Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

We Should Not Sell Arms to Saudia Arabia, Let Alone Apologise to Them

July 12, 2020

On Friday, Mike published a very enlightening article showing just how concerned the Tories are about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia: they aren’t. They actually apologized to them about it. It seems that after BoJob announced sanctions against particular Saudi individuals for their crimes against humanity, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace phoned up the Saudi prince serving as their defence minister and apologized. This wasn’t publicized over here, but it was loudly trumpeted in the Saudi state press, and only reported in Blighty by the Independent.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/10/defence-secretary-phoned-saudi-arabia-to-apologise-for-human-rights-sanctions-claim/

What! Outrageous!

We’ve got absolutely no business selling arms to Saudi Arabia in the first place. A few years ago a Nigerian academic appeared on Radio 4 recommending a change of allies in the Middle East. Instead of supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia, we should support and ally ourselves instead with Turkey and Iran. It’s a radical plan that has absolutely no hope of success, but it would be better than those two highly draconian and intolerant regimes. Turkey, until the accession of President Ergoyan, aspired to be a modern, western-looking, secular state. That was the programme of the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Attaturk. Turkey has also has its problems with human rights abuses, such as its ethnic cleansing of the Kurds and official denial of the Armenian massacres. Iran is also a theocracy, but despite the Shah’s regime, which turned it into an absolute monarchy, and then the Islamic Revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini, it does have a democratic component. They have a parliament – the majlis – whose members are elected, as is its president, although progress to a genuine, western-style democracy is blocked through an elected Supreme Leader, another ayatollah, and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards. But even with these anti-democratic institutions, both countries are more tolerant and democratic than Saudi Arabia.

Iran officially recognizes in its constitution the country’s religious minorities – the Zoroastrians, descendants of the original monotheist faith of the Persian Empire, Armenian Christians and Jews. Four seats are reserved for them in the majlis. And despite American and Israeli propaganda to the contrary, Iranian Jews are tolerated and treated quite well. Possibly this is because some of the country’s great patriots of the 20th century, who were determined to resist its annexation by the imperial powers, were Jews.

This is in stark contrast to Saudi Arabia, which is an absolute, theocratic monarchy. The only tolerated religion is Wahhabi Islam. All other faiths, even they are varieties of Islam, are strictly proscribed. The Shi’a minority live in villages without electricity or running water. Their religious books may be seized and destroyed. And as the west has made grief-stricken overtures of sorrow and contrition for its racial intolerance and slavery, the Saudis have made no such gestures on their part. A few years ago one of the country’s leading clerics – I think it was the Grand Mufti, rather than the Sherif of Mecca, declared that the Shi’a were ‘heretics’ and ‘worthy of death’. It’s a declaration of genocide, an exact counterpart of the slogan ‘Baptism or extermination’ of the German crusading orders in their campaigns against the pagan Slavs in eastern Europe. Saudi Arabia only outlawed slavery in 1964, but it still occurs today in the appalling exploitation of migrant labourers under the countries’ sponsorship system. Domestic servants are also kept in conditions no different from real slavery, including those taken to Britain and Europe by their masters.

And it explains precisely why the Saudis are indiscriminately bombing and killing civilians, women and children, and mosques, hospitals and schools in Yemen.

We went to war in 1939 against a regime that was determined to the same to the Jews, as well as the Gypsies, Poles and the other Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe. If you want to hear some real horror stories, talk to Poles, Ukrainian and Russians about what happened when the Nazis and the SS moved in and occupied their countries, as well as the horrors Jews, Gypsies and the disabled went through.

Why should we be arming a similar regime?

And the Saudis are spreading this intolerance. Many Muslim countries were traditionally much more tolerant and pluralistic. One of Mike’s photos he brought back from his time in Bosnia showed a church and a mosque that were right next to each other. It’s a very clear demonstration that in that part of the country, Christians and Muslims had been friends and definitely not at each others throats. But I’ve read comments again and over again in books and articles from more moderate Muslims from different nations lamenting the increasing fanaticism in their countries. And they state that those responsible for it went to study in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Bosnian Islam, thanks to these influences, has become more rigid and austere. In the Balkans Islam was spread by the Sufi mystical orders that served that Turkish troops as chaplains. These forms of Islamic piety also absorbed elements from Christianity. But these are being purged as Wahhabism is exported to Bosnia. A few years ago the government was sending in bulldozers to destroy the traditional Muslim gravestones in its cemeteries.

