Posts Tagged ‘‘Black Athena’’

A British Colonial Governor’s Attack on Racism

July 31, 2020

Sir Alan Burns, Colour and Colour Prejudice with Particular Reference to the Relationship between Whites and Negroes (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd 1948).

I ordered this book secondhand online a week or so ago, following the Black Lives Matter protests and controversies over the past few weeks. I realise reading a book this old is a rather eccentric way of looking at contemporary racial issues, but I’d already come across it in the library there when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. What impressed me about it was that it also dealt with anti-White racism amongst Blacks as well as the book’s main concern with anti-Black racism, discrimination and growing Black discontent in the British Empire.

Burns was a former governor of Ghana, then the Gold Coast. According to the potted biography on the front flap of the dust jacket, he was ‘a Colonial Civil Servant of long and distinguished experience in tropical West Africa and the West Indies.’ The book

deals with the important question of colour prejudice, and pleads for mutual courtesy and consideration between the white and the coloured races. Sir Alan analyses the history and alleged causes of colour prejudice, and cites the opinions of many writers who condemn or attempt to justify the existence of prejudice. It is a frank analysis of an unpleasant phenomenon.

He was also the author of two other books, his memoirs of colonial service in the Leeward Islands Nigeria, Bahamas, British Honduras, the Gold Coast and the Colonial Office, Colonial Civil Servant, and A History of Nigeria. The Gold Coast was one of the most racial progressive of the British African colonies. It was the first of them to include an indigenous chief on the ruling colonial council. I therefore expected Burns to hold similar positive views of Blacks, given, of course, how outdated these would no doubt seem to us 72 years later.

After the introduction, the book is divided into the following chapters:

I. The Existence and Growth of Colour Prejudice

II. The Attitude of Various Peoples to Racial and Colour Differences

III. Negro Resentment of Colour Prejudice

IV. Political and Legal Discrimination Against Negroes

V. Social Discrimination Against Negroes

VI. Alleged Inferiority of the Negro

VII. Alleged Shortcomings of the Negro

VIII. Physical and Mental Differences between the Races

IX. Physical Repulsion between Races

X. Miscegenation

XI. The Effect of Environment and History on the Negro Race

XII. Lack of Unity and Inferiority Complex Among Negroes

XIII. Conclusion.

I’ve done little more than take the occasional glance through it so far, so this is really a rather superficial treatment of  the book, more in the way of preliminary remarks than a full-scale review. Burns does indeed take a more positive view of Blacks and their potential for improvement, but the book is very dated and obviously strongly influenced by his own background in the colonial service and government. As a member of the colonial governing class, Burns is impressed by the British Empire and what he sees as its benevolent and highly beneficial rule of the world’s indigenous peoples. He is in no doubt that they have benefited from British rule, and quotes an American author as saying that there is no other colonial power which would have done so for its subject peoples. He is particularly impressed by the system of indirect rule, in which practical government was largely given over to the colonies’ indigenous ruling elites. This was peaceful, harmonious and had benefited the uneducated masses of the Empire’s indigenous peoples. These colonial subjects appreciated British rule and largely supported it. He did not expect this section of colonial society to demand their nations’ independence. However, this governmental strategy did not suit the growing class of educated Blacks, who were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their treatment as inferiors and demanding independence.

As with other, later books on racism Burns tackles its history and tries to trace how far back it goes. He argues that racism seems to go back no further than the Fifteenth century. Before then, culture and religion were far more important in defining identity.  He’s not entirely convinced by this, and believes that racism in the sense of colour prejudice probably existed far earlier, but there is little evidence for it. There have been other explorations of this subject which have attempted to show the history and development of racism as a cultural idea in the west. Other historians have said much the same, and I think the consensus of opinion is that it was the establishment of slavery that led to the development of ideas of Black inferiority to justify their capture and enslavement.

Burns is also concerned at what he and the other authorities he quotes as the growth in anti-Black racism that came following the First World War. He compares this unfavourably with a comment from an African lady, who went to a British school during Victoria’s reign. The women recalls that she and the other Black girls were treated absolutely no differently from the Whites, and that the only time she realised there was any difference between them was when she looked in a mirror. This is interesting, and a good corrective to the idea that all Whites were uniformly and aggressively racist back then, but I expect her experience may have been very different from Blacks further down the social hierarchy. Burns believes the increase in racism after the First World War was due to the increased contact between Blacks and Whites, which is probably true following the mass mobilisation of troops across the Empire.

