Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

Video on Pioneering Black American Painter Jacob Lawrence

March 8, 2023

I know very, very little about Black American art. I’ve heard of Grandma Moses and the Harlem Renaissance, and that’s about it. I’ve been watching a number of art history documentaries on YouTube, and this piece about Jacob Lawrence from Paul Priestley’s Art History School channel came as something of a revelation. Lawrence was one of those great figures you’ve never heard of, a true pioneer. He was, for example, the first Black American artist to be taken up by a major gallery. This short video tells his story.

Lawrence came from dirt-poor working class parents, and at various times throughout his career he worked menial jobs simply to pay the rent. He was inspired to become an artist by looking at the Renaissance masters like Giotto on display in New York museums. He was exhibited in a gallery when he was only 18, but still had to keep that day job. His parents would have preferred him to have been a mailman. He carried on like this, painting while working day jobs and occasionally taking art courses for some years until he made his breakthrough and the big galleries began picking him up. During the War he did his national service in a segregated regiment, but was later moved to a desegregated one and served as a war artist. He also met various avant-garde artists, who had fled to America from the Nazis. After the War he was taken up by a number of increasingly prestigious galleries and foundations. The stress of the sudden fame and recognition was sadly too much for him. His mental health deteriorated and he was forced to spend time in a mental hospital. He recovered, and journeyed to Nigeria to explore Africa’s artistic heritage, while lecturing on the influence of African art on western modernism, like the Cubists. He also gained a post as university art teacher.

Much of his work is naturally about Black American history. He was also fascinated by Haiti’s history, and painted a series of pictures about this subject. He also painted a series on the migration of Black Americans from the south to the north after the Civil War, as well as at least one painting of the anti-slavery fanatic, John Brown. He was concerned to paint from every day life, and so much of his paintings show people at work, building, doing carpentry and so on. He also painted scenes based on his incarceration in the mental hospital.

His style is simplistic, and the figures do remind me a little of some of Picasso’s works, like The Bathers. But somebody also said that if you looked at them, there was too much craftsmanship for them to be naive. He also uses bright, vivid colours. It’s a great introduction to one of the unknown masters of modern American art.

Sketches of Max Wall and Motorhead’s Lemmy

March 5, 2023

Okay, here’s a couple more sketches of notable entertainers, Max Wall and Lemmy from the Heavy Metal band Motorhead. Motorhead’s greatest hit is probably ‘Ace of Spades’. In an interview years ago, Lemmy dispelled the notions that it was about Satanism or anything deeper, explaining that it was just about gambling. It was inspired by the Watford Gap service station and playing the fruit machines their on the way to and from gigs.

Decades ago the News Quiz, when it was still worth listening to, published an apology to Mr. Kilminster, for running a story about his sexual antics that got the details wrong and so made it sound less debauched than it really was. They had reported that he had a hung a woman upside down in his cupboard for a few hours. Not so. He had tied her to the bed, and this had gone on for three days. Lemmy complained, and the paper duly issued a correction and apology. Rock and roll!

He also makes a cameo appearance as the pilot of a water taxi in the 1980s British SF movie, Hardware, about a sculptor, who restores a killer war robot her boyfriend has bought from a scavenger in a radiation desert. The machine upgrades itself and goes on the rampage. The film was directed by Richard Stanley, who also directed the recent film version of Lovecraft’s The Colour Out of Space starring Nicholas Cage. Hardware’s story is extremely close to the 2000 AD ‘Future Shock’ story, ‘Shocc!’ and Stanley was successfully sued by the comic and the strip’s creators. This hasn’t prevented the film from being considered by many as one of the best British science fiction films.

Lemmy wasn’t racist, but I can’t say I’m comfortable with the cod-Confederate uniforms he used to wear. I dare say it was done just to signal he was a rebel and possibly the southern American origins of much rock, but considering what the Confederacy stood for, it is tasteless.

Max Wall was the performer best known for his silly walk, bent over, bum projecting and knees bent, rather like Groucho Marx. I was reminded of him while thinking about the Asimo robot. This was unveiled by the Japanese in the 90s and was one of the first humanoid walking robots. It looked a little like an astronaut with a huge pack on its back and a head that resembled a space helmet. It also walked with its legs bent, which inspired me to draw this sketch of the robot channelling Wall.

I hope you enjoy them.

Governor of California Discussing Paying Reparations for Slavery

January 2, 2023

Last week Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, proposed that the state should pay reparations for slavery. This would consist in a payment of $220,000 to Black Californians descended from slaves. Newsom had previous passed or proposed legislation for the payment of a monthly amount to homeless trans people for a fixed term of one year. This was because there was a disproportionate number of trans people living on the streets, and the payment was to allow them to begin to purchase or rent a home. Newsom’s proposal to pay reparations for slavery was discussed by the Lotus Eaters over here and there’s a video by Black Conservative Perspective in America criticising it. The Black Conservative was not impressed, calling it divisive and playing a clip of Black speakers before the California state legislature or whatever demanding more. One man wanted the payment to be in a fixed amount of gold for each enslaved ancestor. An angry man wearing the red fez and tie of the Nation of Islam ranted about how God had a particular hatred of America and if the money wasn’t paid, He’d destroy the country with an asteroid or something. The Black Conservative considered that these payments would be inflationary, that the money would go on cars and cocaine, and that it would never be enough. People would always come back asking for more.

