Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

Lindsay and Pluckrose on Western and Non-Western Racism

January 25, 2022

In their chapter on Critical Race Theory in Cynical Theories, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay discuss the origins of western racism and what distinguishes it from other forms of racism elsewhere in the world. They state that modern, western pseudo-scientific racism developed in the 17th century as a way of justifying the enslavement and exploitation of Black slaves. Before then ideas of prejudice and difference centred on religion.

‘While other factors may have contributed, race and racism as we understand them today probably arose as social constructions, made by Europeans to morally justify European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. European historians have tracked the rise of color-based prejudice over the early modern period, from roughly 1500 to 1800, and argued that prejudice on the grounds of religious difference gave way to racism – a belief in the superiority of some races over others over the course of the seventeenth century. In order to justify the abuses of colonialism and the kidnapping, exploitation and abuse of slaves, their victims had to be regarded as inferior or subhuman (even if they had converted to Christianity). This raises a common point of confusion, because it is also undeniable that other peoples at other times practised slavery, colonialism, and even genocidal imperialism, and they justified these atrocities similarly – by characterising those they enslaved or conquered as inferior, often using characteristics like skin, hair, and eye color, which we might identify with race today. This sort of discrimination and even dehumanisation was already widespread, but in Europe and its colonies, a few key differences led to a unique analysis.’ (112).

Elsewhere they note that 3rd century AD Chinese writers, noting the existence of people with blonde hair and green eyes in the west, concluded that these people were descended from monkeys.

Chinese drawing of European sailor.

There is no doubt that Black and Asian people have suffered terrible prejudice, discrimination and exploitation, and that the current anti-racist campaigns are an attempt to correct this. But I feel that it has terribly neglected other forms of racism because these don’t fit the goals of the anti-racist activists and their prejudices. I’ve said before that Diane Abbott was asked at a political gathering what should be done about racism between BAME groups by an Asian man. She declared that she wouldn’t do anything about it, because ‘they’ would use it ‘to divide and rule’. The Asian grooming gangs seem to have been partly motivated by racism. One of the abused girls recalls being racially abused by the men when they were physically assaulting and raping her. But the grooming gangs were covered up for decades because the authorities were afraid it was start riots. And underneath the postmodernist critiques of White racism, Postcolonial Theory and Critical Race Theory, I feel there is an older, more traditional forms of racism as simple hatred of a White ‘other’.

I therefore strongly believe that if we are to combat racism, we therefore need careful scholarly research into anti-White and other forms of non-White racism and integrate this into the anti-racism movement.

Stephen Howe on the Extent of Slavery in African States

January 25, 2022

One of the falsehood’s Stephen Howe’s book, Afrocentrism, tackles, is the denial by Afrocentric writers and activists of chattel slavery in indigenous African societies. And when they do acknowledge it’s existence, they claim that it was somehow more benign than European chattel slavery. This is, quite simply, wrong, and the proportion of the indigenous population that was enslaved in Africa could be quite high. It varied from people to people between 30 per cent to as much as 75 per cent of the population. Howe writes

‘A further major theme in Afrocentric historical fantasy should also be noted: the tendency to deny, against all the evidence, that chattel slavery existed in precolonial Africa – or to insist that, if it did, it was a marginal, small-scale and benign phenomenon. One might set against this romanticisation Orlando Patterson’s estimates of the scale of precolonial African slavery, in the fullest comparative global study of slavery ever attempted, Patterson suggests that in the major early states of West Africa – Islamic Ghana, Mali, Segou and Songhay – slaves constituted 30 per cent of the population. In the states of the central Sudan and the Hausa city-states, it was between 30 and 50 per cent. In the Fulani kingdoms established after the jihad of the eighteenth century, between 30 and 66 per cent of the people were enslaved, while in the state of what are now Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Ghana, figures ranged from 30 to 75 per cent. Among the precolonial Yoruba, from a third to a half of the population existed in servile status, while in many of the states of Central Africa – among the Kongo, Luvale and Lozi, for instance – the figure was over 50 per cent.

Internal African slavery and slave-trading were undoubtedly on a very significant scale, and long predated the advent of European slave-raiding: though it remains quite possible – indeed, likely – that their growth was greatly stimulated by the effects of European demand, so that African slavery in its later, most extensive and many of its harshest forms can reasonably be ‘blamed’ in part on Europe. One estimate has it that the number of people enslaved within Africa, across the sweep of modern history, equally the number exported across the Atlantic and Red Sea trades. Important aspects of intra-African economic interchange, like trans-Saharan trade routes, included or were even pioneered by the trade in human beings. Nor is it true that slavery within Africa was largely ‘domestic’ and therefore, by implication, relatively benign: large scale plantation slave labour systems were introduced in several parts of the continent, albeit probably most often under at least indirect European or Arab influence.’ (149-50).

This does not excuse European slaving, and I think most historians of African slavery consider that African slavery expanded massively in the 18th century due to European demand. But it does place it in context. Unfortunately, I really do feel that contemporary anti-racism activists are trying very much to deny that indigenous African slavery existed, and place all the blame for it, and the subsequent problems of western Blacks and Africa, on Europeans. This is explicitly the case with Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory, which won’t tackle the genuine problems and oppressive aspects of indigenous societies, but simply concentrate instead on the faults and horrors of European colonialism.

The Experiences of Enslaved Africans in the Past and Today

January 24, 2022

One of the extremely positive features of Sean Stillwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014) is that includes short descriptions and quotations from slaves, slavers and slave masters in Africa describing their careers and situation. There was a striking variety of slave systems in Africa. In some societies, slaves were acquired for use and soldiers and could rise to high social rank through their connections to powerful chiefs., One of these was the Sokoto royal slave Dan Rimi Nuhu. The book states

‘At the end of the nineteenth century, during a civil was in Kano (located in what is now northern Nigeria) Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, Dan Rimi Nuhu, a powerful royal slave official, soldier, and titleholder, crowned the rebel pretender, Yusufu, as emir. Nuhu had long supported Yusufu’s cause and claim. Nuhu was a well-known and powerful slave i8n the palace, but he had joined the war camp of Yusufu early on in the struggle. When Nuhu arrived on horseback, Yusufu said, “Our trip is successful, our trip is successful since Nuhu has joined us, he has joined our camp!” Thereafter, Nuhu transformed Yusufu’s military camp into the proper seat of a rival emir. He gave Yusufu the royal regalia and insisted that he follow Kano court protocol. With Nuhu’s support the rebels later took the Kano throne. Afterward, the royal slaves and their families who supported the new emir gained a substantial amount of power.’ ( pp.89-90).

Others were not so well treated.

‘Msatulwa Mwachitete grew up in Chitete, located in central East Africa, to the west of Lake Malawai, in the house of his father, who had twelve wives. Their home was attacked numerous times by Mkomas of the Inamwanga, who regularly carried off women and children into slavery after setting fire to surrounding villages. During one such attack, Msatulwa was captured, along with his mother and brother. He was taken some distance from his home and given as a slave to Mitano. Msatulwa was forced to grind corn, cut firewood, cook, hoe fields, and fetch water, but was eventually given to another person, who treated him better. In the end Msatulwa found his way home after running away.’

