Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

Sasha Johnson Thrown off Twitter for Calling for Enslavement of Whites

September 9, 2020

For some reason, all the posts I found about this came from either right-wing or apolitical journalists and bloggers. In my admittedly cursory search for information on it, I didn’t find any criticism from the left. But the left has to criticise this and call it out. It’s pure, genocidal race hatred, and if it doesn’t, it hypocrisy and double standards. It sends a message that you can be bitterly racist, so long as you’re black and anti-White.

It seems at the end of last month, Sasha Johnson, who claims to be one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter Oxford, got banned by Twitter after posting this disgusting Tweet:

It’s a bit blurry, and if you can’t read it, Johnson says

The white man will not be our equal but our slave.

History is changing

No justice no peace

#BLM #Brixton #BLMUK

If you don’t know who Sasha Johnson is, she got quite a lot of attention from Conservative and far right White bloggers and Youtubers a few months ago for a video of her making a speech at a rally in Brixton. She declared that the police were like the Klu Klux Klan, which is obviously and astonishingly wrong. There is problems with racism in the cops, though all the police I know have been very good, conscientious officers who very definitely weren’t. If our cops were like the Klan, then she wouldn’t be around to say that. She’d be hanging from a tree somewhere or otherwise murdered. She’s also videoed calling for the foundation of a ‘Black militia’, surrounded by her own private Black army, who were shown all wearing stab vests and some kind of paramilitary uniform. This is to protect Blacks, probably from the police she hates and reviles. She also dismissed Black and Asian politicos like David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Priti Patel as ‘tokenistic’, who would do nothing for Britain’s non-White minorities. On the Million Person march, whose name is clearly intended to hark back to Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man march on Washington in the 1990s, she declared that she was founding a Black political party. Whites would be denied positions of leadership. This would have the monicker The Taking The Initiative Party. She declared  “We are tired of being let down by Labour, Conservatives, and Lib-Dem and all of them. We want our own political party, one that reflects the multicultural nation that we have become.”

Guy Birchall on Johnson’s Anti-White Racism

Then she got thrown off Twitter for adding to her profile the noxious Tweet about enslaving Whites. Guy Birchall, a journo for the Scum and Spiked Online, wrote a piece for RT. Black Lives Matter have not condemned her, and he contrasts this apparent acceptance of her vicious racism with the universal condemnation shown to White supremacists and racists, like the EDL, BNP and assorted Nazis, Islamophobes and Fascists. He writes

There is little doubt that had the roles been reversed, and a prominent member of the EDL or Britain First had tweeted that black people would be “slaves,” the Old Bill would have been knocking on their door the second they hit send. Johnson is a black supremacist and is apparently finding it increasingly hard to disguise her disgust for white people and “race traitors” from the black community. The fact that Black Lives Matter UK has not denounced her blatant racism and inflammatory language does the movement no favours. 

He concludes:

The left can try and argue that racism is about systems and power structures all they like, but the rest of us know it is hatred of another race. Johnson plainly hates white people and the mere fact that she is black should not give her a free pass. She can dress up as Che Guevara all she likes, but in reality, she’s nowhere near as glamorous as the Argentine revolutionary; she’s a black, female Nick Griffin with even less charisma.

See: https://www.rt.com/op-ed/499628-sasha-johnson-blm-oxford/

Black Anti-White Racism

Now Johnson’s undoubtedly reflecting the anti-White racism that exists in parts of the Black community. The Nation of Islam is a separatist organisation that wants an independent Black state carved out of five of the southern states of the US. In the 1960s they used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. The deal was that the Blacks could have the Atlantic seaboard, and the Whites the rest of the US. It’s present leader, Louis Farrakhan, believes Whites are albinistic mutants created by an evil Meccan superscientist, Shabazz, to bring down the advanced Black civilisation that existed tens of thousands of years ago. There’s an even more extreme Black Muslim group, Ansaru Allah, who also believe that Whites are literally demonic. They consider White skin colour and features similarly abhorrent, and their leader thinks Whites are Amalekites, the ancient enemies of the Hebrews, who tried to wipe them out when they passed through their territory on the way to the Promised Land. And before all this the Rastafarians also declared that White people were literally devils.

White Enslavement from the Middle Ages to 19th Century

Johnson probably thinks she doing something daringly novel by demand the enslavement of Whites. She isn’t. Starting long before the Atlantic slave trade, Whites were also enslaved by Muslims. In the Middle Ages, Arab merchants bought White Frankish slaves from what is now France and other parts of Europe. They also raided France and Italy as part of their jihad against Christendom. This was followed by the Barbary pirates of the 16th onwards from North Africa. These also raided Britain and as far afield as Iceland for White European slaves. The Turkish Empire also enslaved Whites. Following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans by the Sultan Bayezit, ‘the Lightning’ in the 15th century, the White Christian population was reduced to peasant serfs bound to the estates of their new Turkish masters. This continued well into the 19th century. Around 1820 or so the Greeks on Chios rebelled. This was put down with great ferocity by the Ottomans. Many were massacred. I’ve read that 23,000 Greeks were also enslaved by the Turks. These atrocities inspired the French artist, Delacroix, to paint his Massacre at Chios.

Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios. Does Johnson approve of its subject, the massacre and enslavement of Whites?

19th century Egypt had two slave markets and two separate guilds for the slavers, one for the dealers in Black slaves and another for those in Whites. British and American ships were also raided for slaves, and the south-west of England was particularly vulnerable. The executioner in one of the north African states was a former butcher from Exeter, and ships from Bristol were also taken. The parish records from the 18th century for the Gloucestershire village of St Briavels show donations given to a man collecting for money to ransom enslaved Christians. Algiers was a notorious centre for this Islamic piracy. There was a very short war in the 1820s when a British gunboat shelled the palace of the Dey of Algiers, liberating many of the White Christians forced into servitude aboard the pirates galleys. The slave raiding finally stopped with the French invasion and conquest, which led to the creation of Algeria.