But what I found as an historian with an interest in African and other global civilisations is the book’s almost wholly negative assessment of Black civilisation and its achievements. Burns quotes author after author, who states that Blacks have produced no great civilisations or cultural achievements. Yes, ancient Egypt is geographically a part of Africa, but culturally and racially, so it is claimed, it is part of the Middle East. Where Black Africans have produced great civilisations, it is through contact with external, superior cultures like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Arabs. Where Blacks have produced great artistic achievements, such as in the Benin bronzes of the 16th/17th century, it is claimed that this is due to contact with the Portuguese and Spanish. This negative view is held even by writers, who are concerned to stress Black value and dignity, and show that Blacks are not only capable of improvement, but actually doing so.

Since then a series of historians, archaeologists and art historians have attempted to redress this view of history by showing how impressive Black African civilisations were. Civilisations like ancient Nubia, Ethiopia, Mali and the other great Islamic states of north Africa, and advanced west African civilisations like Dahomey. I myself prefer the superb portraiture in the sculptures from 17th century Ife in west Africa, but archaeologists and historians have been immensely impressed by the carved heads from Nok in Nigeria, which date from about 2,000 BC. Going further south, there is the great fortress of Zimbabwe, a huge stone structure that bewildered western archaeologists. For years it was suggested that Black Africans simply couldn’t have built it, and that it must have been the Arabs or Chinese instead. In fact analysis of the methods used to build it and comparison with the same techniques used by local tribes in the construction of their wooden buildings have shown that the fortress was most definitely built by indigenous Zimbabweans. There have been a number of excellent TV series broadcast recently. Aminatta Forna presented one a few years ago now on Timbuktu, once the centre of a flourishing and immensely wealthy west African kingdom. A few years before, art historian Gus Casely-Hayford presented a series on BBC Four, Lost Civilisations of Africa. I think that’s still on YouTube, and it’s definitely worth a look. Archaeologists are revealing an entire history of urban civilisation that has previously been lost or overlooked. Nearly two decades or so ago there was a piece by a White archaeologist teaching in Nigeria, who had discovered the remains of house and courtyard walls stretching over an area of about 70 km. This had been lost as the site had been abandoned and overgrown with vegetation. He lamented how there was little interest in the remains of this immense, ancient city among Nigerians, who were far more interested in ancient Egypt.

This neglect and disparagement of African history and achievement really does explain the fervour with which Afrocentric history is held by some Blacks and anti-racist Whites. This is a view that claims that the ancient Egyptians were Black, and the real creators of the western cultural achievement. It began with the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop. White Afrocentrists have included Martin Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Basil Davidson. Following the Black Lives Matter protests there have also been calls for Black history to be taught in schools, beginning with African civilisations.

More positively, from what I’ve seen so far, Burns did believe that Blacks and Whites were equal in intelligence. The Christian missionaries Samuel Crowther, who became the first Anglican bishop of Africa, and Frederick Schon, had absolutely no doubt. Crowther was Black, while Schon was a White Swiss. In one of their reports to the British parliamentary committee sitting to examine slavery and the slave trade, they presented evidence from the African missionary schools in the form of essays from their pupils to show that Blacks certainly were as capable as Whites. Possibly more so at a certain age. As Black underachievement at school is still a very pressing issue, Crowther’s and Schon’s findings are still very important. Especially as there are real racists, supporters of the book The Bell Curve, keen to argue that Blacks really are biologically mentally inferior to Whites.

Burns’ book is fascinating, not least because it shows the development of official attitudes towards combating racism in Britain. Before it became such a pressing issue with the mass influx of Black migrants that came with Windrush, it seems that official concern was mostly over the growing resentment in Africa and elsewhere with White, British rule. The book also hopefully shows how we’ve also come in tackling racism in the West. I’m not complacent about it – I realise that it’s still very present and blighting lives – but it’s far, far less respectable now than it was when I was a child in the 1970s. My concern, however, is that some anti-racism activists really don’t realise this and their concentration on the horrors and crimes of the past has led them to see the present in its terms. Hence the rant of one of the BLM firebrands in Oxford that the police were the equivalent of the Klan.