And we shouldn’t sell the arms for simply self-preservation.

The Saudis have also exported their religious intolerance by funding and arming terrorist groups. Forget the stuff about Iran being responsible for most of the world’s terrorist groups. Muslim terrorism only ever counted for a fraction of global terrorism. Most of the terrorist groups around the world are either nationalists or Marxists. But it seems to me very strongly that the Saudis surpassed Iran long ago as the suppliers of Muslim terror. They matched the Americans in funding and supplying the Islamist guerrillas against the Russians in Afghanistan. The suppressed passages in the official report about 9/11 made it clear that atrocity was funded and led by the Saudis. It was impossible to follow the trail all the way, but the evidence pointed all the way to the top. And the reports on al-Qaeda’s campaigns in Iraq and Syria published in the volume Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities, edited by Christopher Heffelfinger and published by the Jamestown Foundation in 2005 state very clearly that al-Qaeda in those nations was being funded and supplied by the current head of Saudi intelligence. The Saudis were favourably disposed to Daesh, and only turned against them when ISIS declared the jihad against them.

If we sell them armaments, there is a very real chance that they will make their way to terrorists who will use them against our brave boys and girls and our allies.

The argument for selling what David Cameron called ‘this wonderful kit’ to Saudi Arabia and other nations is that this supposedly opens these countries up to other British products. It doesn’t. They don’t purchase more ordinary, peaceful British goods. They just concentrate on weapons. Weapons that they don’t actually need. We sold them, or one of the other Arab states, a whole batch of jet fighters a few years ago, despite the fact that the Saudis had no need for them, nowhere to put them, and no maintenance infrastructure.

But it all makes the arms companies richer. And they, no doubt, are also donating very handsomely to Tory party coffers.

History of Global Slavery in Maps

July 10, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

After an introduction, the book has the following chapters:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Correspondence with Deputy Major Asher Craig on Slavery Education in Bristol

July 9, 2020

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

Councillor Asher Craig

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

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

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

I therefore sent Deputy Mayor Craig the following email:

Dear Madam,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday I got this reply from her.

Thank you for your email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’ll be very interesting to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

African Resistance to the Ending of the Slave Trade

July 7, 2020

One of the most shocking aspects of the history of the slave trade is that its abolition was opposed by many African states. These were kingdoms like Dahomey that profited from the trade. As a rule, it wasn’t Europeans who conducted the slave raids. They were largely confined to merchant ghettos within the African towns and ports serving the trade. The actual warfare and slaving that brought them their human cargo was done by warlike African states. And despite being frequently cheated by European slave merchants – John Newton describes the various ruses used to do this in his 1788 Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade – many African princes grew extremely rich on the profits of the trade. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey was raking in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded that of many English dukes.

These states were extremely reluctant to give up such a lucrative trade, and resented British insistence that they now turn to more legitimate items, such as palm oil and the other products they believed would be far more useful for British industry after abolition. At the very least, they thought it was hypocritical for their former customers and co-partners in the slave trade to now demand they stop it and lecture them on their wickedness for not doing so. One west African kingdom was so incensed at British refusal to continue slaving that they attacked a British trading fort in order to force them to take it up again. And for a short period bloodshed actually increased. The slave states were faced with keeping large numbers of captives, whom they could no longer sale. As a result there was a series of massacres as they murdered the excess slaves. One of the most notorious was the murder of 300 such captives, which was debated in parliament in one of the many meetings of the Committee of Inquiry held to investigate the slave trade. Some believed that the mass murder was actually human sacrifice, but other witnesses testified that this was not the case. When one of those testifying before the Committee, Captain Denman, was asked if he was surprised or shocked by the massacre, he replied that he was because of the considerable advances this African people had made in the arts of civilization. This statement is itself remarkable as it shows that while Europeans viewed African civilization as inferior, many of those charged with actively ending the slave trade knew it existed and were impressed with Black Africans as cultured, civilized peoples.