Horrifically, slavery isn’t a thing of the past. The Islamists that have seized power in one part of Libya after the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy have reopened the slave markets, selling the Black migrants who have travelled north in the hope of reaching Europe. Slave markets have also reopened in Uganda. The book also gives the testimony of Ahok Ahok, an enslaved Dinka woman, given to Anti-Slavery International. She was captured and forced into slavery during the Sudanese civil war in the ’90s.

‘Our family was captured about six years ago [i.e., about 1994] when we were already fleeing north and had crossed into the North into Kordofan. I was captured with my son, Akai, and my two daughters, this one called Abuk … who was about eight at the time, and a younger one, about two. We were taken by a tribe called Humr [i.e. Misseriya Humr], who split the three of us up. The man who took me subsequently sold me on to some other nomads to look after cattle, for about 130 Sudanese Pounds. I had to look after their cows and spent about six years with them before I managed to escape to Makaringa village…. Meanwhile my three children had been taken by others. For six years, until I reached Makaringa village, I had no news of them. When I reached the village, my son Akai heard where I was and joined me there. He is with us at this CEAWC centre. We then contacted the Dinka Committee and they were able to find my daughter Abuk, who had been renamed Khadija. She had initially been put to work looking after livestock, but had got into trouble when some animals had escaped – she was too little to look after them. After that she was employed as a domestic servant. She hardly speaks any Dinka language now, only Arabic… I still have no news of my youngest daughter and am still hoping to find her.’ (211-2).

The book also gives the names of some of the African organisations set up to help slaves. These include Timidria in Niger, the Dinka Committee in Sudan; El Hor (Free Man), set up in the 1970s by former slaves in Mauretania; and SOS-Esclaves, set up in 1995. These organisations face continuing difficulties to fight slavery and improve conditions for former slaves, as shown by an additional piece of testimony:

‘It is uphill work…. Some of their members have been imprisoned. Seeking help through the courts is usually useless. Sharia courts maintain that slavery is legal. Since no laws have been passed, laying down penalties for enslavement or detailing the rights of slaves, other courts and local officials maintain that they have jurisdiction if slaves bring cases for custody of their children or try to establish their right to remain on the land they farm. Former owners may claim the property even of freed slaves when they die.’ (213).

These slaves are not going to get any help from the western advocates of Postcolonial and Critical Race Theory, because these disciplines are exclusively focused on White racism and the horrors of White colonialism. I’ve mentioned that feminists in India and the Middle East have been bitterly critical about the refusal of the activists and scholars supporting these forms of Critical Theory to criticise the treatment of women and LGBTQ folk in these countries. Indeed, Indian progressives have attacked these postmodern ideologies for giving support to the most reactionary elements of these societies on the grounds that, as they are part of these societies’ traditional structures and not the product of western colonialism, they are exempt from criticism. And you could see the attitude in a speech given by Barbara Barnaby, the head of the British branch of Black Lives Matter to a fringe meeting of the Labour party last summer. She criticised the resurgence of slavery in Libya, because this was a product of Blair’s colonialism. But she didn’t condemn it elsewhere in Africa, where it is the product of indigenous forces. Her demand that Britain and the other European countries was based on the abuse of the peoples of the global south during colonialism, but made no mention or criticism of the tyranny, corruption and poverty of African rulers and regimes that is behind much of the migration to Europe.

This isn’t, as Kate Maltby tried to claim in the I a few years ago, an attempt to avoid being diverted from the campaign for equality and social justice in the west into criticism and activism against non-European slavery. It is the product of a profoundly racist ideology that sees slavery and other human rights abuses as only worth fighting if they are committed by Whites.

Barnaby, Black Lives Matter and similar organisations may have the best intentions, but their exclusive focus of White racism is actively hindering real anti-racism and campaigns to eradicate modern slavery.

A Thorough Demolition of Postmodern Anti-Liberal Social Justice Theories

January 21, 2022

One of the other books I’ve ordered from Amazon, and which I’m reading at the moment, is Helen Pluckrose’s and James Lindsay’s Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody (Swift Press 2020). Pluckrose and Lindsay are two thirds of the group, with Peter Boghossian, of academics that are actively seeking to lampoon and refute the various pseudo-academic disciplines that have emerged from Postmodernism and Critical Theory. These theories, Critical Race Theory, Postcolonial Theory, Queer Theory, Disability and Fat Studies, promise to help make society fairer, but instead are doing immense damage, including to the very groups they profess to want to help. They consciously reject the Enlightenment ideas of reason, evidence, science and the individual and universal. This is particularly clear in Critical Race Theory, which denounces as a failure the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, with materialist Critical Race Theorists arguing instead for segregation. CRT, Postcolonial Theory and Intersectional Feminism also reject ideas of evidence and reasoned argument on the grounds that this is a discourse created by White men to keep everyone else down. Instead they promote myth, story and lived experience as authentic, non-White ways of knowing that should takes its place. Those advocating this nonsense include Novara Media’s Dalia Gebreal, who was one of the editors of Decolonising the University a few years ago. In the case of the Postcolonialists, their view of an irrational east is exactly the same as the western Orientalists they decry following Edward Said’s Orientalism. And the real social activists in India and elsewhere in the Developing World are very much aware of it. I’ve only read a few chapters so far, but from what I’ve seen, Lindsay and Pluckrose show again and again that these Theories are only making matters worse. Real progress for Blacks, gays and other marginalised groups has come from evidence, reasoned argument and universalism – the idea that there are universal human rights, which should apply to everyone regardless of race, creed, gender or sexuality/ gender identity.

In fact some of these ideologies are actively malign and reactionary. Postcolonialist activists, for example, do not lend their voice to activists in Saudi Arabia or India protesting the oppression of women and LGBTQ people in those countries and the Middle East. It’s because the ideology itself actively defends and promotes indigenous, non-Western cultures and their worldviews, which may vehemently reject modern ideas of feminism and sexual tolerance. They’re only interested in oppression in the non-Western world when this is due, or can be blamed on, colonialism. This is explains why Barbara Barnaby, the British head of Black Lives Matter, in her speech to a fringe Labour party meeting a few years ago, condemned the toppling of Colonel Gaddafy and the consequent enslavement of Black Africans, but had nothing to say about the revival of indigenous slavery further south, such as Uganda. Nor did she mention oppression by Black African and other non-Western regimes. Instead she demanded that refugees automatically be allowed into ‘Fortress Europe’ because ‘You oppressed us under colonialism’. But overt colonial rule in many countries ended sixty or so years ago, in the 1950s and 1960s. These nations achieved their independence, and the poverty, corruption and oppression these nations have experienced since then have been at the hands of indigenous rulers. A far better argument, for me, would be to say that, as former imperial subjects, refugees from these nations deserve to be given sanctuary in Britain, and some activists have used this argument. But Barnaby’s silence about oppression and violence by indigenous non-Western regimes is part of the general refusal of Postcolonial Theory to confront this brutal reality.