Dictators also Murder their own People

At the moment Sasha Johnson is a joke, like some of the murderous fantasists of the White far right. Her Black militia was compared to Live Action Role-Players, and reminds me of nothing more than the mighty armies of storm troopers imagined by the leaders of White Nazi groups while they hold their rallies above a pub or in their front rooms. Mighty dictators in their own imaginations. But if she had power, she’d be a menace. It’s clear that she wants to persecute Whites, but like every would-be dictator she’d also kill and murder her own people and supporters. It’s been said that ‘Revolutions, like Saturn, eat their children’. The French revolutionaries murdered other French Revolutionaries in factional disputes. Hitler launched the Night of the Long Knives against the SA. Stalin killed 30 millions Soviet citizens in the purges, the artificial famine in the Ukraine and the collectivisation of agriculture, and the deportations of whole nations to Siberia. In Africa, Idi Amin, the butcher of Uganda, styled himself the conqueror of the British Empire, particularly in Africa, and claimed to be the king of Scotland. He was carried around in a litter by White businessmen. But the people he tortured and massacred most were other Black Ugandans. Robert Mugabe in the 1990s and early part of this century beat, massacred and evicted his country’s White farmers. But he started his infamous career as dictator and mass-murderer by massacring the Ndebele and other tribes, who were the traditional enemies of his Shona people.

The Black Militia – Another Mandela United Terror Organisation?

Sasha Johnson has shown an extremely aggressive, violent side in her relations with Black critics. There’s another video clip of her racially abusing a Black man and challenging him to a fight simply because he disagrees with her. She shows precisely how low she is when she calls him a ‘coon’. I think if she had any real power, she’d start trying to persecute Whites, but she’d also attack her rivals in the Black community. I can imagine her sending round her Black Militia to sort out her Black critics. Just like Winnie Mandela terrorised South African Blacks with her Mandela United football team. This was a disguised private army, responsible for numerous beatings and murder, including that of the much-admired teenage activist, Stompie Mkhetzie. And that army is certainly breaking laws passed against Fascist organisations. In the 1930s the wearing of paramilitary uniforms for political purposes was banned, a piece of legislation targeting Oswald Mosley’s British Union Fascists and other Nazi and Fascist organisations. People didn’t accept the BNP/NF when they openly strutted around in Nazi uniforms, and Johnson’s Black Militia, which she has clearly modelled on the Black Panthers without any understanding of the difference between the UK and US, shouldn’t be acceptable either.

David Olasuga on White Support for BLM

Of course, many Black members and supporters of Black Lives Matter don’t share her anti-White hatred. The Black historian and TV presenter, David Olasuga, wrote a piece in this week’s Radio Times in which he declared how heartened he was by so much White support for the movement, and the interest in Black affairs and Africa by young Whites. He noted particularly how four books on Africa had reached the top of the bestseller lists, partly due to White interest.

Black Critics of BLM and Black Anti-White Racism

And Black Lives Matter has some of its fiercest critics among Black Americans. I found a video by a right-wing Youtuber showing a number of Black Americans making it very clear why they despised it. These were men and women who had White friends and mixed-race relatives. The violence and threats they had personally experienced had come, not from Whites, but other Blacks. One of the voices was the American Conservative vlogger, YoungRippa. He warned his White viewers and listeners that Black Lives Matter wanted Blacks to hate them. I don’t share his Conservatism nor hatred of the welfare state, but unfortunately there are Black radicals who do have a bitter hatred of Whites that have emerged in the wake of the BLM movement. One of these was a hack styling herself ‘FeministaJones’, and who claims to have written for a number of respectable, mainstream magazines including Time. She put up a piece on her blog arguing that Blacks shouldn’t accept White support, because Whites would never endanger their children with the violent revolution America needs.

What! This is arrant, dangerous nonsense! No-one should be talking about putting their children in danger and demanding violent revolution. Not Blacks, not Whites, not anybody. I’ve friends and relatives, who’ve seen their businesses trashed and have fled their homes during riots here in Bristol. For all its faults, America is a democratic country. it has elected Black leaders and legislators, passed affirmative action laws, that have undoubtedly improved conditions for Blacks. Even if Blacks are still faced with poverty and institutional racism, democratic America has shown itself a world leader in this, and is admired and copied here in Britain.

Will the University and Students Treat Johnson like White Nazi Students?

It will be interesting to see how Oxford University and whatever student union, guild or association handles Johnson. I say ‘Oxford University’, but I’ve heard it suggested that she really belongs to Oxford Brookes, the former polytechnic. Either way, it remains to be seen how her uni and student body reacts to this. I remember the controversy back in the 1980s when students at his university or college turned their backs on Patrick Harrington, one of the fixtures of the BNP/NF. They made it clear that they didn’t want him in their university. The NUS passed rules making it a ‘no platform’ for ‘racists and Fascists’. And rather more recently, Hope Not Hate reported that one of the odious members of one of the Nazi organisations was expelled from his university after complaints from students about his racist views.

The same should happen to Johnson. I recognise that the long history of persecution of Blacks in the West has led to some Blacks hating Whites with some justification. But this is unacceptable. It’s racial supremacy with a Black face. And such genocidal racism is always and everywhere an affront to humanity, no matter what complexion it has.

Sasha Johnson is a Nazi. Remember the old slogan against the NF: ‘Black and White, Unite and Fight!’ That needs to apply to her. And if Black Lives Matter and the student organisations stay silent about her, they are hypocrites and tacit racists too.