Burn’s book shows just how much progress has been made on, and makes you understand just what an uphill struggle this has been.

 

 

Vox Political on John Whittingdale’s Attack on the Beeb’s Independence

May 12, 2016

John Whittingdale, the Tory perv and walking security risk currently in charge of spearheading the government’s campaign to privatise the Beeb, has finally released his White Paper on the subject. Among his proposals are recommendations that the BBC Trust should be dissolved and replace with a unitary board. This would have members directly appointed by the government, though he tries to reassure critics that most of the board would still be appointed by the Beeb itself. He also wants a new mission statement to be launched by the Corporation, expressing its goals “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.” He also wants it to be “required to give greater focus to under-served audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and those in the nations and regions”.

Mike here points out what a mass of contradictions the Paper is, as well as its highly patronising tone to the great British public. Mike says

John Whittingdale must think we’re all too stupid to see the contradiction in terms he has written into his White Paper on the BBC.

He reckons the BBC needs a new mission statement: “”To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

But he also wants to dissolve the BBC Trust, replacing it with a new unitary board including some members appointed by the government – so that’s impartiality out of the window before his new version of the Beeb even gets going.

Some might say the BBC is already biased towards the Tories – we only have to look at the protests against arch-Tory Laura Kuenssberg in her role as political editor at BBC News – but this would instill that bias at an institutional level.

Mike also points out that Whittingdale’s demands for it to give greater service to Blacks and ethnic minorities risk turning the Beeb into a service aimed primarily at catering for minority communities. In Mike’s view, this is better left to the commercial companies.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/12/an-impartial-bbc-not-if-tories-get-to-choose-who-runs-it/ Go and read it for more information.

Mike is absolutely right that even having some of the new unitary board appointed by the government would result in a loss of the Beeb’s independence. This has happened on the continent. Sarkozy in France used the government’s control over funding for the state broadcaster to get genuine well-respected French news anchors sacked for daring to criticise him. Berlusconi in Italy used the government’s control of the state broadcaster to pull a late night satirical programme, Rayot, from Ray, the name of the channel, off the air because it dared to spoof him. The writer, Sabina Guzzanti, who used to play Berlo himself in her sketches, later made a film about the affair, Viva Zapatero!
This takes its title from the name of the Spanish president, who ended his government’s power to appoint the head of the state broadcaster, thus making it independent of government control.

Now Whittingdale is trying to do the opposite, and thus join Sarkozy and Berlusconi in trying to make television and the media generally the mouthpiece for their official propaganda.

As for the Beeb catering more to BAME audiences, the Corporation has tried to do that through radio stations set up specifically to serve different ethnic minorities. One of these was the Asian Network, for which the Beeb has been running trailers a couple of weeks ago. I think there’s also another radio station for Blacks. I seem to recall there also being adverts for this station being run about 12 years ago. It was also specifically part of the remit of Channel 4, when that station was set up as a public service broadcaster. And Channel 4 did broadcast much material aimed at Black and Asian audiences. Apart from the Indian films on ‘All-India Goldies’, they also broadcast a history of the world, which was designed to put European history in its place as the history of just part of our planet, and give equal space to events elsewhere around the globe. There was a history of Africa, presented by Basil Davidson. Davidson’s White, but he’s an Afrocentric historian, who believes that the major cultural developments supposedly pioneered by ancient Greece and Rome were actually taken from Black African civilisations. It’s the same view as Martin Bernal in his immensely influential book, Black Athena. A couple of years later, the BBC also produced a series on African history, presented by a Black Muslim historian, Dr Ali Mazrui.

Between them the Beeb and Channel 4 have also nurtured much Black and Asian talent, like Lenny Henry, the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, which first appeared on radio as The Secret Asians, Felix Dexter, Stephen K. Amos, who now has a weekly show about his own life growing up late night on Radio 4. Saturday tea-time on Channel 4 there was also a comedy programme set in a Black London barber shop, which was on just before the awesome Max Headroom. Many of the performers in these shows managed to make the crossover into more mainstream programming. Mira Syal has appeared in many different programmes over the years, including a soap with the Bog-Eyed Brummie Git, Jasper Carrot. Nina Wadia was in Chambers, a comedy set in a firm of lawyers, with one of the Long Johns. And Sanjeev Bhaskar has also gone to a variety of other shows, not least the Kumars at No. 42, which has spawned various versions across the world. The American version is called The Ortegas, and is about an Hispanic family. And Lenny Henry really needs no introduction.