The book’s blurb runs

Cynical Theories argues that struggles for social justice are strongest when they are founded on respect for evidence, reason and free and open debate. It deplores the harm that closed-minded Social Justice ideologues, cancel cultures and social media pile-ons are doing to the cause of social justice and liberal democracy itself.

Pluckrose and Lindsay demonstrate that only through proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas can we challenge this harmful orthodox, and offer practical strategies to combat it.’

After the Introduction, it has the following chapters

  1. Postmodernism ‘A Revolution in Knowledge and Powers’
  2. Postmodernism’s Applied Turn ‘Making Oppression Real’
  3. Postcolonial Theory ‘Deconstructing the West to Save the Other’
  4. Queer Theory ‘Freedom from the Normal’
  5. Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality ‘Ending Racism by Seeing It Everywhere’
  6. Feminisms and Gender Studies ‘Simplification as Sophistication’
  7. Disability and Fat Studies ‘Support-Group Identity Theory’
  8. Social Justice Scholarship and Thought ‘The Truth According to Social Justice’
  9. Social Justice in Action ‘Theory Always Looks Good on Paper’
  10. An Alternative to the Ideology of Social Justice ‘Liberalism without Identity Politics’.

This book supplies a much-need critique of these thoroughly pernicious theories, which regrettably have gained considerable ground on the Left and in academia. Instead of bringing people together and actually helping those they purport to want to help, they are actually creating more division and hatred. James Lindsay, one of the book’s authors, recently described his experience of appearing on Dr. Phil, an American talk show, to confront various Critical Race Theorists on Benjamin Boyce’s YouTube channel. When they asked him what he would recommend instead to tackle racism, he replied that it should be colour-blindness, where people are rewarded on ability. He said they looked at him as if they’d sh*t themselves.

If we are to progress as a people and species, it can only come through reason, logical argument and a concern for objective truth, as well as genuine liberal universalism, which sees everyone as equally deserving of human rights.

And that means dumping these destructive and pernicious pseudo-ideologies.

A Jewish Traveller’s Description of a Moroccan Slave Market

January 20, 2022

I found this description of an 18th century slave market in Morocco in Samuel Romanelli’s Travail in an Arab Land, trans. and notes by Yedida K. and Norman A. Stillman (Tuscaloosa: University of Arizona Press 1989). Romanelli was an Italian Jew, who found himself stranded in Morocco from 1787 to 1790. His book, originally published in Hebrew, is a detailed description of Morocco, its society and Jewish communities. Romanelli was a highly cultured man, deeply versed in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and Hebrew. He was scathing both of the Arabs and what he considered to be the ignorance and superstition of Morocco’s oppressed Jews. Morocco was the endpoint of a route used by slavers taking enslaved Black Africans from sub-Saharan west Africa. Unfortunately this slave trade survived into the early 20th century because we disrupted a European blockade of Morocco c. 1909 or thereabouts to prevent the other nations invading. Morocco was kept free, but the consequence was that its indigenous slave trade continued to flourish. Romanelli states

“Twice a week there is an auction called delal … In this type of delal, they also sell black men and women. Slaves and maidservants follow behind the slave driver. The buyer will examine a maidservant as he would examine a sheep. She then becomes his permanent possession. He may either keep her as his slave or be harsh to her and resell her to another. In olden times even whites and Jews were sold, as we know from the story of Joseph and from the Mosaic ordinances.”

In fact Morocco, with Algeria, was one of the centres of the Barbary pirates, which raided Europe and attacked European and American shipping to capture white slaves. This carried on in Algiers until the British launched a reprisal in the 1830s. I’ve put this up because, as western slavery is now again a topic of controversy, political debate and demands for reparations and education, it is important to remember that slavery and the enslavement of Black Africans was not unique to the West.

And it is also disgusting that slavery is returning in the 21st century, as slave markets reopen in Uganda and in the Islamist-held portion of Libya. The last is a consequence of Blair’s overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy, and should count as another reason why the warmonger shouldn’t get a knighthood.

History Book on Slavery in Africa

January 20, 2022

Sean Stillwell, Slavery and Slaving in African History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2014)

I ordered this book from Amazon and got it through the post yesterday. I’ve done no more than skim it, but it appears to be an excellent history of slavery and slaving in Africa from its origins in the ancient past to the transatlantic slave trade and today, when, horrifically, Africans are still being enslaved. The blurb for the book states

‘This book is a comprehensive history of slavery in Africa from the earliest times to the end of the twentieth century, when slavery in most parts of the continent ceased to exist. It connects the emergence and consolidation of slavery to specific historical forces both internal and external to the African continent. Sean Stillwell pays special attention to the development of settled agriculture, the invention of kinship, “big men” and centralized states, the role of African economic production and exchange, the interaction of local structures of dependence with the external slave trades (transatlantic, trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean) and the impact of colonialism on slavery in the twentieth century. He also provides an introduction to the central debates that have shaped current understanding of slavery in Africa. The book examines different forms of slavery that developed over time in Africa and introduces readers to the lives, work, and struggles of slave themselves.’

Africa isn’t a single nation, but a continent with many different cultures and peoples, and the forms slavery took are similarly varied. In some cultures, slaves could rise through their relationship to their masters to high social positions, often in preference to their masters’ own sons. Some states used slaves as soldiers, arming them with guns. These slave soldiers appear largely to have been satisfied with their position and were unlikely to revolt. This reminded me of the episode in the British Caribbean when, faced with the threat of invasion from Napoleonic France, the British reluctantly armed their slaves. I’m not sure, but I got a feeling that this infused the enslaved peoples with pride. After the American Revolution, Black loyalists were also settled in the Caribbean. They were described as living under military discipline, with their own colonels and officers and to be largely satisfied with their condition. I think this says something about the importance of combat and militarism to masculine self-worth.

One positive feature of the book is that includes testimony and statements from slavers, slave masters and the enslaved themselves. Again, it’s important, as all too rarely the enslaved speak for themselves, although, of course, there are a number of books and literature from former slaves like Frederick Douglas and Olaudah Equiano denouncing slavery and demanding its abolition. The final chapter, which also discusses the persistence of slavery in Africa, also includes statements and testimony from former slaves. It also discusses the various anti-slavery organisations that have emerged recently in Africa, many of them led or founded by former slaves.

Part of the rationale behind the British invasion of Africa was to combat the slave trade at its source. Unfortunately this goal, and the hope of many enslaved Africans, was frustrated by the colonial authorities. These sided with slaveowners and existing power structures. Runaway slaves could find themselves returned to their masters, and obstacles, like higher taxes, placed in the way of slaves seeking to gain their emancipation. Lord Lugard is a prime offender in this, and there’s a quote from him where he states clearly that the people at home would go berserk if they knew what he was doing. But in some areas the arrival of the British was initially welcomed by the enslaved population as liberators. When we conquered Kano, in what is now modern Nigeria, the slaves were desperate to touch the British flag, because they believed this would secure their freedom. They sang the following song:

A flag touching dance

Is performed by freeborns alone.