Colin McEvedy discusses these negative consequences of the ending of the slave trade in his The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) which I reviewed a few days ago. He writes

No one in Africa was going to say thank you for this [the ending of the slave trade]. Most West African states suffered a severe loss of revenue and, though the British granted some of them subsidies in compensation and, in the case of the principalities of the Niger delta, went to considerable trouble to encourage the production of palm oil as an alternative source of income, this was a period of relative impoverishment all along Africa’s Atlantic seaboard. Even the various categories of people who had supplied the slave trade with its raw material can’t be said to have benefited: criminals were once again handed over to the civil executioner and prisoners-of-war to the witch-doctor for sacrifice. This is the reason why the accounts of West African kingdoms in the nineteenth century are so blood-curdling: states like Dahomey that had built up a big slave-exporting capacity now had to consume a lot of unwanted human beings. Their ways of doing so provide a last bizarre flourish to what always had been a sad and sorry business. (p. 97).

This aspect of the slave trade also needs to be taught. Not to try to justify the trade, but to show that Africans were also actively involved in it and not mere victims. We need to remember this so that when the history of the slave trade is taught in schools, it isn’t presented as simply as evil White Europeans preying on noble Black Africans.

More on the Collapse of David Starkey’s Career after Racist Slavery Comments

July 4, 2020

Yesterday I put up two pieces on the outrage at David Starkey’s dismissive comments about Blacks and slavery in his interview on the Reasoned YouTube channel with Darren Grimes. Starkey was asked if slavery was a genocide. He replied that it wasn’t, as otherwise ‘there would be so many damn Blacks in Britain and Africa, would there?’ The outrage against this display of racism has been so strong, that many organisations are severing their connections with TV’s former favourite expert on the Tudors. Starkey resigned from the Mary Rose Museum, Dan Snow’s History Hit channel said that they hadn’t made any original films with him, and were removing one featuring him that they had acquired from a third party. And Fitzwilliam College at Cambridge University stated that they were reconsidering his honorary fellowship. This all came from Zelo Street.

But Mike also put up a piece about the controversy which added further details about the devastating effect Starkey’s comment is having on his career. His publishers, HarperCollins and Hodder & Stoughton, have condemned his comments and stated that they will not be publishing any more of his books. HarperCollins have also said that they are examining his backlist in the light of his remarks. He had signed a three-book deal with publisher. One had already been published, while two were forthcoming. One of these, the second part of a biography of Henry VIII was due to come out this September. These books have now gone.

Fitzwilliam College didn’t wait til next week before considering what to do about him. They contacted Starkey, and have announced that the Master has accepted Starkey’s resignation with immediate effect.

Canterbury Christchurch University also announced that they were terminating his position as visiting lecturer, declaring that his comments were unacceptable and went against the values of the university and its community.

Mike has put up a series of tweets attacking Starkey for his comments from some of the left-wing peeps on Twitter. This includes some of the descendants of the victims of slavery and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of the West Indies. One of those was from Kerry-Ann Mendoza, the might woman behind The Canary. She commented “I’m descended from the indigenous people of the Caribbean: the Kalinago. You’ve likely not heard of us. We were virtually annihilated during the first waves of slavery, which is when the Slavers moved on to importing Black Africans to the Caribbean. So f*** you, David.”

I think the Kalinago are the Caribs, one of the many Indian peoples of the West Indies before the Spanish conquest, along with the Arawaks and the Taino. The latter two peoples were completely wiped out, although I think some Arawaks still survive in South America. After they were conquered, the Amerindians were worked to death under the most brutal conditions mining gold for the Spanish conquerors. The Caribs put up very tough resistance, and it was a long time before they were forced off their ancestral lands. They fought both the Spanish and us, when we entered the Caribbean to conquer territory from the Spanish. We initially claimed that we were intervening on their behalf, but turned against them as soon as it proved useful.

Nevertheless the Caribs survived. Those in the West Indies are called ‘Black Caribs’ as they intermarried with escaped slaves. They have their own reservation. A few years ago there was a documentary following them as they made contact with the other Caribs in South America, rediscovering their language and ancestral skills and culture. Another documentary series on Channel 4, I believe, on the lost civilizations of the Caribbean revealed that genetic analysis of the present day population of one of the islands of the Spanish Caribbean showed that the people were also partly descended from the indigenous peoples. This was a surprise, as it was believed that the Amerindians there had been completely exterminated and had not intermarried with the European settlers. But they had, and now some of their descendants are trying to recreate the heritage, including the religion, of their indigenous ancestors.