I’m not saying the Beeb’s record in this is perfect. There is still much controversy about the lack of performers and directors from ethnic minorities in television. For example, a year or so ago a number of celebrities gave their support to a campaign for greater representation for Black and Asians on television. Those joining the campaign included Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig. I am merely trying to point out that the Beeb has made some effort in this direction.

Mike also points out that TV favourites like Strictly Come Dancing and Dr Who also have a very wide appeal, including minorities. Indeed they have. What struck me about the new Dr Who when it was revived by Russell T. Davies was the increased presence of Black and Asian characters. What made the news was Davies determination to include gay characters, like Captain Jack, but Davies was also very obviously keen to make the series more representative of British society. And so Rose Tyler’s boyfriend, Mickey, last seen fighting the Cybermen in a parallel dimension, was Black. As was another of the Doctor’s companions, a lady doctor. And the various future worlds and planets to which the Doctor has travelled have also been very multicultural. Or at least, they are if their inhabitants are humanoid. There are, for example, Black Timelords, while the besieged human mission attacked by the forces of darkness in the episodes ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ included Blacks and Asians.

I got the distinct idea that it’s this type of representation – more Black and Asian faces on mainstream programmes – that anti-racist campaigners are keen to promote, rather than separate broadcasting ghettoes. A few years ago Private Eye ran a few pieces noting that the BBC Asian network was having trouble recruiting talent for precisely this reason. The aspiring British Asian stars and directors of tomorrow wanted to go into mainstream broadcasting, rather than confine themselves simply to their own communities. Of course, Whittingdale would like the Beeb to become mainly a broadcaster for minority interests, as it would leave the field free for the big corporations the Tories represent to move in on the mainstream audiences the Corporation has vacated. The Eye has also satirised that attitude in this fortnight’s addition, in which it has Murdoch’s papers whining about how the BBC is terribly unfair for producing genuinely popular programmes, and thus discriminating against all the rubbish produced by Murdoch’s and the other commercial broadcasters.

Vox Political: Mirror Reports Farage Stating Wants to Privatise the NHS

November 13, 2014

Another piece from Mike that definitely needs repeating. Farage has been campaigning for the Rochester and Strood election stating that he is opposed to the privatisation of the NHS. The Mirror, on the other hand, shows how Farage two years ago stated that he would feel much more comfortable replacing it with the American, insurance-led system. The article’s entitled Farage admits he’d replace NHS with US-style healthcare – Daily Mirror.

It begins

Nigel Farage has been caught on camera admitting he wants to replace the NHS with a US-style private insurance health system, according to the Daily Mirror, which states:

The Ukip chief insists that he and his party are against privatising the health service and are fighting next week’s Rochester & Strood by-election promising to protect it.

But Mr Farage was left red-faced when footage of him saying he would feel more “comfortable” if Britain’s healthcare system was opened up to the “marketplace” emerged today.

Health unions and Labour MPs accused him of secretly plotting the end of the NHS.

Farage’s second in command, Paul Nuttall, has said exactly the same thing. And yet amazingly there are still working class voters who somehow think that the party of ‘Thatcherism on steroids’ actually cares about and represents them.

It doesn’t. And their attitude to the disabled, along with women, the unemployed, immigrants is equally disgusting. The monstrous and grotesque Godfrey Bloom in a debate with a young disabled student at the Oxford Union, asked him if he’d ever been mistaken for Richard III(!)

Three thousands years ago the ancient Egyptians thought it was impolite and immoral to mock the disabled. Along with sayings like

Manners, remember, will make people love you,
Rise for your elders and those set above you.

They also had this advice against sneering at people suffering from epilepsy or mental illness:

Do not jeer at one possessed by a god,
Nor laugh at him when he goes astray.

Afrocentrist historians like Basil Davidson and Bernal, the author of Black Athena, and Poe, the author of Black Spark, White Fire, believe that the ancient Egyptians were the founders of Western civilisation. It’s a controversial claim. What does seem to be clear is that they were a dam’ sight more civilised than Farage’s crew of right-wing loudmouths.

UKIP: Dragging Britain kicking and screaming back to the Bronze Age.