Anybody who touches the flag,

Becomes free.

He and his father [master].

Become equals.

It is one of the injustices of colonialism that, for many slaves, this was not realised, and it is disgusting that slavery has persisted on the continent, so that slave markets have reopened in Uganda and Libya.

Bristol Announces Education Report about the Contribution of Different Communities to City

January 19, 2022

Yesterday a couple of bods from Bristol city council appeared on the news to announce the imminent public of two reports, both dealing with race and community issues. At lunchtime it was reported that there was a report coming out about how the city should educate people about city’s history as a major centre of the slave trade. Then on the 6.30 local news, deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Craig appeared to tell viewers about another report coming out about another education initiative, this time about the contribution different communities had made to the city. She thought it might perhaps form the basis for a new museum. The report was hailed as bringing communities together.

Bristol’s a port city and so people of different races and nationalities have been living in the city since the Middle Ages. It had a Jewish community, complete with a miqveh or ritual bath, on Jacob’s Wells Road before Edward I’s expulsion of them from England. it also had strong links with Ireland, and it’s possible that there was a community of Bristol merchants in Dublin before Henry IIs invasion of 1169. It also had strong links to Wales, and so there’s always been people from Ireland and Wales here in the city. There were a few Icelandic merchants resident in Bristol in the 15th century. As the city also traded in wine from France and Spain, I’m fairly certain there were also French people and Spaniards here. There were also Black people in Bristol from the 16th century onwards following the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. However, the bulk of the modern Black population probably really only dates from the Windrush migration. Other immigrants to Bristol include Poles, Russians – there’s a Russian Orthodox church on University Road by the museum in Clifton, Chinese and peeps from India and Pakistan. A few years ago a book was published about Bristol’s diverse immigrant population.

But I don’t think this is primarily about all of the city’s various ethnic communities. I think it’s really an attempt to promote Bristol’s Black community. Last year, when I contacted Craig criticising her for some of her comments about the city’s involvement in the slave trade, her reply talked about the ‘One Bristol’ educational project. This would promote Blacks, and be ‘diverse and inclusive’, which didn’t always happen with White men. I don’t know if that last comment is a deliberate sneer or putdown.

It’s fair to say that the majority Black areas of the Bristol have the same problems and reputation of inner cities elsewhere – drugs, crime, prostitution and violence. When I was growing up people from outside the area drove along Stapleton Road in St. Paul’s with their windows up and the door firmly locked. Nearly two decades ago in 2004 there were a series of murders in the area and it was reported on the news that there was a gun-related incident everyday. I can remember going along the road on the bus to a lecture at UWE and seeing armed policemen on the street. I’ve heard from friends that there are local people in the community collecting and blogging about the area and Bristol’s black history as way of combating the alienation and marginalisation many Black Bristolians feel. From Craig’s reply to me, it looks like the ‘One Bristol’ education project is intended to do something similar by giving a more positive image of the community.

As for educating Bristolians about the city’s role in the slave trade, I’ve grown up knowing about it although there is still the strong belief among some Blacks, repeated by Craig in her interview on Radio 4 last year, that the city authorities have covered it up. In the 1990s the City Museum and Art Gallery staged an exhibition about the city and the slave trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, named after the costume drama then showing on the Beeb, adapted from a book by Philippa Gregory. The M Shed museum on the city docks also has a gallery about Bristol and the slave trade. There are articles about the city’s involvement in the slave trade on the museum’s website, a slave walk in Clifton and a plaque on one of the warehouses down by the M Shed commemorating the victims who were enslaved and sold by Bristol merchants. The official name for the very bizarre looking ‘horned bridge’ across the dock’s is Pero’s Bridge, after one of the few named slaves who was brought to Bristol itself.

I have to say I’m a bit sensitive about some of the demands for the proper commemoration of the slave trade in the city. It sometimes seems to me that’s it’s being used by angry members of the Black community to attack White Bristol because of the poverty and marginalisation that still plagues their community. Back in the 1990s, for example, when the city celebrated the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland, various Black spokesmen declared that it was a celebration of slavery. This followed American Blacks’ condemnation of the celebration of Columbus’ discovery of America a few years earlier. Indigenous Americans also attacked it as a celebration of their genocide. It wasn’t, of course, meant to be a celebration of slavery, but they had a point. Following Columbus discovery of the New World, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean were enslaved and worked, tortured and massacred until they died out. The Spanish then turned to Black African slaves to replace them. I don’t believe that the discovery of Newfoundland had any direct connection with slavery. That seems to have started in 1619 when Spanish merchants brought a consignment of them to Jamestown, and it seems that initially the English settlers didn’t know what to do with them. However, slavery and all the horrendous methods of repression soon followed. A Black artist produced a picture showing his feelings about the celebration of Cabot’s discovery. It shows the Matthew sailing up the Avon Gorge. watched by cameras from the Evening Post and the local news, while shadowy figures rampage across the suspension bridge. The painting’s now on display in the slavery gallery in the M Shed. To me it demonstrates a bitter mentality that automatically assumes any celebration like it must somehow be about the persecution or exploitation of Blacks, and it seems to me that a similar deep bitterness is driving the demands for proper education about the city’s slavery history. On the other hand, there have been a large influx of newcomers to the city from London and elsewhere, and it’s possible that, not being Bristolians, they really know little about the city and the slave trade. The education initiative could therefore be a response to them requiring to know more.

Points West stated that the report about educating Bristolians about the contributions of Bristol’s multiracial communities will make five recommendations, while the one about slavery will make fifteen. It’ll be interesting to see what they are.

Vandal Attacks BBC Statue Because of Colston Verdict

January 12, 2022

This evening, a man climbed up to a ledge on the front of Broadcasting House, the Beeb’s HQ, and started to attack the statue of Ariel by Eric Gill. Someone took film of him smashing the statue’s feet with a hammer, and it’s been widely posted and reposted by right-wingers over YouTube. The man was David Chick, and there’s a phone call from him on the channel of someone rejoicing in the monicker ‘Tyrant Finder UK’. Chick and the Tyrant Finder are both men, who can’t utter a sentence without using the F-bomb nor other foul language, but in the phone call Chick makes it clear that he’s attacking the statue because Gill was a paedophile. Indeed he was. During his life he professed to be the model of Roman Catholic piety as a tertiary Franciscan. After his death it was discovered that not only did he rape his two daughters but also the family dog. But Chick also seems to have done it out of anger for the acquittal of the Colston Four. And he’s being applauded by people, who similarly believe, or seem to believe, that the BBC is promoting child abuse with the statue and who are also angry at the Bristol verdict. The attitude seems to be that if the woke can tear down statues, then so can they.