These are legitimate criticisms. Simon Webb, of History Debunked, made a video attacking the reparations for slavery campaign a few months or so ago. He also thought that it would cause racial divisions rather than solve them, and illustrated it with this example. Say there were two people living next to each other, in identical houses and with the same amount of wealth, but one was Black and the other White. If the Black man received £40,000 simply as compensation for his ancestors being enslaved but not for anything he personally had done, it would cause the White man to become resentful. It might not be true everywhere and of every White person – some may well share the opinion that it’s right Blacks descended from slaves should receive reparations for the suffering of their ancestors. But many others may well become extremely resentful. It could easily result in insults, abuse and worse. When Bristol city council passed a motion a year ago calling for the payment of reparations, Deputy Mayor and head of Equalities Asher Craig received an enormous amount of abusive messages.

I’m also sure that the Black Conservative also has a point about some of the prospective recipients squandering the money. I don’t doubt that some Blacks would use the money wisely to improve conditions for themselves and their children. But I can also see others wasting the money on expensive luxuries, like top of the range cars. There have been a number of stories in the past about people who’ve won millions on the National Lottery and who’ve then spent it all with nothing to show for it so that they’re back as poor as before. This has been done by people regardless of race, White and Black alike. I am also afraid that if these sums were paid, the gangster element in the Black community would use it to expand their violence and drug dealing, as criminals of any colour would if suddenly given a massive cash boost. Perhaps some would use it to leave the gangs and crime behind and try and establish themselves as respectable, law-abiding citizens. You’d hope so. But I think rather more criminals would simply use it to finance more of their destructive lifestyle, which would cause further damage to the Black community. And I am also afraid that whatever was paid would never be enough, and that they would always come back for more.

Thomas Sowell in one of his books argued against slavery reparations. He felt that the people, who were victimised and responsible for it are now dead, and so beyond our ability to help or punish. He also argued that whatever profits America had made from slavery had vanished in the bloodbath of the American Civil War. Furthermore, the guilt for something as terrible as slavery could not be absolved simply by paying money. He also made the point that no society could survive a moral viewpoint in which it had to be constantly criticising itself and paying compensation for the acts of the past. I think these are excellent points.

When Bristol passed its motion calling for reparations, the practical measures made it seem more like a call for further affirmative action for the Black British community as a whole justified through the connection to slavery. The motion ruled out payments to individuals. Instead they should be paid to Black-led organisations which would work to improve conditions and create sustainable, prosperous Black communities. All Blacks were to benefit from this, not just those of Afro-Caribbean or slave origin. While it’s better than Newsom’s proposal in providing for their real, collective benefit of the Black community rather than just the compensation of individuals, there are real moral problems with this as well. By including all Black, it also makes the British state morally responsible for people we did not enslave and who may themselves be descendants of the very slavers who sold their human cargo to us. It also ignores the fact that other nations, like the Arabs and Indians, were also involved in the African slave trade and the fact that White Europeans, including Brits, were also the victims of enslavement in the Turkish conquest of the Balkans and the Barbary pirates. I sent email messages to Craig and Cleo Lake, the Green councillor who proposed the motion, but got no reply. This, in my opinion, shows their absolute contempt for those challenging the notion.

In the British context, it could be argued that any profits Britain acquired from the slave trade were spent on our efforts to stamp it out through the activities of the British West African squadron and its patrols as well as a wider campaign against slaving and slavery during the Empire. There is also the problem that some of the countries responsible for kidnapping slaves also want reparations paid to them, even though some of their chiefs became extremely rich from the trade’s profits. The Caribbean nations, or some of them, have also demanded reparations. Some of this has been to deflect attention from the failings of their own rulers, while I don’t doubt that the venal kleptocrats are looking at a source of further money they can steal and loot. There’s also a question of the amount paid. Britain paid £20 million in compensation to the slaveowners at abolition, something that has been bitterly resented by some Black activists, just as it was by some abolitionists at the time. This translates into billions in today’s money and we only stopped paying it off a few years ago. If we were to pay a commensurate amount today, I think it would bankrupt us. And I can’t see that being to anyone’s benefit in Britain.

So far I think Newsom is on his own on this issue, and it remains to be seen whether he goes ahead with it. But this could be one issue to watch, as it’s possible other states will take it up, as well as activists over here.