History Debunked Refutes Ethnomathematics/Rehumanizing Mathematics

September 8, 2020

This is another video from History Debunked. In it, youtuber and author Simon Webb attacks Ethnomatics, sometimes also called Rehumanizing Mathematics. This is a piece of modern pseudo-scholarship designed to help Black children tackle Maths. The idea is that Blacks perform poorly compared at Maths compared to other ethnic groups. This is held to be because Maths is the creation of White men, and this puts Blacks off studying and mastering it.

The solution has been to scrutinise African societies for their indigenous Maths, especially the Dogon of Mali. They have been chosen as the chief model for all this, as they possessed extremely advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge. In the 1970s there was a book, The Sirius Mystery by Robert K.G. Temple, which claimed that they owed this advance knowledge to contact with space aliens. Apparently this claim was subsequently dropped 10 – 15 years later, and the claim made instead that they were just superlative astronomers and mathematicians themselves. But Dogon Maths is held to be different from White, western Maths because it’s spiritual. History Debunked then goes on to demonstrate the type of pseudo-scientific nonsense this has lead to by providing a link to an Ethnomathematics paper and reading out its conclusion. It’s the kind of pretentious verbiage the late, great Jazzman, Duke Ellington, said stunk up the place. It’s the kind of postmodern twaddle that Sokal and Bricmont exposed in their Intellectual Impostures. It’s deliberately designed to sound impressive without actually meaning anything. There’s a lot of talk about expanding cognitive horizons and possibilities, but History Debunked himself says he doesn’t understand a word of it. And neither, I guess, will most people. Because it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s just there to sound impressive and bamboozle the reader into thinking that somehow they’re thick because they don’t, while the fault is entirely the writers.

I think History Debunked is a man of the right, and certainly his commenters are Conservatives, some with extremely right-wing views. He’s produced a series of videos attacking the pseudo-history being pushed as Black History, and apparently Seattle in America is particularly involved in promoting this nonsense. But he expects it to come over here in a few years. Given the way Black History month has jumped the Atlantic, I think he’s right.

There’s been a particular emphasis on find ancient Black maths and science for some time I know. For a brief while I got on well with a Black studies group when I was a volunteer at the slavery archives in the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum. That was before I read their magazine and got so annoyed with it and its attitude to Whites that I sent them a whole load of material arguing to the contrary, and pointing out that in places like the Sudan, Blacks were being enslaved and oppressed not by White Europeans, but by the Arabs. I also sent them material about the poor Whites of South Africa, who also lived in grinding poverty thanks to Apartheid. This was stuff they really didn’t want to hear, and I was told that if I wanted to talk to them further, I should do so through someone else. They were also interested in finding examples of Black maths and science. I sent them photocopies and notes I’d made of various medieval Muslim mathematicians. These were Arabs and Persians, like al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to the word algorithm, Omar Khayyam, best known in the west for his Rubayyat, but who was also a brilliant mathematician, al-Haytham, who invented the camera obscura in the 12th century and others, rather than Black. But they were grateful for what I sent them nonetheless, and I thanked me. This was before I blotted my copybook with them.

I’m reposting this piece because, although it comes from the political, it is correct. And you don’t have to be right-wing to recognise and attack this kind of postmodern rubbish. Sokal and Bricmont, the authors of the book I mentioned early attacking postmodernism, were both men of the left. Sokal was a physicist, who taught maths in Nicaragua under the left-wing Sandinista government. They wrote the book because they took seriously George Orwell’s dictum that writing about politics means writing clearly in language everyone can understand. And even if you believe that Black people do need particular help with maths because of issues of race and ethnicity, Ethnomathematics as it stands really doesn’t appear to be it. It just seems to be filling children’s heads with voguish nonsense, rather than real knowledge.

I also remember the wild claims made about the Dogon and their supposed contact with space aliens. Part of it came from the Dogon possessing astronomical knowledge well beyond their level of technology. They knew, for example, that Sirius has a companion star, invisible to the naked eye, Sirius B. They also knew that our solar system had nine planets, although that’s now been subsequently altered. According to the International Astronomical Association or Union or whatever, the solar system has eight planets. Pluto, previously a planet, has been downgraded to dwarf planet, because it’s the same size as some of the planetoids in the Kuiper Belt. Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince discuss this in one their books,The Stargate Conspiracy (London: Little, Brown & Company 1999), which claimed that the American intelligence agencies were secretly preparing a fake UFO landing in order to convince everyone that the space gods really had arrived, and set up a one-world dictatorship. This hasn’t happened, and I’ve seen the Fortean Times and other weird magazines trying to explain their book as a high-level hoax which people took too seriously. I don’t believe this, as they seemed very serious at the time. The Dogon believe that the first human ancestors, and some of their gods, came from the sky. Hence Temple’s claim that they were contacted by space aliens. Picknett and Prince, however, sided with sceptics like Carl Sagan. They argued instead ithat the Dogon owed it to a French priest, anthropologist or colonial administrator, I’ve forgotten which, who visited them in the 1920s and who was extremely interested in astronomy. This seems to me to be far more likely than that they either got it from space aliens or that they far better mathematicians and astronomers than they could have been at their level of development.

The Dogon are fascinating as their homes and villages are laid out to be microcosms of the male and female human body and the universe. The book African Mythology by Geoffrey Parrinder, London: Hamlyn 1967, describes the layout of a Dogon house thus:

The shape of the Dogon house is symbolical. The floor is like the earth and the flat roof like heaven. The vestibule is a man and the central room woman, with store rooms at her sides as arms. The hear at the end is her head. The four posts are the man and woman entwined in union. So the family house represents the unity of man and woman and God and the Earth. This is accompanied by the elevation and ground plan of a typical Dogon house. (p. 49).