Mad right-wing Youtuber Alex Belfield was one of those who put up an approving video of the attack earlier this evening. He has his own grievances against the Corporation. He claims he was forced out of the Beeb because he’s a poor White kid from a pit estate and not one of the middle class, Guardian reading, university educated Naga Manchushy types, as he calls them. He also has some kind of personal feud with various broadcasters, like Jeremy Vine. He frequently rants against the Beeb demanding its privatisation and the Eric Gill statue is one of the weapon he uses in the attacks. He criticises the Corporation for keeping the statue on its facade, which he seems to claim shows the indifference to child abuse which allowed Jimmy Savile to carry on with his predations unstopped.

Gill certainly was a vile human being, and some of his art does pose a genuine moral problem. A few years ago Victoria Coren discussed him in her documentary, How to Be a Bohemian, which traced the history of bohemianism from 19th century Paris and the Romantics to Britain, the Bloomsbury Group, the Bright Young Things and today’s London and its drag queens. Gill was one of the Bohemians she discussed. She was particularly upset at a bas relief Gill had made of a nude girl. I can’t remember what the sculpture’s official title was, but Gill called it ‘F*cking’. The girl in it was his 15 year old daughter, whom he was abusing at the time. Victoria Coren was talking to a female art expert about the sculpture and the unsettling questions it raised. The expert denied that this was a problem with a comparison to W.B. Yeats and his poetry. Nobody, she declared, objects to Yeats’ poetry because he was a Fascist. Coren replied that they did, and she was particularly unhappy about it. As her father, Alan Coren, was Jewish, it’s very easy to understand why Victoria Coren would have deep misgivings about the poet. It must be said, though, that Yeats was only a Fascist for a short time. If I remember correctly, this was c.1919. He later left them and was very critical about them.

I’m sure most people would be unhappy at Gill’s sculpture of his nude daughter, and would have very strong moral questions against its display. But it isn’t the Ariel statue. And there is still a need to separate the artist from the art. Many of the greatest figures in the arts, literature and science were vile people, or had loathsome views, like Dickens, for example. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest writers in the English language, but he fully supported General Eyre and his brutal suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion by former slaves on Jamaica. But that in no way invalidates his work, in the same way that Orwell pointed out that Hamlet isn’t diminished by the fact that Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed. I also don’t think you can quite compare the Ariel statue to that of Edward Colston. The Ariel statue is of a character from Shakespeare, used as a kind of mascot by the Corporation. It is not a monument to someone who was a slaver, even if he did give most of his money away in charity.

Those defending and applauding the attacker are wrong on another point. They seem to believe that Colston’s Four’s acquittal has somehow become a precedent, which they can use to defend their attacks. But this isn’t the case. Jury trials, according to Adam Wagner, a lawyer on the Net, don’t set precedents, so Chick could still find it difficult to defend himself if he’s arrested.

I’m deeply unhappy about cultural vandalism regardless of who’s doing it. The attack on Colston’s statue is understandable given that it’s been a subject of controversy and demands for its removal for decades. And now it seems the right have also decided that they are entitled to attack any statues they find offensive, and I’m afraid that this will kick off more vandalism rather than reduce it.

I don’t deny that there’s a good case for taking some statues down, but I don’t support violent attacks on public art, regardless of whether it comes from the right or left. And I think Belfield’s attacks on the Beeb’s statue largely come from his own personal feud with the corporation and the Conservative’s demands for the Beeb’s privatisation and its replacement by a private broadcaster. This hostility partly comes from the Tories’ deep ideological objection to nationalised industries, their loyalty to Rupert Murdoch and his shoddy empire and their hatred of the Beeb because, once upon a time, it used to hold them to account. Some of us can still remember the time Michael Heseltine stormed off Newsnight, tossing his mane after a grilling by Paxman.

Britain’s statues are now threatened not just by the woke left, but by a vengeful, intolerant Conservative right using the outrage it has generated against the offending statue as part of its campaign to silence its critics.

Rightwingers Outraged at Acquittal of the Four Who Toppled Colston’s Statue

January 7, 2022

As a Bristolian with long personal roots in the city, I feel I’ve got to tackle this. The four people responsible for pulling the down the statue of the 18th century slave trader and philanthropist in a massive Black Lives Matter protest last year were on trial for it this week. They were charged with criminal damage, and yesterday were found ‘not guilty’ by the jury. And the right has been predictably incensed. The story’s on the front page of the Daily Mail, which reports that the jury may have been placed under pressure to acquit by the defence, which urged them ‘not to be on the wrong side of history’. The prosecution is therefore planning to appeal the decision. Nigel Farage has released a video on YouTube about it. Mixed-race Tory commenter Calvin Robinson has appeared on GB News talking about it. And inevitably the Lotus Eaters have also released a video about it, with Callum and one of Sargon’s other mates expressing their poor opinion of the whole thing. The message from the right has been the same: this decision imperils every statue in Britain, because it legitimises attacks on them through an appeal to the emotions of the attacker regardless of the letter of the law. Calvin Robinson in his interview on GB News agreed with the two journalists, one Black, one White, that you had to be very careful about limiting people’s freedom of expression. However the decision to acquit was, he explained, based on a legal loophole in the criminal damage law. This permits such damage, if the property damaged or destroyed itself serves to promote a crime. The argument made by the accused in a feature about them in the Groan was that the statue constituted a hate crime against Black Bristolians. The right-wing critics of the decision have therefore argued that this makes every statue unsafe, as an emotional reason could be found for any attack on them. The person, who vandalised Churchill’s statue last year could get off because, despite defeating Fascism, Churchill was a racist and imperialist. They have also made the point that the decision also means that Conservatives also have a right to tear down Marx’s bust in London, as he was also racist and anti-Semitic, quite apart from the millions murdered under Communism. Darren Grimes, the repulsive spawn of the Guido Fawkes site, said that he could also therefore tear down the statue of Friedrich Engels in Manchester.

Jury Freedom and the Historic Acquittal of Guilty Murderers

Yesterday Simon Webb of History Debunked also joined the debate, comparing the decision to the jury’s acquittal of the attackers of three policemen during a riot in 1820s London. The cops had been stabbed, and one killed, but the jury acquitted their attackers because the cops had attacked in a particularly aggressive and provocative manner. Webb stated that back in the 17th and 18th centuries judges could and did send juries back to reconsider their verdict, and even imprison them if they didn’t give the right verdict as directed. It was, of course, a great improvement to allow the juries the freedom to judge themselves rather than according to the opinion of the beak. But this did raise problems in cases like this. Indeed. Juries won the right to judge freely according to their own judgement following arguments for such free trials by the Levellers and particularly when William Penn, a Quaker and the founder of Pennsylvania, was put on trial for preaching his radical views in Bristol. The jury repeatedly refused the judge’s order to find guilty, and were even imprisoned. They eventually won out, and the trial helped established true British justice.