Matt Walsh on the Celebration of Villains like Alfred Kinsey and the Women Warrior Slavers of Dahomey

September 13, 2022

Yeah, I know, it’s Matt Walsh, one of the major figures in popular Republican propaganda. The great commenters on this blog have warned me about reblogging material from the right, as I shouldn’t let myself become a mouthpiece for them and they never reciprocate. Helen Pluckrose, a left-wing critic of the postmodern ideologies of Queer and Critical Race Theory and Postcolonial Studies wrote a piece for James Lindsay’s New Discourses calling for the right to stop demonising the left and recognise that much of the work refuting these highly damaging ideologies was actually being done by leftists. She’s absolutely right. But yes, Walsh is still using it to take swipes at the left. And the Lotus Eaters have put up a piece about how ‘Socialists Are Terrible People’. The thumbnail to the video shows Hasan Piker, who is an obnoxious pratt. There was a clip of him on one of the right-wing channels raving about the ‘glorious Muslim enslavement of Whites’.

But I feel I have to put up videos like this one from Walsh because they are tackling important issues which I don’t see being done from the left. Or at least, not the mainstream British left. In this video Walsh attacks the way traditional western heroes, who were often people with very serious flaws, are being removed and replaced with people who are villains, but suit the ideology now being pushed. He gives two examples. One is the erection of a statue to sexologist Alfred Kinsey at Indiana University, where already a building or a wing has been named after him. The other is the film The Woman King, about a female general in the corps of women warriors, the Amazons, of Dahomey. This soldier, Nasicka, leads the resistance to the French invasion of her homeland.

Walsh points out that Kinsey was paedophile, who paid child rapists as his informants. He was convinced that children and babies were sexual beings. One of the tables in his Report on Sexuality of the Human Male, or whatever it was called, records the sexual responses of children from 5 months to 15 years old. This was based on information supplied to him, and which he paid for, by child rapists. For Walsh, this utterly invalidates everything Kinsey has ever done, and definitely means he should not be celebrated. I find it hard to disagree with the latter statement.

As for the women warriors of Dahomey, Walsh discusses how the critics are raving about the film because it ticks all the boxes – women warriors and Black Africans, who represented as fighting for their freedom against the evil Whites. He invents two quotes from critics supposedly saying that it made them ashamed to be White and having White children as an example of the excesses the critic’s praises nearly reach. In fact, Dahomey was a state geared to war and the enslavement of other Africans. Captured slaves were either put on plantations to grow food for the army, or were sold to outsiders, including Europeans. The Amazons were part of that slavery war machine, but the film grotesquely portrays them as abolitionists. If the slaves weren’t sold, they were killed. Walsh cites the Encyclopaedia Britannica about Dahomey, but the same facts can be found in any number of other, mainstream, standard histories of Africa. He is also right when he says that the British fought a war against Dahomey to stop them slaving. Again, totally true. Uncovered Editions published a collection of the British government papers about the war in 2001 as King Guezo of Dahomey, 1850-52: The Abolition of Slavery in West Africa. And the Dahomeyans did massacre or hold mass human sacrifices of unsold slaves. Sometime in the 19th century they massacred 300 of them, which shocked Europeans, including seasoned explorers like Captain Denham. Denham told a British parliamentary inquiry that the mass murder was especially shocking, given the advances these civilisations had made in most of the arts of civilisation. Which to me shows that Denham, while seeing western civilisation as superior, did not regard west Africans as uncivilised savages.

Walsh mentions that Hollywood frequently takes liberties with history but regards this glamorisation of an African slave state as particularly grotesque. It is as if a film rewrote history to show the Confederacy as the heroes fighting against slavery. Again, true. I can see why the film is being widely praised coming as it does after BLM and the new denunciations of White supremacy, racism and imperialism. I’m very much aware the reality behind many traditional western heroes is far different from the legend. Folk heroes like Dick Turpin and the western gunfighters were brutal thugs. And I’m also aware of the old newspaper maxim about the heroes of the Old West – if there’s a difference between fact and legend, print the legend. But equally, if there are two choices, two causes or individuals equally as bad, you’re quite entitled to choose neither. Just because Hitler was a monster doesn’t mean that you have to support Stalin.

And so just because western imperialism was responsible for some monstrous evils, you don’t have to glamorise and celebrate Black imperialist, slaving monsters.

A History of Racism in the Islamic Middle East

May 27, 2022

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

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

Arab Ethnic Identity Before Colour Prejudice

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

Development of Anti-Black Prejudice

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

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

Islamic Slavery and Slave Armies

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

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

The Myth of Muslim Non-Racism

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

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

Race and Slavery Compared with Brown’s Slavery & Islam

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

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

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

Importance of the Book for an Examination of Contemporary Racial Politics

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

Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees on What His Party Has Done for the City