There’s also this diagram of an idealised Dogon village:

The caption for the diagrame reads:

Like the house, the Dogon village represents human beings. The smithy is at the head like a hearth in a house. The family houses in the centre and millstones and village represent the sexes. Other altars are the feet. (p. 51).

Truly, a fascinating people and I have no problem anybody wanting to study them. But it should be in anthropology, ethnography or comparative religion, not maths.

But it struck me that if teachers and educators want to enthuse and inspire young minds with what maths Africans were studying, they could start with ancient Egypt and the great Muslim civilisations of the Sahara and north Africa, like Mali. Aminatta Forna in one of her programmes on these civilisations was shown an ancient astronomical text from the medieval library of one of these towns, which she was told showed that Muslims knew the Earth orbited the sun before Copernicus and Galileo. I doubt that very much. It looks like a form of a combined helio-and geocentric system, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and then taken up by some medieval astronomers not just in Islam, but also in Christian Europe. In this system, all the other planets when round the Sun, which orbited the Earth. Close to the modern system, but not quite. But it showed that the Black citizens of that civilisation were in contact with the great currents of Muslim science, and that they would have had learnt and taught the same kind of Maths that was being investigated and researcher right across the Muslim world, from India to Morocco and further south to Mali. One of the Black educationalists would like to translate one of these books from Arabic, the learned language of Muslim civilisation, and use it as an example of the kind of maths that was also taught in Black Africa.

Or you could go right back to ancient Egypt. Mathematical texts from the Land of the Nile have also survived in the Moscow and Rhind mathematical papyri. These have various maths problems and their solution. For example, problem No. 7 of the Moscow papyrus is about various calculations for a triangle. This runs

Example of calculating a triangle.

If you are told: A triangle of 2 thousands-of-land, the bank of 2 of 2 1/2;

You are to double the area: result 40 (arurae). Take (it) 2 1/2 times; result [100. Take its square root, namely] 10. Evoke 1 from 2 1/2; what results is 2/5. Apply this to 10; result 4. It is 10 (khet) in length by 4 (khet) in breadth. From Henrietta Midonick, The Treasury of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Pelican 1965) p. 71.

It’s amazing to think that the boys at the scribal school were being taught all this millennia ago. It gives you a real sense of connection with the ancient schoolkids reading it. You can imagine them, hunched over with their pen and ink, busily cudgeling their brains while the teacher prowls about them. The Babylonians were also renowned as the pioneers of early mathematics. They even uncovered a school when they excavated Ur of the Chaldees in the 1920s, complete with the maths and other texts the schoolboys – female education didn’t exist back then, but I’m willing to be corrected – were required to learn. As a schoolboy character in the Fast Show used to say: ‘Brilliant!’ You don’t need to burden modern African societies like the Dogon with spurious pseudo-history and pseudo-science, when the real historic achievements of ancient Egypt and medieval Africa are so impressive.

It struck me that even if you don’t use the original Egyptian maths texts to teach maths – which would be difficult, as their maths was slightly different. Their method of calculating the area of a field of four unequal sides yields far too high a figure, for example – you could nevertheless inspire children with similar problems. Perhaps you could do it with assistance of a child or two from the class. You could bring them out in front of everyone, give them and ancient Egyptian headdress, and then arranged the lesson so that they helped the teacher, acting as pharaoh, to solve it. Or else pharaoh showed them, his scribes, and thus the class. This is certainly the kind of thing that was done when I was a kid by the awesome Johnny Ball on the children’s maths and science programme, Think of a Number. And every week, as well as showing you a bit of maths and science, he also showed you a trick, which you could find out how to do by dropping him a line. It was the kind of children’s programme that the Beeb did very, very well. It’s a real pity that there no longer is an audience for children’s programmes and their funding has subsequently been cut.

Here’s History Debunked’s video attacking Ethnomathematics. He also attacks a piece of ancient baboon bone carved with notches, which he states has been claimed is an ancient prehistoric African calendar. He provides no evidence in this video to show that it wasn’t, and says its the subject of a later video. If this is the one I’m thinking of, then that is a claim that has been accepted by mainstream archaeologists and historians. See Ivor Grattan-Guinness, The Fontana History of the Mathematical Sciences (London: Fontana Press 1998) p. 24.

If you want to know more about ancient and medieval maths, and that of the world’s many indigenous cultures, see the book Astronomy before the Telescope, edited by Christopher Walker with an introduction by the man of the crumpled suit and monocle himself, Patrick Moore (London: British Museum Press 1998).

This has chapters on astronomy in Europe from prehistory to the Renaissance, but also on astronomy in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, India, Islam, China, Korea and Japan, North and South America, traditional astronomical knowledge in Africa and among Aboriginal Australians, Polynesia and the Maori. It can be a difficult read, as it explores some very technical aspects, but it is a brilliant work by experts in their respective fields.

Radio 4 Programme Next Thursday on the Repatriation of Looted Museum Exhibits Following Black Lives Matter

August 18, 2020

The Radio Times also states that next Thursday on Radio 4 at 11.30 am there’s a documentary on the debate about the repatriation of looted African artefacts now on display in British museums. The blurb for it on page 125 of the Radio Times runs

In the wake of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, Gary Younge talks to museum curators as they review what is on display.

There’s an additional piece by Simon O’Hagan on the previous page, 124, which adds

Museums might be closed, but curators are keeping busy reassessing what they have on display – minds focused by the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June. In the words of one curator, “in Britain you’re never more than 150 miles rom a looted African object.”

Presented by Gary Younge, who discovers that when the public is re-admitted to museums after lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.

