Posts Tagged ‘Black History’

History Debunked on Black Hero, Racist and Crook Marcus Garvey

October 7, 2021

Marcus Garvey is a towering figure in Black history, starting up one of the earliest Black rights organisations, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Black History Month was launched in Britain in October 1987 to mark the centenary of his birth. There are monuments, streets and parks to him in various towns in the UK and in New York. A few months ago a Black writer published a piece in the Radio Times calling for him to be taught in schools. History Debunked has marked Black History Month with a series of video showing that in reality, many of the heroes being commemorated are actually much less impressive. Garvey was very definitely one of these.

The video states that he was born in 1887 and apprenticed to a printer, but didn’t take to it, and spent some time instead travelling around Central America and Britain. He returned to his homeland, Jamaica, where in 1914 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, whose aims included inspiring Black brotherhood and the civilisation of the backward peoples of Africa. This ran into trouble, as many Jamaicans dislike the word ‘Negro’ as, in my experience, many West Indians still do. More seriously, he was suspected of using the association’s funds to support himself personally. So he moved to Harlem in New York where he set up his organisation there. This again was massively controversial. Garvey was a racial separatist who hated racial intermixing and Blacks, whose skins were lighter than he is. He became even more unpopular amongst Black New Yorkers by going off to meet the head of the Klan. They got on like a house on fire, as Garvey assured the White racist that they both had the same objective. He wanted Blacks to go back to Africa, while the Klan wanted a White America. But what really brought Garvey down was his attempt to found a Black shipping company, the Black O Line. He was prosecuted for fraud as he was caught selling shares in a ship that didn’t actually exist. Both the judge and the prosecution in the trial were Jewish, as were two members of the jury, or so he claimed. He then made an anti-Semitic rant which blamed the Jews as well as the White authorities for his prosecution. And there the video ends.

I think Webb has been rather selective in the video, choosing some of the worst episodes of Garvey’s career. I understood he was forced out of Jamaica by the authorities, who regarded him as a subversive. Not that it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t also unpopular there for the reasons Webb suggests. Webb does mention that in New York he invented various bizarre uniforms for himself and his followers. The image for the video shows Garvey in one of those uniforms, a hat which makes him look a bit like Napoleon. When I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of the boxes of items donated to the Museum contained pamphlets from Garvey’s organisation. And they were weird. One of them seemed to be for some kind of rally and listed a whole series of paramilitary ranks and organisations, such as head of the armoured division. It reminded me of the White British Fascists, who invented grandiose names and titles for themselves but have at most a handful of members. The type of people lampooned in the Jeeves and Wooster books in the shape of Spode and his Blackshorts, who seemed to be always going off to address the Eagle battalion in Minchinhampton. Garvey emigrated to Britain, and certainly wasn’t ashamed of the weird Fascist nature of his organisation. He said in an interview with a British magazine in 1938 that Hitler and Mussolini took everything from him. I don’t think they did, and you would have thought that by that time Garvey would have wanted to keep any similarity between his outfit and Fascism very quiet. But he didn’t.

He also seems to have fancied himself as the self-appointed leader and saviour of Africa. In New York he declared himself to be president of the continent, and he and his lieutenants were the government in exile. This was without any input from the African themselves. He carried on calling for himself to be made the Africans’ leader when he emigrated to England. He made repeated request to the Colonial Department to be made its head. The video doesn’t mention that. Nor does it mention that Garvey also joined the Conservative party after he moved here. As I think Webb himself is a Telegraph-reading Tory, I don’t think he wishes to remind people how Garvey entered the party.

A few months ago I drew this cartoon of Garvey to express what I consider to be real Fascist elements in BLM and some of the other, supposedly anti-racist movements. Here it is.