Allegations of Bias against Witness David Olasuga

One of the other objections to the trial was that one of the witnesses was the historian, David Olasuga. whom the Lotus Eaters describe as a Black activist and who admitted that, had he been able, he would have joined the mob in toppling the status. There is indeed a problem with Olasuga as some of his historical interpretations are questionable. For example, he and Reni Edo-Lodge turned up in video by the Beeb laying a plaque in Liverpool to a victim of racist lynching. Except that Wootton, the lynched man, had been part of a gang of West Indians, who had launched an attack on a group of Swedes and Russians. When a cop intervened, the West Indians repeated stabbed and tried to slash his throat. They retreated to a house where someone, probably Wootton, shot three policemen, before he was chased down to the docks trying to escape. He was hardly an innocent victim. Olasuga has been one of the Black historians claiming that historically, Britain had a much larger Black community than it probably did. He claims that there were Blacks in Roman Britain. History Debunked has shown that this largely comes from one of the legions at Hadrian’s Wall coming from the Roman province of Mauretania. This has been confused with the present day country in West Africa. However, the Roman province of Mauretania was further north in Morocco. I think there are perfectly reasonable questions of bias in Olasuga’s testimony.

Political Bias in Prosecution of Vandals

And then have come the various commenters sneering and deriding Bristol. I’ve seen the usual rants about how it’s a ‘Communist’ or ‘left-wing’ shithole; it’s a lefty university town, and as terrible as Liverpool or London. Rather more interesting was one comment from a working class Bristolian, who had been having a meal at a cafe in the city, whose customers were largely Black West Indians. These people had all been solidly against the decision. I can well believe it. I don’t think the Black community Bristol or elsewhere in our great nation is a monolithic bloc. Just like other racial groups, like Whites, Asians or Jews aren’t either. As for the four defendants, they were White middle class liberal kids, who most likely didn’t come from Bristol. There was also speculation about what would happen if someone vandalised a statue to a Black personality, like Nelson Mandela. Would this be treated the same way? Not if the example of the vandalism done to a mural of Marcus Rashford was an example. Although the messages sprayed on it weren’t racist, it was nevertheless treated as a racist hate crime. Actually, you don’t have to look that far for a similar example. After Colston’s statue was torn down, a bust in one of Bristol’s parks of a Black writer and dramatist was vandalised and the cops were after those responsible.

Some Black Bristolians Genuinely Upset at Statue

As for the feelings of fear or outrage that the defendants claimed justified the attack, the Black interviewer on GB News and Robinson both questioned whether Black people are so emotional fragile that they would be upset simply walking past Colston’s statue. Some may well not be, but others definitely were. Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor, head of equalities and city councillor for St. George’s, was on Radio 4 last year giving her opinion about the statue and Bristol’s historic connection to the slave trade. The programme also talked to others about it, including one ordinary Black woman. She said that she felt physically sick having to walk past it on the way to work every morning. I understand and sympathise. I think her example was far better and more persuasive than the various political activists angrily demanding that it should be torn down. It was the voice of an ordinary, working-class woman, about how the statue affected her.

Arguments for the Preservation of the Statue

It also has to be stated that Black Lives Matter’s attack was deliberately against the wishes of Bristolians themselves. There had been several polls in the past about whether the statue should be taken down or not. The majority of people voted against it. Paul Stephenson, one of the organisers of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s against the bus company’s refusal to employ Blacks, gave his opinion on the issue in an interview with Philippa Gregory in the 1990s. Gregory had just had her novel, A Respectable Trade, about the Bristol slave trade adapted for television and there was an exhibition about the city and slavery then at the City Museum and Art Gallery. It has since been moved and is now on display, sans title, at the city’s excellent M Shed Museum. Stephenson has something of a mixed reputation. To some he’s a respected civil rights activists, while others regard him more a deliberate troublemaker. He declared to Gregory that Colston was a bloody mass murderer responsible for a ‘Holocaust in Africa’. This follows the statement of W.E.B. DuBois, the pioneering American Black rights activist, that slavery and the slave trade were a Black Holocaust. It sounds like hyperbole, a deliberately emotional exaggeration, but I believe it’s based on the accounts of 19th century anti-slavery activists about the fierce tribal violence generated by the slave trade, and the devastation of whole regions as a result. But Stephenson also said that he didn’t think the statue should be torn down. He believed it should remain standing with an additional note to remind people of his crimes. A similar argument was made by the Lotus Eaters, who felt that statues should be left standing, even though they may be to terrible people, because they’re history. And we need to learn from history if we are to move on.

It’s a perfectly good argument, and one advanced in the ’90s by radical anarchist band The Levellers. They took their name from the radical, proto-democrat, proto-socialist sect during the British Civil War. They also believed in ‘Godly reformation’ and so, along with the other merchandising at their concerts were copies of the Bible and Christopher Hill’s Marxist study of the British Civil War, The World Turned Upside Down. I particularly remember one of their songs that had the lines ‘I believe in justice, I believe in vengeance, I believe in getting the bastard’. But they also released a song protesting about the decision by Manchester’s Labour council to rename the town’s historic Free Trade Hall. They objected to it because it was the destruction of history and an attempt to rewrite the past. It’s strange and rather disconcerting that they should have the same view on this issue from a libertarian left perspective, as the Tories.

Lastly, it needs to be remembered that Colston was not honoured for enslaving Blacks. The statue was put up long after that was over. Rather it was because he was a great philanthropist, who gave much of his fortune away in charity. There were schools named after him and funded by his largesse. My old school used to celebrate Colston Day in his honour, when the children were given a few days off. A few were specially honoured and went to a special service at Redcliffe Church, where they were given a Colston bun.

Bristol Great City

Now for a few remarks on the decision and the views of the various right-winger, who have sounded off about it. Firstly, Bristol isn’t a shithole. It’s a large, great city with a proud history of trade, exploration, industry and invention with excellent museums and theatres. The Bristol Old Vic and its theatre school have a particularly excellent reputation and have produced some of the country’s great thesps. It has it’s problems. I believe that the Bristol’s Black community is one of the three largest in the country, along with Birmingham and London. It has its problems with marginalisation, lack of educational achievement, unemployment, drugs and violent crime, though this is by no means confined simply to Blacks. But it’s not particularly left-wing. Some areas, like Stokes Croft, have a reputation for radical politics. I’ve heard local people refer to it as ‘the people’s republic of Stokes Croft’. Other areas are Conservative, and all the shades of political opinion in between.