The people’s of the ancient Caribbean had an advanced culture. Like the Maya and other peoples on the South American mainland, they played a ball game and built courts for it. One people also left behind stone balls carved with petroglyphs, designs and symbols which to my eyes look somewhat like the glyph writing of the Maya. These people and their culture, however, are now extinct, and so the meaning of these monuments is lost.

Apart from the outrage Starkey’s comments about genocide and slavery produced, others were also angry at what he had said about Black Lives Matter. He had compared them to a rich entitled lady shopping at Harrods, claiming that they ‘usually have lots of money and big cars’. Aaron Bastani, who produced a short video tearing apart Starkey’s claim that slavery wasn’t genocide because Blacks survived, and his stance that the British empire was benign, commented on this remark of Starkey’s ‘These morons have been allowed to set the political agenda in this country because they have been elevated by the media. Millionaires that help billionaires.’ Absolutely.

Others were also understandable furious that while other organisations were dropping Starkey, he still seemed to be acceptable to the Beeb. One of these was Jackie Walker, the Black Jewish activist smeared as an anti-Semite. Jackie’s mother was a Black American civil rights activist, and she is an expert on slavery and Caribbean history. She commented “Just let what he’s saying sink in, then ask how come the BBC/media allow this man to comment on history.” Tom London rhetorically asked if the Beeb had done any soul-searching after Jeremy Corbyn had complained about David Starkey’s comments about the ethnicity of the rioters in 2011. Starkey had appeared on Question Time and declared that they were all Black. When it was pointed out to him that they were also White, he refused to change his views, because ‘they had become Black’ by taking over Black culture. There are White youths who imitate Black gangster culture, but you obviously can’t blame it all for the riots. Starkey’s comments could have come from the racist right, which has been blaming Black music for corrupting Whites ever since the 1920s and the invention of Jazz. Craig Murray remarked that the Beeb has known Starkey was racist for at least nine years, but it has never stopped them inviting him on to spread his poison. Simon Maginn called on the Beeb to condemn his comments about ‘so many damn Blacks’ and will refuse to give him any further airtime and remove him from iplayer. Anything less would be racist.

Meanwhile, Grimes seems to have emerged unscathed, despite the fact that he was responsible for the video. He made a kind of apology yesterday, stating that he should have questioned Starkey’s comments, but claiming that the interviewer isn’t responsible for what the interviewee says. But Lewis Parker commented “You didn’t just interview a racist. You interviewed him, nodded your head in agreement, edited the video, posted the video, and then promoted it. Also, the video is still up on your YouTube channel. What a sad sad excuse.”

Starkey’s career is thus sinking fast, thanks to his bigoted comments. It remains to be seen whether he will still be a welcome guest at the Beeb. Unfortunately, given the Corporation’s overtly Tory stance, my guess is that he will.

But odiously Grimes has so far escaped any kind of real punishment for his part in this debacle. And I’ve no doubt that he, and other ignorant and malign extreme right-wing pundits like him will still somehow be feted as real journalists with valuable, insightful opinions in the future.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/07/03/racist-historian-dropped-by-publisher-and-university-after-shocking-interview-remarks/

 

Grimes and Starkey Now Feeling Heat for Racist Comments in Slavery Video

July 3, 2020

This is a kind of update to my last post. This followed a great piece from Zelo Street reporting that Darren Grimes, another former inmate of the Paul Staines massive, and the TV historian Dr David Starkey had appeared in a video in which Starkey had definitely made a racist comment about Blacks. The video had been about Black Lives Matter supposedly aiming to delegitimise British history. Grimes and Starkey had been agreed that the British empire had been a good thing. Grimes had also asked the A.J.P. Taylor of TV programmes about the Tudors if slavery was a genocide. It’s a reasonable question, as although the enslavement of Africans by Europeans wasn’t intended to exterminate them, it led to the devastation and abandonment of whole communities due to slave raiding. Starkey denied that it was a genocide, because of the subsequent increase in the Black population, which he expressed in very racist terms. He said it wasn’t, because ‘otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn Blacks in Britain and Africa, would there?’ (my emphasis). This naturally upset many people, and had led to strong criticism of both of them. Grimes should have stopped Starkey making any such comment, but instead sat there nodding in agreement at what his hero said. So one of the peeps on Twitter put up a video of him nodding along to one of Hitler’s speeches.