I don’t think he was ever a supporter of the Nazis, but the parallel between his organisation and White Fascism is so close that he is features in books on Fascism, including Mark Christian Thompson’s Black Fascisms (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

Garvey is an important figure in the history of Black Liberation. The Rastafarian religion grew out of his Negro Improvement Association. But it’s questionable whether he should be celebrated. I suspect there are far worthier figures waiting to be discovered and promoted, who people haven’t heard of.

No, Europeans Didn’t Introduce Ironworking to Africa during the Slave Trade

October 2, 2021

I have several times posted about and reposted some of the videos made by Simon Webb of the History Debunked channel. Those I’ve reposted are usually criticisms of Black Lives Matter or falsehoods repeated as truth in Black history. I’ve said that Webb should be taken with caution as he’s a Telegraph-reading Tory. Where he quotes historical and mainstream scientific texts, I think he’s correct. But occasionally he comes up with falsehoods of his own which show he needs checking. Yesterday he put up a video on the transatlantic slave trade and how it benefited west Africa. Now he’s right that the slave trade did bring some benefits to west Africa. The African states who supplied the European slave merchants, Dahomey and Whydah, for example, grew extremely rich. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey had an income of £300,000 a year, and the abominable trade plugged Africa into the wider global economy. According to mainstream academic historians, it introduced modern commercial methods into Africa and allowed capital accumulation.

But Webb seems instead to make a very curious claim. Noting that the Black African professionals people may meet tend to be Nigerian or west African, Webb says in this video that its because Europeans brought iron working and civilisation to Africa. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Webb claims, most buildings were made of mud. Bronze was used for decoration – I assume here he’s talking about the Benin bronzes, sculptured heads what were produced as shrines to the king’s spirit. But iron was unknown. This is bizarre, as it’s very much not the view of conventional historians and archaeologists.

I looked in Colin McEvedy’s The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) to see when sub-Saharan African entered the Iron Age. He notes on page 30 that iron-working communities emerged around Nok in what is now Nigeria c. 202 BC. Iron-working also existed in Nubia by AD 200. C. 200 AD is started reaching the rest of Africa as the Bantu peoples expanded east and south, pp. 34, 36. I don’t actually know why Webb should think that they only developed iron working with the slave trade. I think it perhaps comes from the fact that Europeans did trade iron bars for slaves. These were made into objects called manilas, shaped like bracelets. A few of them are on display in the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed. Webb has said that metallurgical analysis has shown that some west African artefacts now at the centre of demands for repatriation, were ironically made using metals that could only have been introduced by European traders. I’ve no doubt this is true, but it doesn’t contradict the fact that Africans were perfectly capable of producing iron for themselves. It may just indicate that Africans were willing to import European iron because it may have been cheaper, better or more easily accessible than that domestically produced. Just a Britain now imports cars despite having a domestic car industry.

HIs claim that Africans also built in mud is also questionable. They certainly did in west and other parts of Africa, so that it’s largely true. The city of Whydah was built of wood, and the Dahomeyans certainly used mud brick to build their towns. But the Islamic states of the Sahara, including Nubia, built in stone. And the Swahili were using coral blocks to construct their cities from the 9th century onwards, roughly as the same time when the ancestors of the Shona built the fortress of Zimbabwe.

This seems to come from Webb’s view that Africa didn’t produce any real civilisations. This was very much the view of 19th and early 20th century historians. On the other hand, one commander of the West African Squadron, Captain Denman, testified to parliament that the mass murder of slaves by one of the African cultures was remarkable, given that the people there had made such progress in the arts of civilisation. Which shows that at that time in the 19th century, not all Europeans thought Africans were uncivilised savages.

I think its undoubtedly true that Europeans introduced modern science and technology to Africa during colonialism, even if this was to exploit the countries and their peoples. They also benefited from the introduction of modern education and literacy, when it was available. If Nigerians are more prevalent among Black African professionals in Britain, it may well be due to a number of factors that have little to do with the slave trade. It may simply be that Nigeria is a richer country than many other African nations, and so has a larger middle class able to afford an education. It also possesses its own university, though I don’t know if it has a medical faculty. It is certainly more populous than some African countries, with a population of about 100 million. It may also have stronger ties with the west and particularly Britain, so that it’s people go here rather than to France or Portugal, the other African colonial powers.

