstream society. But the result has been a gross simplification of the historical reality. Critical Race Theory, which developed from Marxist legal scholarship in the 1970s, simplifies the racial situation in the west into oppressed Blacks versus privileged Whites. All Whites benefit from the dominant position in society, even if they despise racism. And all Blacks, regardless of socio-economic status, are oppressed. Lake and Craig’s proposal follows this logic by demanding such payments for all ‘Afrikans’, thus making White collectively responsible for slavery, even when it was others that were really responsible.

I’ve written to Lake and Craig about this, and got no reply. Last Sunday I sent an email to the Green party in Bristol about it. I got no reply to that either. I don’t think they’re capable of defending their position. Or just arrogant and ignoring me as one of the ‘little people’. Here’s the email.

‘Dear Sir,

I am writing to you now to express my grave concerns about last year’s motion in the city council, proposed by Cleo Lake, then your councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Labour deputy leader and head of equalities Asher Craig, to pay reparations for slavery. I have absolutely no objection to the practical form these reparations were to take, which was in fact to be funding to Black led organisations to create prosperous, sustainable Black communities. I am very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by the Bristol Black community, and do support initiatives to improve their conditions. And it is, of course, entirely natural and appropriate that this should be guided by the community itself. But I am very concerned about the way this funding was linked to the reparations movement and the decision that it should apply to all ‘Afrikans’. This showed, at best, a poor understanding of the history of African slavery. At worst it appears to be anti-White, separating Bristolians into good, virtuous, persecuted Blacks, and evil, persecutory Whites, who should feel guilty for the crimes of the ancestors, according to the principles of Afrocentric history and Critical Race Theory.

In fact Black Africans were enslaving other Black Africans long before the transatlantic slave trade, and continued to do so long after Britain had officially banned the slave trade and slavery itself. The proportion of slaves varied from state to state from around 30 per cent to as high 75 per cent. In west Africa the principal slaving nations were the Ashanti, Dahomey, Whydah and Badagri. In east Africa they included Abyssinia and the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples. These states became extremely rich through the trade in human suffering. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey, for example, raked in £300,000 per year. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Islamic states, such as the Turkish empire in north Africa and the Sultanate of Oman one the east coast. Black Africans were exported to the Middle East, India and south-east Asia. If reparations are to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, then this means also paying them to the descendants of those who enslaved them and profited by selling them to Europeans and Americans.

There is also the additional problem in that many of these states were paid compensation and subsidies by the British government to support them economically after the loss of such a profitable trade. But I see no awareness of this in Lake’s motion. An additional problem is that some of these states have no remorse over their ancestors’ participation in the abominable trade. There are statues and streets named after Efroye Tinobue in Nigeria, a powerful female merchant who became a kingmaker in Nigerian politics in the 19th century. But she was also a slaver. There is a very strong debate in Nigeria and  Ghana about the role of the chiefs in the slave trade, and Liverpool’s museum of slavery was widely praised by some Nigerians for including their role. But there seems to be little knowledge or engagement with this fact. Nor do Lake and Craig show any awareness that White Bristolians were also among the Europeans enslaved by the Barbary pirates. In the 16th century five ships were taken from Bristol harbour, and in the 17th they briefly established a base on Lundy. But councillor Lake seemed unaware or unconcerned about this.

I realise that this comes from the belief that the transatlantic slave trade is the direct cause of the inequalities experienced by the contemporary Black community, but I fear that this the proposal has grotesquely simplified the historical reality. I am not sure how many Bristolians are aware that other nations were also involved in the slave trade, like the Spanish and Portuguese. It seems to me that the call for payment of reparations to all ‘Afrikans’ makes Bristol responsible for African enslavement carried out by other nations.

And I am very concerned about the racial politics involved the call. It seems to be strongly influenced by Afrocentrism, which holds that Whites are inferior, and intrinsically more cruel and exploitative than Blacks, and that slavery did not exist in Africa before the appearance of Europeans and Arabs. It also seems to partake of Critical Race Theory, which also considers that all Whites are privileged racists, even when they oppose racism. This has become very topical in recent weeks with the report that Brighton and Hove council, led by the Greens, has voted to include it in their school curriculum.

I very much regret that for these reasons I find Councillor Lake’s motion deeply flawed and simplifying history to a grotesque and racially divisive degree.