The debate over the return of looted and seized objects to indigenous communities around the world has been going on for several decades. Much of it is about the display of human remains. A few years ago a series about the British Museum showed that august institution repatriating a set of indigenous Australian burials to Tasmanian people from which they were seized. It’s not just African and indigenous peoples demanding that their ancestors and their property should be returned. The Greeks have famously been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades, if not since they very moment Lord Elgin collected them in the 19th century. In very many cases, I don’t doubt that the moral argument is with those demanding their return, and that it’s the right thing to do.

The mention of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol adds a dimension that complicates the issue. The repatriation of these objects is supposed to be about modern, western museums correcting the moral injustices of an imperial past. But many of the looted objects themselves are the products of slaving societies, and were seized by British forces during wars fought to extirpate the slave trade.

The Benin Bronzes are case in point. These are superbly sculpted bronze heads, which were made as part of shrines to the chief’s oba. Literally meaning ‘right arm’, the word also denotes his spiritual power, rather like the numa of the pagan Roman emperors. However, Benin, then Dahomey, was a major centre of the African slave trade. It had a plantation economy centred on cotton production like the American Deep South, and was a major exporter. So much so that the British launched a war against them from 1850 to 1852 after their king, Guezo, refused to give it up and continued trading. The bronzes were seized by the victorious British forces.

Nobody was talking about their repatriation until the 1980s, when ‘African radical’ and the highly controversial leader of Brent council, Bernie Grant, demanded their return. I’ve no doubt that Grant was motivated by genuine indignation about the humiliation of an African nation by the British empire. But there is an irony here in that such a very outspoken opponent of anti-Black racism should have been seeking to return objects that had been taken as part of military action against an African slave state. And one that had absolutely no qualms, and grew rich, from enslaving the ancestors of Black Brits, West Indians and Americans like Grant.

Ditto with some of the objects that may have been returned to Ethiopia. A year or so ago the I reported that a particularly holy cross belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been seized by the British army in the 19th century, had also been repatriated to its country of origin. I wondered if the relic had also been looted in a similar campaign launched in that century to stop Abyssinian slave-raiding across the border into Sudan and what is now Kenya. If so, then it could be argued that it should not be repatriated, as it was a legitimate spoil in a war the British were justified in waging.

And let’s not be under any illusion that the African slaving nations wouldn’t also have enslaved the British servicemen they fought. One of the documents I found cataloguing the materials on slavery in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol was a parliamentary blue book on the British action against the African slavers in Lagos. One of the chiefs involved stated that if he won, he was going to shave the head of the British commander and make him carry his palanquin. Which sounds very much like a declaration that he intended to enslave him.

I think the area of the repatriation of objects looted from Africa is much more complicated morally than is being discussed and presented, and that African involvement in and culpability for the slave trade is being quietly glossed over in order to present a cosy, straightforward narrative of imperial aggression and guilt.

 

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.

Rishi Sunak Considering Putting BAME Heroes and Heroines on Coinage

July 28, 2020

One of the very few items that drew my attention in yesterday’s edition of the I, for Monday 27th July 2020, was an article by Ewan Somerville reporting that our murderous clown chancellor, Rishi Sunak, was considering adding Black, Asian and ethnic minority heroes and heroines to our notes and coinage. It would be the first time this was done, and is a gesture to Black Lives Matter. The article ran

Black and ethnic minority (Bame) figures could appear on Britain’s currency for the first time. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering proposals by campaigners to have influential Bame people featured on a set of coins, the Treasure minister, John Glen, said.

Those under consideration include the first Indian and Gurkha soldiers who received the Victoria Cross, the British-Jamaican Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, and Noor Inqyat Khan, a Second World War agent and one of only four women to have received the George Cross. There has never been a non-white person features on British coins or notes.

Plans have been submitted to the Royal Mint, which has been encouraged by the Treasury to draft proposals and designs for a potential coin. Mr Sunak has previously expressed support for the anti-racist cause highlighted by the Black Lives Matter Protests.

I think there have been calls for distinguished Black and Asian Brits to be put on the currency before, if only a decade or so ago. There certainly have been calls many times for more women to feature on the currency. From the article it seems that all of the figures being considered well deserve such commemoration. I can’t think of anybody objecting to Black, and particularly Gurkha war heroes considering the latter’s splendid record of service in the British army despite the fact that we never conquered Nepal. One of the most striking images we came across at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was of a Black British squaddy, his chest festooned with medals, proudly holding up a union jack. I think the image came from the Second World War. Either way, as the museum staff remarked, it utterly contradicted the BNP’s lies that Blacks cannot be patriotic British citizens, as this man had clearly fought with gallantry and distinction for the Motherland.

I’ve said before, though, that I’m not impressed with Black Lives Matter. I can appreciate the frustration, anger and deprivation fuelling it. But I think that it has an extremely simplistic view of race and class in Britain and is unintentionally divisive and polarising. And I don’t believe that Sunak or the Tories are going to be remotely sincere in their efforts to tackle the structural racism in British society. Boris Johnson has said he’ll set up an inquiry to investigate it. Or think tank. Or some other talking shop, just like the Tories already promised a few years ago.

And there is already a backlash taking shape. Mike posted a few days ago that the Tories had started recruiting racists on Twitter by appealing to their outrage that migrants were still coming to Britain. Labour had apparently sabotaged the government’s efforts to tighten up the migration system. Given how tough the system already is and that some of the noticeable reports are about people coming over here from France in flimsy, leaking vessels, I honestly don’t know what can be done to make it tougher without going into real, genuine Fascism. By which I mean following Katie Hopkins’ suggestion that migrant ships should be gunned down in the Med and left to sink. Or warned off by the coastguard firing automatic rifles, as the Greek navy/coastguard was shown doing a few weeks ago.