Academic Freedom and Marxist Indoctrination at Universities

As for the universities, the comment blaming them for the decision comes from the standard right-wing attitude that the unis are full of Marxists indoctrinating students. In fact, universities, courses and individual lecturers vary immensely. Some universities had a reputation, even in my day, for being hotbeds of left-wing activism, others were more Conservative. It also varies with the course you’re on. There hasn’t, traditionally, been much opportunity for far left-wing indoctrination in maths, science, medicine and engineering courses because of the nature of those subjects. Although it’s creeping in now in the form of ethnomathematics and the demands that the achievements of Black scientists and mathematicians should be particularly taught, it’s mostly been confined to the humanities. There have always been Marxist historians. These include the very well respected Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Saunders, and there is a specific Marxist view of history. You are taught about this on the historiography courses in history at University, along with other forms of history, such as women’s history, social history, what Butterfield called the ‘Whig view of history’ and more conservative and Conservative views. I’ve been taught by lecturers with feminist or left-wing views. I’ve also been taught by people with far more traditional views. I also know lecturer who determined to keep their political views out of the classroom. University is supposed to be a place of free speech and debate, and it’s important that this is maintained. Students should be encouraged to read sources and the historical literature critically, and make up their own views. This means an engagement with Marxism as well as other ideologies. I think Bristol university has particularly come under fire because it’s rather more conservative and traditional compared to the newer universities. It received funding from the Colston charities when it was established early in the last century. Hence I believe the granting of a chair in the history of slavery to a Black woman. It also has relatively few Black students, which contrasts with the population of the city as a whole. This is partly because it has very high standards, and as a rule Blacks generally have poorer grades than other racial groups. It is also no doubt because when I was young, going away was seen as part of university education and so you were discouraged from applying to the local university. Hence the university is now trying to give greater opportunities to study to more Blacks and ethnic minorities.

Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory and the Marxist Attack on Western Culture

Now I largely agree that the acquittal of the four defendants has set a dangerous precedent because it allows people to attack public monuments they dislike or which are controversial. James Lindsay, one of the group with Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose that has attacked postmodernist Critical Theory, has argued that ideologies like Queer Theory and Critical Race Theory are deliberate attacks on traditional western culture and Enlightenment values. They are aimed at destroying the past to create a Marxist future, just as Chairman Mao did during the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. One of the ancient monuments the Red cadres smashed as part of the campaign against the ‘Four Olds’ was the tomb of Confucius! This sounds like an idea straight out of loony right-wing paranoids and conspiracists like Alex Jones and the John Birch Society, until he backs it up by reading chapter and verse from the founders of such postmodernist Marxism, like Marcuse, Horkheimer and others. And yes, I can quite believe that vandalism to a monument to a Black politico or celebrity, like Nelson Mandela, would be treated far differently and as a terrible hate crime than the attack on Colston.

But regardless of the defence’s plea to the jury to ‘be on the right side of history’, I think there would always have been pressure on the jury to acquit. Colston was a slave trader and had been controversial for decades. They naturally wouldn’t have wanted to acquit people who attacked a monument on that score, rather than the philanthropy the statue commemorated. And the defendants make a good point when they say that ‘he no longer speaks for Bristol’. There were others in the city who opposed the slave trade. As well as the slavers and the West Indian planters, Bristol also had a large abolitionist movement. If you go a little way from the centre of Bristol into Redcliffe, you’ll find the Georgian church where Jeremiah Clarkson, one of the leading 18th century abolitionists, collected the testimony of Bristol’s slavers as part of his evidence against the trade.

Other Statues Not Vandalised

As for other statues, none of those in the surrounding area were touched. Not the statue to Edmund Burke, the politician and founder of modern Conservatism through his book, Reflections on the Revolution in France. The Lotus Eaters are offering it, or reading through it, as their ‘book of the month’. I wonder if they’ll mention that Burke’s statue was signally left untouched by the rioters. As was the statue of a monk in Lewin’s Mead, which had before the Reformation been a monastic complex. They also failed to destroy the statue of Neptune and a sailor on the docks. Queen Victoria was left untouched on nearby College Green. They also didn’t destroy the statue of John Cabot outside the Council House, sorry, ‘City Hall’ and the Central Library. This was despite various ‘spokesmen’ for the Black community claiming that the City’s celebration of his discovery of Newfoundland and America, following Columbus, was a celebration of slavery. There may well be similar defences used on similar attacks on other statues, but I think such attacks will be far more difficult to defend. Churchill was indeed a racist and an imperialist, as well as personally responsible for sending troops to gun down striking miners in Wales. But to the vast majority of severely normal Brits he was also the man, who helped save Europe and the world from Nazism and the Axis. And that would also count powerfully in the case against anyone who vandalised his monument.

Historians also Successfully Defend Controversial Statues

As for testimony from historians, this can work against the iconoclasts. The BLM fanatics trying to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes torn down at Oxford university claimed that he was somehow ‘South Africa’s Adolf Hitler’. Now Rhodes was a grotty character and an imperialist, but this goes too far. Rhodes’ biographer tackled this claim on social media, at which the BLM protesters making it went quiet. They couldn’t refute it, and so went silent.

I therefore do not feel that other statues are necessarily in a greater danger than previously because of the acquittal.

Then there’s the question of any possible statue to replace it. There are rumours that it could be a Black person. Well, if there is, it should be of a Black person, who actually had contact and lived in the city. One of Bristol’s sporting heroes way back was a Black boxer. One of my aunts was friends with his daughter. I’d say this gentleman would be a good candidate for such a statue, because as a sports hero he united everyone from left and right, as well as being a citizen of Bristol.

Nigel Farage has suggested a memorial to the British navy. Absolutely. The British West India squadron did excellent work patrolling the seas for slavers. And they were by no means all racist. Captain Denman, giving evidence on a massacre of 300 unsold slaves by one of the West African slaving states to parliament, made the point that ‘it is remarkable given the advances they have made in the arts of civilisation’. He clearly believe European civilisation was superior, but had been particularly shocked because the African peoples responsible for the massacre were also comparatively civilised. Africans serving or aiding the British navy were also given the compensation payments awarded to British tars when they suffered injury and loss of limbs.

We also patrolled the waters between east Africa and India to stop western and Arab slavers, and one antipodean historian has written that in the Pacific, the royal navy was the chief protector of its indigenous peoples against enslavement.

It also needs to be remembered that one of the reasons for the British invasion of Africa was to stamp out slavery and the slave trade. I’ve no doubt that the main, if not the real reasons were simple hunger for territory and resources, and to stop those areas falling into the hands of our European imperial rivals – France, Germany, Italy and Portugal. But some of the officer involved took their duty extremely serious, such as Samuel Baker and Gordon of Khartoum. The Mahdi, against whom Gordon fought, and his followers were slavers outraged at the British government’s ban on it and the enslavement of Black Sudanese. There are therefore excellent reasons for putting up a memorial to the British navy and armed forces.

And I would also support a statue to Jeremiah Clarkson for his work in the city bringing the horrors of the trade to light.

In the meantime, despite the right-wing outrage at this act of vandalism, I think we should view the attack on Colston’s statue as a special case.

Claims of a general threat to British history because of it may well be exaggerated.