I know that the motion was proposed and passed a year or so ago. But I have written to both Councillors Lake and Craig about this, and so far not received a reply from them. And I believe this issues has not gone away but has increased with the debate over the teaching of British history and Critical Race Theory.

 would be very grateful, therefore, to hear your views and explanations in answer to my concerns. You may contact me at my email address —-

Yours faithfully’,

Are British Schools Really Teaching Children that Medieval British Rulers Were Black?

February 9, 2022

A day or so ago Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video discussing the book, Negro Rulers of Medieval Scotland and England, by a Black American writer, Johnson. This claims that various British monarchs in the Middle Ages and early modern periods were really Black, including James I. He believed that this was a product of the prevalence of conspiracy theories in Black American and also Dutch Muslim culture. Conspiracy theories aren’t unique to either of these peoples. He stated that they were the reaction of people, who believe they are powerless. This seems to me to be about right, especially as they are most common in peoples where there is a strong distrust of the government. Black Americans generally suffer more from poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs and alienation than other demographic groups, and have been subject to overt oppression and exploitation. It’s therefore almost to be expected that conspiracy theories should be far more widespread amongst them than in the White population. Way back in the ’90s folklorists documented various rumours and urban legends in the Black community. Some of these erroneously claimed that named fashion designers and clothing firms wouldn’t market their brands to Black. Another was that Coca-Cola was putting chemicals in the water to sterilise young Black men. This was also very much not true, but given their history and treatment, you can well understand how some people could believe it. Webb considered that it was because of this conspiracy culture that some Black Americans were inclined to believe that some medieval British kings were Black. He compared this to an episode in the 1938 Evelyn Waugh novel, Scoop, in which the hero tries to arrange a visa to enter Ethiopia in order to cover the war there. He is told by an official that just about every major historical incident and invention, from the discovery of the circulation of the blood to the defeat of the Germans in the First World War, was due to Africans. Unfortunately, Webb stated, we can no longer laugh at such historical appropriations. White liberals were taking them seriously, and so books like Johnson’s were being taught in schools. This was also the reason why a Black woman had been cast by Channel 5 to play Anne Boleyn.

Now Johnson’s book clearly exists, as Webb showed its cover in his thumbnail and provided a link to its Amazon page. It seems to be the product of the same brand of Afrocentrism that drew on Gerald Massey’s 1881 Book of the Beginnings and David Macritchie’s 1884 Ancient and Modern Britons to claim that the inhabitants of the British Isles were originally Black. And it seems to me quite credible that some schools are teaching Johnson’s book. According to Stephen Howe’s book, Afrocentrism, there were 350 private, ‘afrocentric academies’, teaching 50,000 children in America in 1991. American public schools also have afrocentric curricula and even whole Afrocentric schools in the Black majority districts in Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee (see page 3). But I do wonder how many schools over here are teaching it. I don’t doubt that there are many Black activists and teachers that would like to. Last year during Black History Month the local BBC News for Bristol, Points West, discussed calls for Black history to be taught in schools. If I remember correctly, some were already supposed to have done so. But Britain also has a National Curriculum, which I would have thought would have prevented much Afrocentric material, at least of the extreme type, from being taught.

I also don’t know if books like Johnson’s were behind Channel 5’s decision to have Boleyn played by a Black thesp. It seemed far more likely to me that it came from the theatre, where Black actors have been cast in traditional White roles for a long time. I also think it was influenced by Armando Iannucci’s colour-blind film of Dickens that came out a few years ago. The Tudors are a part of the National Curriculum and have been a staple of British historical programming. Producers are always looking for a way to put a fresh angle on something, and following the BLM riots the TV companies were falling over themselves to promote, or be seen to promote, Black talent. Black History Month was set up partly as a way to motivate Black children at school and raise their academic performance. There may therefore be no other explanation for the broadcaster’s choice of actor than an intention to find a way to appeal to a Black audience as well. The only sure way of proving that the decision was based on books like Johnson’s would be if a document emerges from Channel 5 stating this is the case, or, failing that, they were working with a Black group that took the view that Boleyn and other members of the British 16th century nobility were Black. But Webb doesn’t produce any such evidence.

Some Black Americans may therefore be erroneously taught that Anne Boleyn and the rest were Black, but I see no evidence that such counter-knowledge is being taught in British schools just yet.