In my piece about this sordid episode, I quoted Zelo Street’s conclusion that this should effectively end both Starkey’s and Grimes’ careers. But I felt that it wouldn’t harm them at all. Starkey appeared to me to be far too established as a popular historian, while for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter what they do, Grimes and the other members and former members of Guido Fawkes are still invited on TV programmes and treated as regular journalists.

But events this morning show I was wrong. Starkey and Grimes are both feeling the public’s disapproval, and it does threaten to harm their careers. 

Zelo Street has put up another video discussing the effects of Grimes’ video. Starkey has resigned from his position at the Mary Rose Museum, which said that it was appalled at his conduct. Dan Snow, another presenter of TV history programmes, most of which have been about the two World Wars, has said that his channel, History Hit, has never made any original programmes with Starkey. He appears in one programme, which the channel has on license from a third party, and which they have now taken down. And next week Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College will review Starkey’s honorary fellowship.

As for Grimes, he has issued a long, kind-of apology for his failure to stop or correct Starkey’s comments. He’s tweeted the following:

Hand on heart, I wasn’t engaged enough in this interview as I should’ve been. It goes without saying that Reasoned UK does not support or condone Dr David Starkey’s words … I am very new to being the interviewer rather than the interviewee and I should have robustly questioned Dr Starkey about his comments”.

However, whether it’s on the BBC, ITV, Sky News or on YouTube, no interviewer is responsible for the views expressed by their guests”.

This last remark isn’t entirely correct. Zelo Street also comments that Grimes could have cut Starkey’s offensive remark, and asked him to rephrase it. He didn’t. Grimes fouled up.

He then goes on to give a lame excuse for regarding Starkey as a hero. It was because he really appreciated Starkey’s history programmes when he was growing up, because he had gone to a ‘crap state school which did little in the way of history’. This was untrue. Others, like James Wilson pointed out that his old school had been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, and its curriculum ‘excellent’ while he was there. Michael Dunn had also gone to the same school, Tanfield, and had made a career in history. He said “I went to the same school, same teachers, I’ve made a career out of my history education, have a degree in history and work in a museum with a collection of national significance, he’s lying again”.

And Miffy Buckley added further that the episode reflected very badly on the current state of the media:  “The fact that such a frankly stupid and out-of-his-depth ninny like Darren Grimes can segue from failed trainee hairdresser to pundit on prime time Sky News programming must surely tell us something about the state of our media, and of our political & civil discourse”.

The Street concurred, and concluded:

‘Broadcasters keep inviting them on their shows, and they keep showing the world the true extent of their expertise – or lack of it. Grimes and Starkey should not be the only ones repenting at leisure this morning. Hello all you gullible media bookers.’

Absolutely. It has surprised me that they are facing criticism and censure for Starkey’s comments. I didn’t think this would happen. I’m not sure it will result in either disappearing from our screens for good. The broadcasters are desperate to find a popular voice for right-wing politics, which means that they have valued personality and opinion over informed content and the bounds of decent speech. It’s why Hatie Katie Hopkins was given a platform by so many newspapers and websites before she proved too toxic even for the Scum and the Heil. Grimes may yet escape her fate, but even if he doesn’t, it’s likely the media will just find another ignorant loudmouth from the extreme right to replace him.

And that also shows how grotty our national media really is.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/darren-grimes-repents-at-leisure.html

 

Grimes and Starkey Get Racist Discussing Slavery and British Imperialism

July 3, 2020

Yesterday the ever-reliable Zelo Street put up a very revealing piece about one of the videos Darren Grimes had put up on the Reasoned YouTube channel. Reasoned is yet another Conservative astroturf organisation set up by the group Media and Activism, the same people who brought you Turning Point UK. That’s the Turning Point UK which is the British subsidiary of the American conservative youth movement, Turning Point. It was officially opened by Dave Rubin and Candace Owens, who immediately showed her lack of historical knowledge by denying that Hitler was a nationalist, even though he said he was and it’s in the Nazis’ name. Worse, she said that she thought that Hitler’s actions would have been all right, if only he had stuck to Germany. Which obviously suggests she thinks the dismantlement of democracy, the imprisonment of political prisoners, and the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled would have been a-OK if it had been confined to Germany. I really don’t believe she meant to say that, but it illustrates how some people, especially on the right, really need to engage their brains and do some reading before their open their mouths.