And some of the real firebrands in Black Lives Matter are playing into the Tories’ hands. Yesterday TalkRadio put up a video in which one of their right-wing mouthpieces was interviewing a young Black woman, somebody Samuel, of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group, or some such organisation. She was complaining that most members of Black Lives Matter were bored, disgruntled troublemakers. I didn’t watch all of it, so I may well be prejudging what she said. But it started off with a recording from the leader of Black Lives Matter in Oxford, ranting on about how the police were the Klan, defending statues and other acts of racism. She attacked senior Black figures in the Labour Party like David Lammy for being tokenistic, and said that they needed a new party. And then shouted ‘Black Power’.

The police have a racism problem, and it’s been very well demonstrated through a series of scandals over the years. Before the murder of Stephen Lawrence one of the big scandals to his the news was the revelation that members of her Majesty’s constabulary had been part of the League of St. George, an SS auxiliary unit set up for Fascist Brits during the War. But Mike and I had relatives and friends in the police, and no, not all cops are remotely like that, whatever the Met police is like. And it should be obvious that the police aren’t like the Klan. If they were, then that angry lady wouldn’t have the freedom to denounce them as such because of the sheer intensity of the violence that would be meted out, and the anonymity of those inflicting it. If you want to see the real fear the Klan spread and embodied, just watch last year’s Dr. Who episode where she and her ‘fam’ travel back to the American Deep South to stop a White racist trying to stop the beginning of the bus boycott which launched the mass phase of the Civil Rights movement. If the police were like the Klan, then there would be many more deaths and those responsible would be protected by their anonymity.

As for demanding a separate party for Black people, there are several ways in which that would be a non-starter. Firstly she seems to be harking back to the Black Panther Party and the New Black Panther Party in America. Which is all very well if you’re dreaming of revolution, but to the majority of Whites they look very much like anti-White paramilitaries. Small parties also have trouble establishing themselves. UKIP spent decades trudging up and down Britain getting practically nowhere at elections before their electoral breakthrough a few years ago. And as a single issue party, they’ve suffered from Brexit giving them exactly what they wanted. In Britain, blackness is still associated with foreigness and immigration, although Blacks have been here since the days of the Roman Empire. A party that served and only represented Blacks would be seen as anti-White and colonialist, exacerbating the fears of a ‘great replacement’ and White genocide. And part of the problem is the dispersal of Black people geographically throughout Britain. Someone worked out a while ago that if the number of Black MPs accurately reflected the size of the Black population of Britain, there would be 50 or more in the House of Commons by now. But not all Blacks are concentrated in specific, Black majority areas. Many live in more ethnically mixed or predominantly White towns and regions. They therefore have to show that they can represent their White constituents as well as standing for Black rights. And I doubt very many Whites would vote for a party set up solely to represent Blacks. The young woman TalkRadio was discussing was talking dangerously divisive nonsense.

I dare say that, despite her recent notoriety, she’s an isolated figure. Certainly there seem to be many Black Brits who don’t believe that someone like her stands for them. But through her ignorant comments, she’s given an opportunity for the Tories to take the initiative. I’d never heard of the Orthodox Conservative Black Group before, and I doubt many others had either. The Tories have been trying to win Black voters away from Labour by years. The tactic has been to present Labour’s attitude towards Blacks as that of angry, racial alienation – which is in many cases true – but extreme, and unrepresentative of Black Britain. Their racial policies and BAME members, they claim, are all about healing such divisions rather than increasing them. And so we had the unpleasant spectacle by in the 1990s of the Daily Heil drooling over Priti Patel at the beginning of her noxious rise to power under the headline ‘Priti as a picture’. No, she’s a smirking, self-centred, egomaniac bullying thug.

Sunak’s suggestion for more Blacks and Asians on the currency is certainly welcome, but I feel it will be no more than a token gesture. If it every happens at all, and Boris doesn’t decide to shelve it. Along with all the other Tories projects for a better, racially inclusive Britain.

 

Prehistoric Hull Traded with an Settled by Ancient Egyptians

July 22, 2020

This is another clipping from 20 years ago, but on rather a lighter subject. It’s from the Daily Mail, 26th August 2000. Titled ‘Where the Hull have we landed, pharaoh?’, it’s about the discovery of three ancient Egyptian ships in the city. The clipping reads

Egyptians were shipwrecked off the east coast of Britain some 2,700 years ago and settled in Hull, it was claimed yesterday.

Three wooden boats found in mud on the banks of the Humber in 1937 – thought at first to be Viking – are now said to date from 700 BC and be identical to ones which once navigated the Nile. Egyptologist Lorraine Evans says her findings will revolutionise views about our ancestors. “The simple fact that many people of Britain are going about their daily business unaware of their Egyptian heritage is astounding,” she added.

I don’t know if her findings have been corroborated or invalidated by more recent research. The ancient Egyptians used sewn plank boats, which is exactly how they were built. Nails were used, and instead the ship’s timbers were held together by drilling holes in them and sewing them together with rope. A few years later a ship built exactly the same way by indigenous Brits was found in Dover, so this might simply mean that Iron Age Britons were making them earlier than previously believed.

However, archaeologists are amassing increasing evidence that long distance trade was far more established across the world than previously recognised. You can’t see it with the unaided eye, but some of the stones at Stonehenge have the Mycenaean double-headed axe, indicating that the builders were in touch with Bronze Age ancient Greece. And ancient Spain, which was also partly home to Celtic tribes, also traded with ancient Egypt so it’s entirely credible that sailors and traders from the land of the Nile may have made their way farther north.

I mentioned this to a friend of mine at the time. He told me that some geneticists had also discovered the markers for ancient Egyptian heritage in the DNA of White Brits in Birmingham. I really can’t comment, as I haven’t seen anything to confirm this. But what spooked him is that one of the psychic questers around at the time had claimed in one of his books that through his psychic powers he had found out that ancient Egyptians had also settled in the city of Noddy Holder and Black Sabbath.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on Slavery Around the World Up To the Present

June 23, 2020

Jeremy Black, Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011).