It is therefore far more likely to be due to the education, science and technology introduced to Nigeria and west Africa during colonialism, and the enduring ties with Britain forged during this period, that have led so many west Africans to migrate here rather than the slave trade. Which certainly did not, in any case, usher in the Iron Age in Africa.

History Debunked Demolishes The Black Curriculum

September 9, 2020

This is another fascinating and well-argued video by Simon Webb of History Debunked. This time he takes aim at The Black Curriculum, the group behind the demands that the teaching of Black History should not just be for a month, but all through the year.

Black History Not Inclusive, Solely for Black Minority

Webb starts his video by stating that, demographically, only three per cent of this country’s population are African or Caribbean. This is a problem for those groups desperate to show that Blacks have made a major contribution to British society. There are other, larger ethnic groups. Indians comprise 8 per cent, and we could also reasonably ask why there also shouldn’t be an Asian history month, or Chinese, Polish or Irish. But the demand is specifically for history that concentrates exclusively on Blacks. He returns to the same point at the end of the video.

The Black Curriculum

He then moves on to Black Curriculum group themselves, who have been favourably mentioned by the Beeb, the Groaniad and other newspapers. Their website, to which he provides a link, contains template letters for people to use to send to government ministers. They also produce educational videos which they distribute free. One of these is about Mary Seacole, the Afro-Caribbean who supposedly nursed British squaddies during the Crimean War, and whom Black activists have claimed was a rival to Florence Nightingale. Webb describes it with the Russian term disinformazia, which means deceitful propaganda. He wonders whether this is a bit a harsh, as they might actually believe it. The Black Curriculum also runs workshops for schools and want to have their video widely adopted. He then proceeds to demolish their video on Seacole.

Lies and Bad History in Seacole Video

It starts by claiming that she came to England to nurse British soldiers because she’d heard that conditions were so bad. Not true. She came to England, leaving her restaurant in Panama, because she’d invested in mines in Grenada, and wanted to know why her shares weren’t doing well. She felt they should have been sold on the British stock exchange. It goes on to claim that she applied to be a nurse, but her application was refused. Wrong again. Those applying to be nurses had to send a written application accompanied by references. She didn’t do that, but lobbied one or two people but never made a formal application. It also claims that she opened a hotel for sick and wounded officers. But it was simply a bar and restaurant. There was no accommodation there at all. He backs this up with a contemporary picture of the ‘hospital’, which shows exactly that it wasn’t one.

He notes that there are other problems with the video, but says that these will do for now, though he might say more in a later video about it and The Black Curriculum. He offers two explanations why they made a video as terrible as this. The first is that they knew nothing about Mary Seacole, and hadn’t read her autobiography. The other possibility is that whoever made the video knew the facts, and set out deliberately to deceive adults and children, which is quite malicious. Someone like that – either ignorant or malicious – should definitely not be in charge of what is taught in the curriculum.

Important Mainstream Subjects that Might Have to Be Dropped to Make Room for the Black Curriculum

Webb also wonders how the issues demanded by the Black Curriculum could be fitted into the present curriculum, as it is packed as it is. There is already enough struggle fitting the present material in. He looks at some of the material the Black Curriculum is already putting forward, and what important subjects in history might have to be dumped to make room for it. This, Webb suggests, might be the Magna Carta, or the Bill of Rights, or perhaps the Holocaust. He then looks at the modules The Black Curriculum suggest on their website. This is material aimed at 7-8 year olds, in other words, kids at Key Stage 2. It’s a time when children are learning basic literacy, arithmetic, science, art and PE. It’s very intensive and there’s a lot of work there. Well, reading and writing might have to be cut back to make room for ‘Collectivism and Solidarity’. A few maths lessons could be dropped in favour of ‘Cultural Resistance’ and ‘Food Inequality’. Science is obviously not as important to children as ‘Activism’, ‘Colonialism’ or ‘Systemic Racism’. He describes this proposed curriculum as ‘largely agitprop’. It’s political propaganda.