August 3, 2021

As a member of the local Labour party, I got this general email from Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, explaining what his administration has done to improve conditions in Bristol. I’ve mixed feelings about Rees. He can be stubborn and obstinate, insisting on what he wants against the wishes of local people. He did this in the case of the housing development now being built in Hengrove park. His plans for the development were opposed by local people, who wanted fewer houses and more amenities, like shops, to be built on the site. But despite the fact that Rees’ own plans for the area were also criticised by the planning authorities for exactly the same reasons, Rees overruled the suggestions of the locals and went ahead with his own plans. There has also been a similar controversy over his scheme for a new arena for the city. Common sense would say that it should be built nearer to the city’s centre, where communications are excellent and visitors from outside the city could easily get to it via the motorway. However, for some reason best known to himself, Mayor Marv has decided instead that he wants it built in Filton, a suburb some distance away from the centre in the north of the city. Which is far more difficult to get to.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by his handling of the pulling down of Colston’s statue by Black Lives Matter. There have been demands from Bristol’s Black community for the statue to be taken down for decades, and so the assault on it probably shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, it followed similar attacks on Confederate statues across the Pond in America. Despite loud criticism from people of the right, like Alex Belfield, I think Bristol’s police did exactly the right thing in not trying to defend it when it was attacked. It was the only monument affected. The other statues nearby, such as one to Bristol’s sailors, and of the 18th century politician, Edmund Burke, and Queen Victoria (Gawd bless ‘er) weren’t touched. Neither were the surrounding shops and offices. But I think there would have been a full scale riot if the cops had tried to defend it. And I think it’s extremely likely that some in the mob that attacked the statue were hoping for a chance to fight the police as symbols of racist authority. The police didn’t give them the opportunity, and saved the people and property in the area from harm. As for Marvin himself, while he has made it very plain that, as a man of colour, he personally loathes the statue, he has been extremely diplomatic and careful in his handling of the controversy.

Here’s what he says in his email:

“Dear member,

I am writing to you to thank you for your support in the recent elections and to let you know how your Labour administration is repaying your trust in us. 

I want to start by reiterating how grateful I am; for everyone that voted for me and for the activists who knocked on doors, called voters, and spread our message of hope on social media. It’s been an enormously difficult year – which makes me even more appreciative for the support – but we still managed to adapt to the circumstances and get Labour’s message out to the voters. Our activists are the cornerstone of our movement – we wouldn’t have won the mayoral elections if it weren’t for the strength of our members. 

However, despite winning the Mayoralty and gaining a Labour Metromayor in the West of England Combined Authority, we lost a number of excellent councillors and had hard-working, dedicated candidates miss out on their seats. I know how talented our candidates were and how much they cared about their communities, so these results were hard to take. 

Despite the disappointment, we’ve regrouped and have been working to put Labour values into action and to continue delivering on your priorities. I want the next three years to be defined by inclusivity, sustainability, and delivery – everything we do will be defined by those three principles. 

At the first Full Council since the election, we put forward a motion that forbids the Council or its partners from following Home Office guidance that uses rough sleeping as a reason to cancel someone’s leave to remain, resulting in their eventual deportation from the UK. It should go without saying that we found this guidance deplorable – it shows how out-of-step Priti Patel and the Home Office is with Bristol’s collective conscience. Read more on Cllr Tom Renhard’s Blog. 

This announcement follows a recent further £4m investment to help tackle rough sleeping and the setting up of Bristol Street Outreach, a new service to support rough sleepers. Since 2019, we’ve reduced the levels of people rough-sleeping by 80% – this new service will focus on on-street engagements, particularly with those who have been sleeping rough for a long time, to help enable them to move off the streets and live independently.

As well as this we’ve:

Won Gold Food Sustainable City Status – only the second city in the UK to do so – for excellence in tackling food waste, urban food growing, and action to address food inequality. Awarded by the independent, Sustainable Food Places Board, the accolade recognises the work of Bristol’s good food movement and the city’s work to tackle the impacts of food on public health, nature, and climate change. More information here. 

• Offered residency to a number of Afghan interpreters who worked with the British Army, as they were at risk of persecution by the Taliban. 

• Moved forward building a 17,000 seater arena and its surrounding district – which now includes a 15 acre public park, £3.1m for transport infrastructure, 2,600 news homes, employment space, up to three new schools, a health centre and retail and leisure facilities – with it now set to open by the end of 2023.

• Allocated £34m in funding to help businesses in the city centre upgrade to cleaner vehicles, so they can avoid fines when the Clean Air Zone is implemented.  Despite pushing back the implementation date for the Clean Air Zone, by giving people and businesses time to adapt we will still have cleaner air by 2023 – the same time as we would if it had been implemented this October. 

• Painted a trans-inclusive rainbow crossing on Wine Street to as part of our celebrations for Pride Month. As well as this, we passed a motion that will strengthen mental health provision for LGBT+ people within the Council, and to work with our partners to improve services across the city.

Built the largest water-source heat pump in the UK, bringing zero-carbon energy to 5,000 homes in central Bristol. This comes after we built the largest land wind turbine in the country in Avonmouth. We’re also pushing ahead with finding a partner for the City Leap Programme, which will see us invest £1bn in decarbonising Bristol’s energy systems. 