Grimes should have avoided such massive historical illiteracy with his guest in the video Zelo Street discussed. This was Dr David Starkey, the expert on Queen Elizabeth I and the Tudors, who has himself presented and appeared on many history programmes. Grimes, who really looks like he should be in school studying for his ‘O’ levels rather than pumping out extreme right-wing propaganda for the Tories, had Starkey on to discuss British history. The video’s title was about BLM delegitimating (sic) British history. By which Reasoned presumably meant British imperial history. And the discussion became a car crash.

The pair debated the question of whether slavery was a genocide. This is a claim made by many Black activists, and it ultimately comes from the great American civil rights leader W.E.B. DuBois. DuBois had argued that it was, drawing on the descriptions of the devastation to African communities by the depredations of the slavers. Starkey denied that it was, on the grounds that the Black population had not only survived, but expanded. This is also true, and has been used by many historians and academics as an illustration of how human populations can recover quickly after they’ve been massively reduced.

You could also argue that slavery wasn’t a genocide on the grounds that, like Stalin’s purges and the deportations of whole ethnic groups in the Soviet Union, the point wasn’t to exterminate but to enslave and exploit. Back when I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol uni, I went to a seminar in the History department given by a lad on what officially counts as a genocide. There are a number of conflicting definitions. Atrocities that count as genocide under one are excluded under another. The only mass murder which fits all the definitions is the Holocaust. The speaker’s attitude was that historians and human rights campaigners should step back from trying to make precise definitions because they actually do more to obscure rather than illuminate. Instead there should be a commonsense approach, where people knew it when they saw it without worrying too much about quibbling details.

If this attitude is taken, then yes, slavery does count as genocide because of the destruction and death inflicted on African communities through slave raiding, and the very high death rate among the enslaved as they were taken across the Atlantic – 25 per cent of slaves died during the journey – and then put to work. Time Team a while ago conducted an excavation of a plantation, including the slave village, on one of the Caribbean islands. In the programme, Tony Robinson announced that the average life expectancy on the plantations was three years. This was regardless whether someone was one of the slaves or not. Life expectancy presumably improved, as it became the custom for the slaveowners to ‘season’ their slaves, letting them rest and recuperate for a year before setting them to work. But there was a debate over how hard slaves should be worked. Some planters recommending working them literally to death to get as much out of them as possible, and then simply buying more replacements. And the birthrate among slaves is always low. This has been true throughout history, from the Romans to the Caribbean and Americas. It’s why the British government started to try to ameliorate slave conditions of slaves owned by the crown in 1816, twenty years before slavery was officially abolished.

But it wasn’t so much Starkey’s denial that slavery was a genocide that was the problem, but the way he denied it. Starkey declared “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there? An awful lot of them survived”. The emphasis was Zelo Street’s, who said that here Starkey sounded like an apologist for apartheid South Africa c. 1980 but without the accent. He also said that “The honest teaching of the British Empire is to say quite simply that it is the first key stage of world globalisation. It’s probably the most important moment in human history, and it’s still with us,” adding, “Its consequences are still on … and in most ways, actually fruitful”. The Street comments “Not sure what the reaction to that would be in many of those countries that were given the benefit of this less than benign phenomenon, along with the brutal militarisation, enforced famines, and free trade that was only free if it suited the colonial power.” This is also true. The campaign for the independence of the Caribbean countries began in the 1930s with nationalists upset at the way their trade was hampered through its ties to Britain. They wished to develop their economies and sell goods to other nations, like America. And there were artificial famines across the empire produced and exacerbated by a rigid adherence to free trade. Starving populations were refused free or artificially subsidized, cheap grain because this would violate the principles of free trade. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts. And present-day globalisation is still creating misery for the world’s working people from the developing world to the west.

Starkey’s overall conclusion is wrong, but it has to be admitted that the British Empire also did some good. The expansion into Africa in the late 19th century was partly motivated from a desire to crush slavery and the slave trade, although this also led to establishment of systems of forced labour inflicted on the indigenous peoples on behalf of the European colonists. But what was offensive was obviously not so much what he said, but how he said it: ‘so many damn Blacks in Africa or in Britain’.