He then sums up the problems of the Black Curriculum. There are three.

  1. It’s concerned mainly with Black people. If it was geared to broaden the cultural understanding of the average child he might be in favour of it. He states that he homeschooled his daughter, and as result they visited various different cultures. These included a Black evangelical church, a mosque, synagogue, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara. If the proposed syllabus included these as well, he might be in favour of it. But it is not.
  2. It seems prepared by the ignorant or malicious. And that’s an insurmountable object to adopting material of this kind.
  3. And if you’re considering cutting material from the national curriculum, then as many groups as possible should be consulted. Like Indians and Bengalis, Chinese, the Jewish community, which has a long history in this country. If you want to broaden the cultural horizons of British children, which is a noble enough enterprise, it shouldn’t be restricted to just three per cent of the population. It needs to be much broader entirely.

Here’s the video.

Now it’s clear that Webb is a man of the right, but I think he makes valid points, and his remark about trying to broaden children’s horizon is both fair and shows he’s not a racist.

I admit I found myself reacting against the demand to have Black African civilisations taught as part of the national curriculum. It undoubtedly would benefit Black children, or at least, those of African descent. David Garmston interviewed several Black schoolchildren about it in an item in the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West. One of them was an African lad, Suhaim, who said he had had very low self-esteem and felt suicidal. But this was raising his spirits. You can’t want anyone, of whatever race or culture, to suffer like that. I’ve been interested in African history and its civilisations since studying the continent as part of the ‘A’ level Geography course, at which I got spectacularly bad marks. It’s a fascinating continent, and I encourage anyone to learn about it. But I think I objected to the proposal because it seems that what should be a voluntary pleasure and a joy was being foisted on British schoolchildren for the benefit of foreigners or a minority of people, who find it unable to assimilate and identify with the host culture. I know how unpleasant this sounds, but this is how I feel. I also think that activism like this creates more division, by presenting Blacks as an ‘other’ with a completely different history and culture, who need to be treated specially and differently from Whites and other ethnic groups.

Black people have contributed to British, American and European civilisation and not just through slavery and the riches they produced for planters and industrialists. But until the late 19th century, the continent of Africa was effectively closed to westerners through a mixture of the tropical diseases around the malaria-infested swamps of the coast and strong African states that kept European traders confined to ghettos. Hence Europe and Africa have little shared history until the European conquests of the 1870s, except in some areas like the slave forts of the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, founded in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. Liberia was also founded as such a colony, but by the Americans.

Webb’s description of the overall syllabus proposed by The Black Curriculum as disinformazia and agitprop is also fair. It looks like propaganda and political indoctrination, and that’s dangerous. I realise that I should agree with its hidden curriculum of anti-colonial resistance, solidarity and exposure of food inequality, but I really can’t. I believe that teachers have to be balanced and objective as far as possible. This is what is demanded by law. I don’t want children indoctrinated with Tory rubbish about how Britain never did anything wrong and the British Empire was wonderful. Far from it. Topics like those recommended by the Black Curriculum are fine for universities, which should be centres of debate where students are exposed to different views. But it’s not suitable for schools. Our mother was a teacher in a junior school here in Bristol She states that teachers are required to keep their personal opinions out of what they teach their students. If this in unavoidable, such as if a child asks them what they personally believe, then they have to reply that it is just their personal belief, not objective fact.

The Black Curriculum, therefore, certainly does seem to be peddling mendacious pseudo-history and should not be allowed near schools. But I fear there will be so much pressure from well-meaning activists to include them, that they will have their way.