• Started work to transform the Bear Pit into a haven for bees and butterflies. We declared an ecological emergency last year and are working to turn make our built environment more ecology-friendly – We’re investing in green structures and bright native flowers in the bearpit to attract pollinators and make it a thoroughfare the city can be proud of. 

• Invested £4.7m to rejuvenate our high streets, including Bristol city centre, East Street, Church Road, Shirehampton, Filwood Broadway, Stapleton Road, Brislington Hill, Filton Avenue, Two Mile Hill and Stockwood. The funding will help develop a support programme for existing and new high street businesses, while funding improvements to the streets in a bid to boost footfall through them. Financial support will also be offered to new or expanding businesses, such as pop-up stores or galleries, to reduce the number of vacant premises on the streets.

This is just a small selection of the work we’ve been doing for you. As this next term is only three years rather than four, we wanted to hit the ground running, but we have much, much more in the pipeline that will be ready for announcement in the near future.

If you would like to find out more about the work we’ve been doing, have questions over specific policy, or just want a general chat, then please feel free to ask your constituency executive to invite myself or a Cabinet member to one of your party meetings. 

I hope everyone has an enjoyable summer – I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

Best wishes, 

Marvin Rees”

The various green projects Labour has introduced shows the administration is taking ecological issues seriously and shows that the Labour party in the city would be behind the Green New Deal proposed by the left, which would not only help the planet, but also create jobs and new industries. I’m also particularly impressed by the investment in local high streets and their businesses, and the offer of residency to the Afghan interpreters who worked for the British army. With the Taliban now advancing in Afghanistan, these people’s lives would very much be at risk if they remained there, and they undoubtedly deserve to be given sanctuary here in the UK, no matter what Priti Patel may think.

Despite my strong criticisms of some of Rees’ policies, I think overall he has been good for the city, and hope his administration will continue to do its best for Bristol and its great people.

Black Activists Plan Blacks-Only Town ‘Wakanda’ in Georgia

September 15, 2020

This comes via the Midwestly channel on YouTube. Midwestly is a White guy and his views seem to be Conservative. He’s posted criticisms of Black Lives Matter and the riots that have broken out in its name. But he also says that there’s nothing wrong in this, and gives them his support. He just feels that it’s not the way to bring people together, and that it creates division. He also makes the point that if it was done by Whites, it would be considered Alt Right.

Yes, yes, it would. and there is plenty wrong with a town founded deliberately to exclude or marginalise people simply because of their race or ethnicity.

Ashley Scott, Renee Walters, and the Foundation of the new ‘Wakanda’

According to the Insider, two Black Activists, Ashley Scott, a real estate agent from Stonecrest, Georgia, and her friend Renee Walters found 96.71 acres of land in Georgia. They then persuaded 19 Black families to purchase the land with the intention of setting up a town. Called ‘Wakanda’, presumably after the fictional African supertechnological state in the movie and comic Black Panther, it will be primarily for Blacks, although pro-Black White allies will be permitted to apply. One of the points Midwestly makes is that Georgia doesn’t have the fictional element Vibranium upon which Wakanda’s advanced technology is based. And so it ain’t gonna be Wakanda without the Vibranium.

Scott said that the year had made her feel distraught and was looking for ways to feel empowered. She also said that she envisioned ‘a place where we can all be proud and have human dignity, honour and respect, and equality amongst our Black people because we have Black talent.’

The Freedom Georgia Initiative

This produced the Freedom Georgia Initiative, which will spend the next three to five years installing everything from wi-fi and water before planning residential, retail and recreation areas. MidWestly makes the point that the amount of land purchased gives each family about five acres, which isn’t a lot, plus retail, plus recreation and plus public works. He also says it doesn’t sound like freedom.

Scott wrote an article for Blavity stating that the group saw the land as a fresh start with a city that could be a shining example of being the change they wanted to see by supporting Black families and companies. She said that they wanted to be involved in creating the lives they really want for their Black families. And maybe, just maybe, create some generational wealth for ourselves by investing in the land and their core values and beliefs. The intiative is, apparently, geared to offering a Black centric community a fresh start after the fall of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street by White supremacists and poverty enforced by Jim Crow laws.

Scott said that ‘it’s not even a Black thing. It’s a place where we can all be proud and have human dignity, honour and respect, and equality amongst our Black people because we have Black talent.’ Walter told Insider that despite major figures calling for change and speaking out in favour of Black America in recent months, the two hope the project can be an example to those that advocating for significant change can begin on an individual level.’ He comments that it’s cool they want to get out of the city, but that it sounds like they want segregation. Well, that’s the way it sounds to me!

Practical Problems

He goes on to read from a second article, which says that the planned colony is in Wilkinson County in rural Georgia, and that the group initially looked into Toomsboro, Georgia, until they were told that it wasn’t for sale. This second article calls it a ‘Black only safe haven called ‘Freedom’.’ But it also adds that pro-Black families can apply to live there. Midwestly asks what ‘pro-Black’ means. They also intend to clear the land for farming and fishing. He states that they don’t have nearly enough land for what they intend to do. Even if the 19 families only have one acre plots each, leaving 50 acres for building a lake, retail stores, it would mean that everyone would have to move into condos to make it work. He said that if it was him, he would want to have land with his home, because without land you aren’t going to create wealth.