History Debunked on the Popularity of Conspiracy Theories in the Black Community

January 3, 2022

I’ve an interest in conspiracy theories. It partly comes from studying the rise of Fascism as part of the history course at college and having friends, who were huge fans of the Illuminatus! books. They’re a series of science fiction books about various secret societies competing to bring about the end of the world, or take it over, written by Robert Anton Wilson and Michael Shea. Conspiracy theories can be an extremely powerful political force. The Nazis gained power and popularity because of the ‘stab in the back’ myth that the Jews had secretly conspired to cause Germany’s defeat in the First World War from within. The infamous Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, is a classic example of this kind of poisonous conspiracy theory. Written by the monk Nilus for the Tsar’s secret police, it was intended to persuade Nicholas II to increase the persecution of the Jews even further. It claimed to prove that the Jews were secretly controlling both socialism and capitalism in order to enslave gentiles, and has been a major force in the rise of Fascism and anti-Semitic movements throughout the world. Some of its readers have continued to believe it even after it was shown to be a forgery, claiming that it is ‘symbolically true’. Although thoroughly discredited in the West, it remains popular in other parts of the world. I’ve read that it can be freely bought from kiosks in Russia, while in the 90s it was serialised on Egyptian television. I was therefore particularly interested in this video from Simon Webb’s ‘History Debunked’ channel.

In it Webb discusses the influence of conspiracy theories about the Coronavirus and fake history among the Black community. An American study had found that Black Americans were far more inclined to believe conspiracy theories. He had been visiting a Black female friend, who told him she wasn’t going to take the Coronavirus vaccine because of the grossly unethical Tuskeegee Experiment that ran from the 1930s to only a few decades ago. A group of Black sharecroppers had been deliberately infected with syphilis, which was left to go untreated until it culminated in their deaths. The intention was to study the progress of the disease, and in return the victims had their funerals paid for. Webb’s friend was afraid the Covid vaccine was a similar experiment. Back in the ’90s, a similar conspiracy theory arose about the origins of AIDS. This was supposed to have been developed by the US military as a germ warfare experiment at Fort Detrick. In fact the story was a fabrication by the KGB in retaliation for the Americans claiming that the Soviet Union had been responsible for the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II by a far-right Turkish nationalist. One American doctor, writing in the US conspiracy magazine Steamshovel Press, stated that in his experience many Black Americans in particular believed that AIDS was an engineered bio-weapon because of the Tuskeegee Experiment. There is a problem with Blacks and some Asians refusing to accept the Covid vaccine because of similar fears.

Of course, these bizarre and malign beliefs aren’t confined solely to Blacks and Asians. There are also Whites who refuse to have the vaccine because they also believe it is some kind of malicious experiment. One such theory claims that Bill Gates and Microsoft are putting computer chips in it to control people, or wreck their health, or something. All completely false.

These destructive theories have also harmed the campaign to eradicate killer diseases like Polio in Pakistan. Government officials and aid workers there have been attacked and murdered because of the widespread belief that the vaccine is really intended to sterilise Muslims. As a result, a terrible disease that has been successfully fought elsewhere is still very much a threat to the life and health of the people of Pakistan and other areas which have similar theories. I noticed that the government and the TV companies have tried to combat the conspiracy theories about the Covid vaccine by reassuring people that this is just a conspiracy theory, and showing Black doctors and patients administering and receiving the vaccine.

In the 19th century the kidnapping of Asian labourers during the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’, and the subsequent loss of contact with their families for years, even decades, resulted in another conspiracy theory. This claimed that people from India and what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh were being killed for the cerebrospinal fluid in their skulls, which was being used as lubricant for Europe’s machines. A similar theory also emerged in Latin America, where it was believed that a White or mestizo man in a black coat, armed with long knives, was murdering Amerindians. In this myth, it was the victims’ body fat that was being used to grease the wheels of Europe’s machines.

Commenting on the Tuskeegee Experiment, Webb wonders if he wouldn’t also believe in the conspiracy theory about the Covid vaccine if he was Black. But he goes on to consider the role of fake history in convincing many Black Brits they’ve been cheated by a racist society and deserve government assistance. A couple of examples of this fake history is the belief, expressed by a Black friend, that it was a Black man, who invented the lightbulb, and David Olasuga’s claim that there was a 15,000 strong Black community here in Britain in the 16th century. He speculates that the greater belief in conspiracy theories among Black Americans may well be due to a comparative lack of education. Blacks are more likely to leave school earlier and fewer Blacks go to university than other groups. But it could also be that the fake history, to which they’ve been exposed, has resulted in a widespread feeling of resentment and feeling cheated, thus fuelling demands for affirmative action programmes.

It’s possible, though I think the resentment and widespread suspicion of racial injustice comes from the real racism and exploitation many Blacks have experienced during the slave trade and after, when the British and colonial governments deliberately imposed highly discriminatory legislation on the newly freed Black workers in order to keep them tied to the plantations and maintain the Caribbean nations’ economies. There’s also the often vicious racism and blatant discrimination that Black and Asian immigrants have faced in Britain. The affirmative action programmes, dubbed over here ‘positive discrimination’, began following the 1981/2 race riots, which were partly caused by the particularly large unemployment rate and consequent despair in Black communities in Bristol, Liverpool and London. The Black community continues to be generally poorer, less educated and suffering greater unemployment and marginalisation than other racial groups. Hence the continued demands for affirmative action campaigns on their behalf. Structural racism or its legacy may well play a role in the Black community’s impoverishment, although this would conflict with Webb’s own views that some of the Black community’s problems are rooted in biology. He believes in the ‘Bell Curve’ nonsense that Blacks are less intelligent than Whites, who are in turn less intelligent than Asians. He is also impressed by neurological medical papers noting the greater genetic inclination towards schizophrenia among Blacks.

But researchers into conspiracy theories and the people, who believe them, have come to the conclusion that lack of information is a powerful factor in their emergence and spread. Without any proper information to the contrary, stupid and destructive conspiracy theories, like those about the Coronavirus and Polio vaccines, can arise and spread. I also suspect that the prevalence of such theories in parts of the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan also comes from these countries being dictatorships or absolute monarchies. In this anti-democratic culture, the state may be distant or exploitative and so there is an immediate suspicion and resistance to its interference. Hence the stupid ideas about the Covid and Polio vaccines. Folklorists also noted a similar theory among Black Americans about Coca-Cola in the 1990s. This was supposed to have had a chemical added to it to sterilise young Black men. A fellow volunteer at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol also told me that there was a conspiracy theory believed by many Black South Africans that the government was also covertly trying to destroy them through similar methods. This last belief is perfectly understandable, given the immense poverty and oppression caused by apartheid. And it does seem that the South African secret service, BOSS, was working on a germ warfare weapon which would only target Blacks.

These poisonous conspiracy theories need to be tackled and disproven, just as the widespread fake history also needs to be refuted. But this has to be alongside policies to improve the conditions of Blacks and other ethnic minorities so that they can enjoy economic, social and educational equality. If that’s achieved, then perhaps so many won’t distrust their government so much that they mistakenly think it’s deliberately trying to poison them.