One of the aspects of the contemporary debate over slavery is that, with some exceptions, it is very largely centred on western, transatlantic slavery. This is largely because the issue of slavery has been a part of the controversy over the status of Blacks in western society and the campaigns for improving their conditions and combating anti-Black racism since the abolitionist movement arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it ignores the crucial fact that slavery is a global phenomenon which was certainly not confined to the transatlantic slavery of the European empires. One of the arguments marshaled by the slaveowners was that slavery had existed since antiquity. Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks had possessed slaves, as had ancient Egypt. It still existed in Black Africa, the Turkish empire, the Arab states and India. Hence slavery, the slaveowners argued, was a necessary part of human civilisation, and was impossible to abolish. It was ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ to demand it.

This was partly the reason why, after the British had abolished slavery in their own empire, they moved to attack it around the world. This meant not only freeing the slaves in the West Indies and their South American colonies, but also at Cape Colony in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong and further east in the new territories of Malaya, Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Most histories of slavery focus on transatlantic slavery. However, Jeremy Black’s book discusses it as existed around the world.

The book’s blurb concentrates on European slavery in the Americas. It runs

The story of slavery – from the ancient world to the present day

In this panoramic history, leading historian Jeremy Black explores slavery from its origins – the uprising of Spartacus and the founding of the plantations in the Indies – to its contemporary manifestations as human trafficking and bonded labour.

Black reveals how slavery served to consolidate empires and shape New World societies such as America and Brazil, and the way in which slave trading across the Atlantic changed the Western world. He assesses the controversial truth behind the complicity of Africans within the trade, which continued until the long, hard fight for abolition in the nineteenth century. Black gives voice to both the campaigners who fought for an end to slavery, and the slaves who spoke of their misery.

In this comprehensive and thoughtful account of the history of slavery, the role of slavery in the modern world is examined and Black shows that it is still widespread today in many countries.

But Black begins his introduction with the case of Hadijatou Mani, a Niger woman, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and subsequently beaten, raped and prosecuted for bigamy because she dared to marry a man other than her master. She successfully brought her case before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, which ruled in her favour and fined her country. She stated that she had brought the case in order to protect her children. Slavery is officially outlawed in Niger, but the local customary courts support the custom by which the children of slaves become the property of their masters.

Black then describes how slavery was truly a global phenomenon, and the treatment of slaves at Cape Coast in Ghana resembles the treatment of Christian slaves taken by the Barbary pirates. And its history extends from the ancient world to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. He writes

The mournful, underground dungeons at Cape Coast Castle and other bases on the low, watery coastline of West Africa where African slaves were held from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries prior to shipment to the New World are potent memory of the vile cruelty of slavery, and notably of the approximately 12.5 million Africans forced into this trade and transported on about 35,000 transatlantic voyages, yet these dungeons are not alone and should not crowd out other landscapes where slavery was carried on and the slave trade conducted. Nicholas de Nicolay’s mid-sixteenth-century account of slave dealers parading their captives naked to show that they had no physical defects, and so that they could be examined as if they were horses, with particular reference to their teeth and feet, could have referred to the world of Atlantic slavery, but actually was written about Tripoli in modern Libya, where large numbers of Christians captured from Malta and Sicily by the Barbary pirates of North Africa were sold.

Indeed, the landscapes of slavery span the world, and range from the Central Asian city of Khiva, where the bustle of the slave market can still be visualized in the narrow streets, to Venice, a major entrepot for the slave trade of medieval Europe albeit not one noted by modern tourists. The range is also from Malacca in modern Malaysia, an important centre for the slave trade around the Indian Ocean, especially under the Muslim sultans but also, from 1511, under, first their Portuguese and, then, their Dutch successors, to the few remains of the murderous system of labout that was part of the Nazis’ genocidal treatment of the Jews. The variety of slavery in the past and across history stretched from the galleys of imperial Rome to slave craftsmen in Central Asian cities, such as Bukhara, and from the mines of the New World to those working in spice plantations in east Africa. Public and private, governmental and free enterprise, slavery was a means of labour and form of control. (p.2).

The book has the following chapters

  1. Pre-1500
  2. The Age of Conquest, 1500-1600
  3. The Spread of Capitalist Slavery, 1600-1700
  4. Slavery before Abolitionism, 1700-1780
  5. Revolution, Abolitionism and the Contrasting Fortunes of the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1780-1850
  6. The End of Slavery, 1830-1930?
  7. A Troubled Present, 1930-2011
  8. Legacies and Conclusions.

I feel very strongly that the global dimension of slavery and the slave trade needs to be taught, and people should be aware that it isn’t simply something that White Europeans forced on to Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. British imperialism was wrong, but the British did act to end slavery, at least officially, both within our empire and across the world. And odiously slavery is returning. After Blair’s, Sarkozy’s and Obama’s bombing of Libya, the Islamist regime in part of the country has allowed slave markets selling Black Africans to be reopened. Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video on YouTube discussing the appearance of yet more slave markets in Uganda. He pointedly asked why none of the ‘SJWs’ protesting against the racism and the historical injustice of slavery weren’t protesting about that. Benjamin is a member of the extreme right, though I would not like to accuse him personally of racism and the question is a good one. As far as I know, there are no marches of anti-racist activists loudly demanding an end to racism in countries like Uganda, Niger, Libya and elsewhere. Back in the ’90s the persistence and growth of slavery was a real, pressing issue and described in books like Disposable People. But that was over twenty years ago and times have moved on.