Segregation and the Alt-Right

Midwestly says he wishes them all the best because they’re private citizens buying land to do what they want. It’s just that if White people did this, it would be called something different, like an ethnostate. Yes, because that’s what it very much looks like from here, the intended ethnicity of the settlement notwithstanding. He goes on to say that it’s what the Alt Right is talking about, and he doesn’t necessarily like all that division, after the University of Michingan launched its Whites and non-Whites separate cafes. This isn’t the way to create unity. It just creates more division. And ultimately it’s heartbreaking to see people talking about this stuff as if it’s stunning and brave.

Here’s the video:

Conservatives, Race and Property Rights

Midwestly is coming at this from the Conservative view that the private individual should be able to do whatever they like on their own land. This is, apparently, the reason Barry Goldwater opposed desegegration. He was not an opponent of Black improvement. I have seen it argued that he was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He also, supposedly, desegegrated his department store. But he thought that compulsory desegegration was an attack on individual freedom and property rights. But Midwestly is clearly troubled by the racism at the heart of this project.

Ideal Communities an American Tradition

In some ways, the project part of a long tradition of people trying to found better, more perfect communities in the New World. It was behind the Pilgrim Father’s decision to migrate, as was explained in this Sunday’s edition of the Beeb’s Christian programme, Songs of Praise. They intended their new settlement to be a shining beacon. It was the Puritan settlers who gave America its vision of itself as a uniquely more community, a shining city on a hill. It saw British nonconformists take to America ideas of democracy and religious tolerance which influenced the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It should be pointed out, however, that the Founding Fathers determinedly weren’t democrats, and explicitly stated that the franchise should be restricted to elite White males to stop the poor majority oppressing the rich.

In the 19th century political radicals like the British poet Robert Southey, the Scots Utopian Socialist Robert Owen, and the followers of the French Utopian Socialist Fourier all tried to set up their own Utopian Communes in the US. These failed, though the Oneida community survived by reforming itself as a joint-stock company. A Jewish emigrant to the US also hoped to found a Jewish state there. I think this was originally going to be in the region of Niagara in New York State. And then there’s Utah, which founded by the Mormons as a theocracy for their faith before it joined the US.

Free Black Villages in the British Caribbean

In the Caribbean, radical Baptist missionaries founded free Black townships with like Sligoville, New Birmingham, Piedmont, Hoby Town, named after the British abolitionist Dr. Hoby, Unity, Refuge, which was originally named Wilberforce after the great British abolitionist, Kettering and Granville, named after another British abolitionist, Granville Sharpe, Buxton and Victoria. The radical Baptist missionary William Knibb estimated in 1840 that there were about 200 free villages with 8,000 inhabitants between them spread about Jamaica. Free Black towns were also established in Demerara and Berbice, now part of Guyana, starting with Northbrook Estate and then Den Amstel. They were also set up in Antigua. By 1842 they numbered 27 such villages with a total population of 3,600.

These villages were set up to protect Black people from re-enslavement by the planters. I don’t know if there were free Black communities established by abolitionists in the 19th century. But America’s Black community, while depressed and impoverished, is not enslaved. That came to an end with the Civil War. Nor do they have official implemented, state-sanctioned segregation. That came to an end in the late ’60s when Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act. The Black community is, generally speaking, deprived and disadvantaged. But it is not enslaved, nor legally subject to discrimination. At least, not overtly. Blacks have voting rights, and there are Black politicians and members of the judiciary and legal profession. Since at least the 1980s, various affirmative action legislation has been passed with the deliberate intention of giving Blacks greater opportunities, freedom and prosperity and giving them genuine social and economic equality with mainstream America.

Nation of Islam, American Black Nationalism and White European Communes and Colonies

The proposed establishment of this town seems more like the separatism of the Nation of Islam. This demands the creation of an independent Black nation made out of five of the states of the southern US. Elsewhere in the world, it recalls Liberia, which was founded by American abolitionists as a country for freed American slaves, just as Britain attempted to do the same with Sierra Leone in the late 18th century.

And yes, it also resembles the communes proposed by White supremacists and Nazis, like those in the Hayden Lakes area of the American Midwest. Nietzsche’s cousin, Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche, was a proto-Nazi. She tried to found a perfect community of racially pure Germans in South America. But rather than finding prosperity, the community instead became poor and inbred. Over on this side of the Atlantic, there was also a move by two White British Nazis to buy a farm in France to build a pure, White colony there. This was passionately attacked by British anti-Nazis. Hope Not Hate have published an article about it, and it seems that after all these long years it’s come to nothing. Except that the Nazis behind it seemed to have spent their time trying to kill each other.