It’s at this point that you also wonder what Grimes and the video’s director and producers thought they were doing. If the video was being recorded rather than broadcast live, they should have stepped in and told Starkey that he couldn’t say that, then gone back and reshot the piece. But they didn’t. Nor did Grimes look uncomfortable as Starkey said it. Others would have pulled a face or shown some disapproval, but apparently Grimes cheerfully nods along. This resulted in one of the peeps on Twitter putting up a clip of him nodding in agreement to one of Adolf’s rants.

Zelo Street concludes that this should effectively terminate Grime’s and Starkey’s careers. He states

‘From here there should be no way back for either Starkey or Grimes, although Brendan O’Neill will no doubt be along soon to excuse the whole affair, blaming any criticism on “leftists”, “wokeism”, or some other excuse that allows him to pretend to understand George Orwell. Darren Grimes is fronting a racist endeavour.

Will broadcasters now think better of inviting Dazza on? Don’t hold your breath.’

It should, but it won’t. Not unless far more people see and comment on it so that any appearance by either of them is immediately greeted with strong objections and complaints. As it stands, however, I think Starkey is far too established as a TV personality and popular historian to suffer much from this, while it seems that no matter how noxious Grimes and the rest of the Paul Staines massive can be, they still seem to be feted as legitimate journalists.

Once upon a time Starkey bridled if someone accused him of racism. Now on this video, he seems to have shown that he is. And Grimes and his backers are too. And worse, they’re unashamed. If this isn’t checked, the racism will only get more overt and worse.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/07/darren-grimes-fronts-racist-endeavour.html

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book on African History

June 22, 2020

Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage, A Short History of Africa, 5th Edition (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975)

As I discussed in an earlier post, the Black Lives Matter protests have led to calls for the greater teaching of Black history in schools. Africa does indeed have a very long and fascinating history and there were great African civilisations, such as Nubia, Ethiopia and the Muslim states of west Africa, like Mali, long before Europeans colonised the continent. There are now plenty of books on African history, but the one I’ve been using is the above book by Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage. I’ve no doubt it’s now very dated, as my copy is the revised version of the fifth edition, that was published in 1978. There’s obviously been 42 years of change and development on the continent since then. Nevertheless, I’ve found it useful in understand the history of the continent from the earliest antiquity through the middle ages and the colonial period.

Its blurb reads

During the twentieth century the centre of the world shifted…

The dramatic alterations in political power have corrected the vision of a European-centred world. While the centres of European culture flourished, decayed and sprouted in turn, empires in Africa rose, ruled, resisted and succumbed. Much of Africa’s past has now been excavated from ignorance and error, revealing a rich and previously little-known human heritage.

In this classic work, the authors have drawn on the whole range of literature about Africa and on the evidence provided by archaeology, oral traditions, language relationships and social institutions. A Short History of Africa not only marshals the most authoritative views of African specialists into an absorbing narrative, it also puts forward original conclusions that take the study of Africa a stage further.

The book has the following chapters:

  1. The Hunters
  2. The Farmers
  3. The Townsmen
  4. The Sudanic Civilisation
  5. Mediterranean Civilisation in Northern and Western Africa
  6. The Arab Empire in Africa
  7. Northern and Western Africa during the Great Age of Islam
  8. North-East and East Africa in Medieval and Early Modern Times
  9. The States of Guinea
  10. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (1) North and West Africa
  11. The Era of Firearms and the Slave Trade: (2) From the Congo to the Zambezi
  12. The Turn of the Tide in Europe
  13. The Nineteenth Century: North and West Africa
  14. The Nineteenth Century: Southern Africa
  15. The Nineteenth Century: East and North-East Africa
  16. The European Scramble for African Colonies
  17. The Colonial Period: First Phase
  18. The Colonial Period: Second Phase
  19. The Colonial Period: Third Phase – Economic Development and Welfare
  20. Independent Africa (1)
  21. Independent Africa (2).