But without an awareness of global history of slavery and existence today, there is a danger that the current preoccupation with western transatlantic slavery will just create a simplistic ‘White man bad’ view. That White Europeans are uniquely evil, while other cultures are somehow more virtuous and noble in another version of the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

And it may make genuine anti-racists blind to its existence today, an existence strengthened and no doubt increasing through neoliberalism and the miseries inflicted by globalisation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Pull Down Statues, Make Sure They’re of the Right People

June 10, 2020

Since Colston’s statue was pulled over and lobbed in the docks in Bristol on Sunday, others have called for the removal of similar statues and monuments to those connected to the slave trade. Down in Devon there have been calls for a statue of the Elizabethan explorer Francis Drake to be removed. At Oxford University demands have started up again for the removal of the university’s statue to the 19th century imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. And on Sky News’ The Pledge, Afua Hirsh managed to get LBC’s Nick Ferrari in a right tizzy for suggesting that not only should Rhodes’ statue be taken down, but also Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill.

I can’t defend Rhodes. He seems to me to be have been a thoroughly ruthless character, who was intent only on grabbing as much land for himself and Britain on any pretext whatsoever. I might be wrong, but I’ve got a horrible suspicion he was one of the people behind the Anglo-South African or Boer War during which tens or hundreds of thousands of Afrikaner women and children died in concentration camps. He was also instrumental in the creation of Rhodesia’s colour bar.

Nelson and Churchill are going to be much more controversial. Most people only know of Nelson for his victory at Trafalgar during the Napoleonic War. This was to stop the French imperial domination of Europe, and Napoleonic forces had also invaded Egypt. I think most Brits will therefore take an attack on Nelson as an attack on a key figure, who kept Britain and Europe free. Yes, he’s a symbol of British imperial strength, but I doubt many people associate him with the oppression of Blacks and Asians. It’s going to look like a spiteful attack on Britain, rather than a gesture of Black liberation.

Ditto Hirsh’s other target, Winston Churchill. I’m absolutely no fan of Churchill myself. He was an authoritarian aristocrat, whose real reason for opposing Hitler was that he saw Nazi Germany as a threat to British interests in the North Sea, not because he was an opponent of Fascism. He sent troops in to shoot striking miners in Wales, and was all for calling them in during the General Strike. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister at the time, wanted him kept well out of the way to avoid exacerbating the situation. As for Ireland, back in the 1990s there was an interesting little programme on BBC 2, The Living Dead, which was about the way Churchill’s heroic view of British history in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples had influenced subsequent politics. One of the key offenders here was one Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who had been strongly influenced by the great war leader herself, and tried to invoke his memory at nearly every opportunity. The programme interviewed a former member of the Irish republican paramilitary group, the INLA. He said that it was easier to recruit members under Thatcher than under Ted Heath because of Thatcher’s celebration of Churchill. For Irish nationalists, Churchill was the monster, who sent in the Black and Tans. His sequestration of grain from the Bengal peasants during the War resulted in an horrific famine which killed something like 2-4 million people. This is comparable to the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, and some senior British army officers saw it as exactly that. Churchill, however, declared it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’, or having too many children.

That is not, however, why Churchill is celebrated over here. He’s lauded because he, Roosevelt and Stalin together overthrew the Nazis and their allies. The War swept away Fascist Italy, and the other Fascist or Fascist-aligned regimes in Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. It liberated Greece and Albania. Stalin was no angel either. He killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens during the purges and deported whole nations and ethnic groups to Siberia. Instead of letting the eastern European countries decide their future for themselves, he imposed a ruthless autocratic Communist dictatorship. I think Churchill would have liked those nations to have been free to decide for themselves. Back in the ’90s there was a radio series on Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, the conference that would decide the post-War European order. It was called The Eagle and the Small Birds, from a quote from Churchill ‘The eagle should let the small birds sing, and care not wherefore they sang’. A Nazi victory would have been the stuff of nightmares, and I don’t know how many millions Hitler would have murdered had he been successful. What the Nazis did to the Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians was horrific enough as it is.

Churchill isn’t the saint or the great molten idol the Tories claim he is by any stretch of the imagination, but he is one of the reasons why Hirsh and Black activists like her are able to make their criticisms of traditional British history and its heroes. If Hitler had won, or his mate Oswald Mosley had seized power in some kind of coup over here, Hirsh and her allies would not have been tolerated. The Nazis’ eugenics programme included not only the murder of the disabled, but also the sterilisation of the mixed race children of White German women and Black American soldiers from the post-First World War army of occupation. Mosley himself would have made Britain an apartheid state, with citizenship granted only to those who conformed to aryan British culture, if not physiology. The War and the horrors of the Nazi and Fascist regimes made eugenics and racism and anti-Semitism far less acceptable than they were before. I am very much aware how institutionally racist Britain is and has been. But it’s much better than what would have existed had Churchill been defeated.

But most of all, I’m concerned that the zeal for smashing statues and monuments may destroy those to abolitionists. Nearly 20 years ago, when I was doing voluntary work in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol, one of the books that found its way into the slavery archive and library was a little bit of local history by the Liverpudlian writer, Fritz Spiegel. Spiegel prides himself on being a ‘Dicky Sam’, the Liverpudlian equivalent of a ‘real Cockney sparrow’. The book was on the fascinating history of the abolition movement in that great city. If I remember rightly, it included not only White abolitionists, but also some of the Black people who also populated the city. It wasn’t just a piece of local history for its own sake, though. In his introduction, Spiegel explained that he moved to right it because, in their zeal to destroy monuments to the city’s slavers, some people had also vandalized those of innocent merchants and abolitionists.

I’m afraid there might be a danger of something similar happening in the current zeal for smashing statues commemorating Black oppression and slavery. There are good reasons for removing monuments like Colston’s. But let’s not confuse those with slavery’s opponents.