Return to the Ghetto

A few years ago in the 1990s or thereabouts there was talk about a ‘return to the ghetto’ amongst American Blacks. You can understand this. As a general rule, people prefer to live among their kind. This may be members of the same religious group, race, or ethnicity. For example, San Francisco has its Chinatown and Chicago a Little Italy, which was the main location of that city’s Italian community. But there is a difference between voluntary settlements, which just happen to be areas where a particular religion or ethnicity happens to live, and those deliberately planned which consciously exclude people because of their race.

Pro-Black Apartheid and the International Third Position

Round about 1985 the British newspaper, the Observer, published a piece fearing the demand for apartheid in Britain by sections of the Black community. It was a direct attack on the Black activist and Labour MP, Paul Boateng, who had called for autonomous Black communities in Britain. Now it seems that the same drives and demands have resurfaced in America by Black radicals in the wake of Black Lives Matter.

And there’s a section of the White Nazi movements which wants the same thing. In the 1960s Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. They both saw a common interest in dividing America on racial grounds. The Blacks would have the eastern seaboard, while the rest of America would be reserved for Whites. In the 1990s there was a strain of British Fascism called the Third International Position. This wanted separate communities for Blacks, including their own schools. It was opposed by the majority of Nazis, like the BNP’s leader, Nick Griffin, who wanted their total repatriation. But it was also opposed by mainstream anti-racists and opponents of apartheid.

But now it appears apartheid is back, and being championed as pro-Black and anti-racist. It shouldn’t matter who’s doing it. Segregation and apartheid is always wrong, and should always be fought and combated.

The Reasons for the Toppling of the Statues of Columbus and King Leopold of Belgium

June 13, 2020

It isn’t just in Bristol that people are pulling down the statues of those, who were racist, imperialist or connected to slavery. In America protesters have pulled down more statues of Confederate generals. According to the Beeb, they also pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus. Back across the Pond in Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was also attacked.

Columbus and the Genocide of the Amerindians

Many people are no doubt surprised and shocked that Columbus should be the centre of such controversy and anger. Again, this is because most people largely don’t know much about him. All most people are taught are that he discovered America, as in the rhyme ‘In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue’. He was an Italian in the service of the king of Spain. Many may also believe the myth begun by Washington Irving, that until Columbus found the New World, everyone believed that the Earth was flat and you’d fall off the edge if you sailed far enough. In fact people at the time had know perfectly well that the world was round, and had done since at least late antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Columbus himself was seeking a new route to the wealth, and particularly spices, of India and China. The overland trade routes had been blocked by the Turkish conquests, so Columbus was seeking a new route to these countries by sailing around the world. In doing so, he failed to realise that the world was actually larger than he believed. When he landed in the Caribbean, he thought he had landed in Asia. It was only towards the end of his career that he began to suspect that he hadn’t, and had discovered an entirely different, new continent instead.

Although it opened up a whole new world for Europeans, and especially the Spanish, it was a catastrophe for the indigenous peoples. Columbus described the Caribbean peoples he met as ‘gentle and mild’, and they welcomed their strange, new visitor. After Columbus returned to Spain, the situation changed with the Spanish conquest. The indigenous peoples – the Taino, Arawak and Caribs were enslaved and worked to death mining the gold that the Spanish and Europeans craved. If they failed to produce enough gold for their European masters, they were killed and mutilated. One of the contemporary sources for the conquest of the New World states that one of the punishments was to amputate their hands, and then hang them around the victim’s neck. Indigenous women were raped and sexually exploited. Indigenous populations were also devastated by the diseases Europeans brought with them, such as smallpox. The population of the Americas had reached several million before Columbus’ arrival. I forget the estimated number – it might be something like 8 million. That number had dropped considerably after the European conquests. The Spanish pushed further, overthrowing the Aztec and Inca empires and conquering the Mayan city states. And across the continent the indigenous peoples were devastated by disease and war, and enslaved on the vast estates carved out by the conquistadors. Other Europeans followed them, who were equally brutal – Portuguese, French, Dutch and ourselves.

The carnage of the European conquests means that Columbus is very definitely not a hero to the New World’s indigenous peoples, nor to the Black populations who succeeded them. Transatlantic slavery emerged because Europeans replaced the Indian workers they’d exterminated with African slaves. Nearly thirty years ago, in 1992 there were demonstrations and denunciations by indigenous Americans and Blacks at the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. For the Amerindian peoples, the festivities were a celebration of their genocide and enslavement. Black Americans also condemned them as a celebration of slavery, an accusation that was repeated by Black Britons three years later when this country celebrated John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland.