Despite being published so long ago, I think the book is still useful and hope others will also find it so. And that it also stimulates peoples’ interest in this great and diverse continent and its myriad cultures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Artist Wants Her Statues Put Up on Colston’s Plinth

June 21, 2020

Since the statue of the slaver Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down from its plinth and thrown into the docks, there’s been a debate over what should replace him. Mike posted up a few Tweets from people giving their suggestions in his post about the statue’s forcible removal. One of these suggested that as the Ladies’ Abolitionist Society in Sheffield was the first to demand the emancipation of the slaves, a statue should be put up to them. I disagree, because although there should be a monument to them, it should be a matter for Sheffield to commemorate its great citizens, rather than Bristol. It’s for this same reason I got annoyed with a piece on Channel 4 News yesterday in which a Black sculptress spoke about how she would like her statues put up on Colston’s plinth.

She had created a series of sculptures of male and female slaves with the title We Have Made the World Richer. These depicted various figures from the history of slavery and the enslavement of Africans. The first two were of a man and woman, who had been newly enslaved. They had a slogan stating that they had been torn from their homes. Then there was a couple of plantation slaves, with the slogan ‘We Are Brave’. And there were more. I think there were something like six or eight statues in total. The statues had previously been exhibited in parliament, but had garnered little comment from the MP. Krishnan Guru-Murthy, interviewing her, asked her why this was. She felt it was because it was too raw and powerful for them. She described the fall of Colston’s statue as ‘cathartic’, and felt that the empty plinth should be taken up with one of hers. When Guru-Murthy asked her if Bristol knew she was coming, she laughed and said that she hoped they did now.

It would be entirely right for the plinth in Bristol to be occupied by a slave, representing one of Colston’s victims. But the statue and/or its artist should ideally be people, who actually had connections to the city. I wonder if there’s a local Black artist from somewhere like St. Paul’s or Stokes Croft that could create one. From the way the woman spoke, it was clear that she wasn’t a Bristolian and had absolutely no connection with it or its people. I wonder if she even knew where the city was or even that there was such a place before the events a week or so ago. It looked to me to be rather opportunistic. She was an outsider looking for a space for her art, and thought she’d found it in Bristol. There are also problems with the size of the plinth itself. It is only big enough to hold a statue of one person, not the many she created. Presumably one of the statues would have to be on the plinth itself while the others were arranged around it.

The vast majority of slaves traded by Bristol were taken to the West Indies, but there were some and free Blacks in the city. One of the villages just outside Bristol has the grave of Scipio, the enslaved servant of one of the local aristocracy. One of the bridges over Bristol’s docks, which is cantilevered with two, gigantic, trumpet-shaped horns, is called ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after another local slave. There is also a slave walk around the docks, and memorial plaque on one of the former warehouses by Bristol’s M Shed to the countless victims of Bristol’s trade in slaves. And the subjects of two existing sculptures in the city, John Wesley and Edmund Burke, were also opponents of the slavery and the slave trade. Burke, the city’s MP, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France became a foundational text for modern Conservatism, condemned slavery in an 18th century parliamentary debate. I believe Wesley also attacked in a sermon he gave at the Methodist New Room, now John Wesley’s Chapel in Broadmead in Bristol. I think that after 1745 Methodists were forbidden to own slaves.

I also wonder if figures from national history might make more suitable subjects for sculptures. Like Mary Prince, a West Indian slave from Bermuda, who was able to gain her freedom when her masters took her to London. The Mansfield judgement had officially ruled that slavery did not exist under English law, and so slaves brought to Britain were, in law, free. Prince got her freedom simply by walking away. She joined the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823, and her account of her life as a slave, The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave, was published in London in 1831. Another British slave, who gave his voice to the abolitionist campaign was Louis Asa-Asa. Asa-Asa had been enslaved by the French, but gained his freedom when a ship carrying him put in at Cornwall. He was the author of a pamphlet, How Cruelly We Are Used, which was also published in 1831. I also suspect that there are other people in Bristol’s history, whether slaves or White abolitionists, who deserve to be commemorated but at the moment nobody knows about.

Without going into the murderous fear of outsiders of the League of Gentlemen’s Edward and Tubbs and their slogan ‘a local shop, for local people’, the vacant plinth should be occupied by a figure from Bristol’s history. Even if it is only someone, who simply visited the city as part of an abolitionist speaking tour. Many of Britain’s towns and cities had abolitionist societies, like those of Sheffield, and I’d be very surprised if Bristol didn’t have one. Even if the city did officially celebrate the failure of abolitionist bills before the eventual emancipation of 1837.