Leopold of Belgium and the Congo Atrocity

Centuries later, at the end of the 19th century, Leopold was also responsible for genocide on a scale comparable to the Nazis in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo. He’d acquired the area as his own personal property, and decided to exploit his new territory through rubber production. He set up his own, private police force, the Force Publique, and forced the indigenous peoples to cultivate and produce it. The indigenous Congolese were given quotas, and if they failed to produce the set amount of rubber, they were beaten, mutilated and killed by the thugs of his private police. Tony Greenstein in an article he has published on his blog a few days ago estimates the number of killed at 10 million. I don’t know if that’s the generally accepted number, as it seems he prefers the upper end of the estimates of European genocide. But it wouldn’t have been far off. There’s a very good popular book on slavery produced by Buffalo Books. I think it’s called just Slavery, and covers all of its forms, including the infamous Coolie Trade in Indian indentured migrants and the enslavement of Pacific Islanders to serve on the plantations of Fiji and Queensland. This also covers the Congo atrocity. It’s profusely illustrated with contemporary pictures, cartoons and photographs. I came across the book when a copy was given to the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, where I was doing voluntary work cataloguing the Museum’s holdings on slavery. One of the photographs was of a Congolese man forlornly looking at his severed feet. Slavery is an horrific subject, and there were a number of very graphic illustrations. But that was one that definitely made me feel ill.

The horror stopped because of the public outcry created by its exposure by several brilliant, crusading European and American journos. The Belgian government took it out of Leopold’s hands and turned it into a state colony. For many years the whole subject was something most Belgians wished to forget. However, in the late 1990s or early part of this century, Belgium began reexamining its relationship with its colonial past. There was an exhibition at the country’s national museum around the exhibits from the Congo. This included new works from contemporary artists and performers about the exhibits and the issues they raised.

Conclusion

For most ordinary people, at least in Britain, the attacks on these statues are astonishing. They’re yet another example of the violent iconoclasm and assault on history and White identity of the BLM movement. I doubt many people in Britain know enough about Leopold and his personal crimes against humanity to care what happens to his statue. But there are good reasons why Blacks, the American First Nations and their sympathisers should hate these statues and want their removal. Columbus and Leopold were monsters, and like Colston brought suffering to unimaginable millions. The attacks are shocking because we aren’t taught about the consequences of the European conquests in school history, although it is certainly not hidden or covered up. You can read about the Spanish conquests and the genocide of the Amerindians in books on South American history, as well as the classic treatment of the dispossession and genocide of the North American peoples, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

It’s why the BLM and Black and Asian activists are justified in calls for the dark side of British and European imperialism to be taught in history.

 

Radio 4 Adaptation on Saturday of Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’

March 25, 2020

According to next week’s Radio Times, Radio 4 next Saturday, 28th March 2020, is broadcasting an adaptation of Jules Verne’s ‘The Mysterious Island’ at 3.00 pm. The blurb for it runs

‘Drama: To the Ends of the Earth: the Mysterious Island

Three very different people escape the American Civil War by stealing a balloon – which crashes near a deserted island. But perhaps it is not quite as deserted as they think. Gregory Evan’s dramatisation of Jules Verne’s sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.’

What struck me about this is that Captain Nemo is played by an Asian actor, Sagar Arya. There’s a bitter controversy at the moment over ‘forced diversity’, the term used for writers, directors and producers altering the gender and race of established characters in order to make traditional, or long-established stories, plays, films or TV series more multicultural, feminist or otherwise inclusive. It might be thought that this is another example, but it would be wrong.

In an interview with Alan Moore I found on YouTube a few months ago, the comics legend behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and a series of other strips and graphic novels, explained why he made Nemo an Indian prince in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The comic, which was made into a film a little while ago starring Sean Connery, imagines a kind of late 19th – early 20th century superhero group formed by Alan Quartermain, the Invisible Man, Dorian Grey, Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego, Mr Hyde, and Captain Nemo. The group travels on their adventures in Nemo’s ship, the Nautilus. The strip was drawn by 2000 AD art robot, Kevin O’Neill, whose art back in the 1980s for an edition of the Green Lantern Corps was judged too horrific for children by the late, unlamented Comics Code. So far, however, I have heard of no-one being left psychologically scarred by his art on The League. Moore stated that he made Nemo Indian, with O’Neill’s art consequently showing the Nautilus’ interior decorated with Indian art and architectural motifs, because that is exactly how Verne described him in The Mysterious Island. He wasn’t at all like James Mason in the Disney movie.

Now I dare say that the Beeb may very well have chosen to adapt The Mysterious Island for radio in order to give this favourite Science Fiction character a new, multicultural twist. But it is faithful to Verne’s original conception of the character. It’ll be interesting to hear what it’s like.

Here’s the video from the AlanMooreVids channel on YouTube, in which Moore talks about the strip. It’s a segment from the BBC 4 series on comics, Comics Britannia. The video shows O’Neill’s art, and the artist himself working. Moore praises his collaborator on the strip, saying that he take the most disturbing of his ideas and make them two or three times more upsetting. But he admires his skill for the grotesque, which in Moore’s view places him up there with the caricaturists Gilray and Hogarth. It’s high praise, but I think Moore’s actually right. If O’Neill had become a caricaturist instead of a comics artist, I think he would be admired as the equal of such greats as Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.