Handbook of Disability History in Latest Oxbow Book Catalogue

March 31, 2019

I got the latest issue of Oxbow Book News, for Spring 2019, through the post the other day. Oxbow are specialist booksellers and publishers for archaeology and history. The Book News is really a catalogue of what they have in stock. And in the latest issue was The Oxford Handbook of Disability History, edited by Michael Rembis, Catherine J. Kudlick and Kim Nielsen (Oxford: OUP 2018). The blurb for it in the catalogue runs

Disability history exists outside of the institutions, healers, and treatments it often brings to mind. It is a history where the disabled live not just as patients or cure-seekers, but rather as people living differently in the world. The Oxford Handbook of Disability History is the first volume of its kind to represent this history and its global scale, from ancient Greece to British West Africa. The twenty-seven articles, written by thirty experts from across the field, capture the diversity and liveliness of this emerging scholarship.

Unfortunately, this book is going to be well beyond most people’s pockets. It’s hardback, and the listed price is £97.00, which means that it’s only really going to be affordable to the very affluent. On the other hand, you might be able to order it from your local library, assuming that the Tories haven’t shut it down already.

What is interesting is what its publication on its own says about this as an emerging area of scholarship. It says that the history of disabled people themselves is coming to be recognised as a field of historical research and endeavour by itself, alongside other disciplines in social history like Black, women’s, and gender history. It’s possible that this is part of a change in general cultural attitudes towards the disabled, in the way that the Black civil rights and feminist movements directly caused the emergence of Black and women’s history. Unfortunately, despite this apparent change in academic attitudes, popular attitude towards people with disabilities still has some way to go. We still have the Tories closing down services for disabled people in the name of austerity, efficiency and all the hypocritical cant about concentrating resources where they’re really needed. And we still have the wretched Tory press and media demonising them as welfare scroungers. A week or so ago Zelo Street put up a post about the Spectator’s Rod Liddle attacking people with ME as malingerers, who didn’t have a real illness. To which the answer is, no, Rod, it is, they are, and you’re a soulless Murdoch hack. This wasn’t the first time he’s taken a swipe at the disabled either. A few years ago he wrote a piece about how he’d like to get a disability, that would allow him to get off work without really being disabled. Once again, he went for ME and fibromyalgia. I’ve known people with ME. They’re not malingerers, and it’s a real illness which leaves them wiped out through chronic fatigue. And it’s a long time since doctors seriously doubted whether it really existed. I think that stopped with the end of the 1980s. But obviously not in Liddle’s squalid excuse for a mind. And if you need convincing that fibromyalgia is a real disease, go over to Mike’s blog and look up some of the posts, where he mentions the suffering it’s caused Mrs. Mike. This is real, genuine pain, and definitely not imaginary. Unlike Liddle’s pretensions to objective journalism.

This looks like it could be a very interesting volume. It’s too bad it’s price puts it beyond the reach of most of us. Hopefully this will lead to further scholarship, some of which will be aimed at a less restricted audience beyond academia, and will be at a more affordable price. And I hope some of it is also taken up by activists, who use it to challenge the assumptions of Liddle and the rest of the close-minded bigots in the right-wing press and Tory party.

Another Angry Voice on the Privatisation of the Blood Service

July 19, 2013

The Angry Yorkshireman has more on the sale of the NHS blood plasma service to US private Equity firm, Bain. As with everything the Angry One writes, it’s well worth reading. It begins

On July 18th 2013 another part of the NHS was flogged off to the private sector with barely a whisper from the mainstream press. The lucky recipient of Plasma Resources UK was Bain Capital, a gigantic US based private equity fund that should be familiar to anyone that paid attention to the US presidential election in 2012.

The Republican candidate Mitt Romney was repeatedly slammed for his involvement in Bain Capital, because of their appalling record of hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts (borrowing vast sums in order to buy a company, then lumbering the company itself with the debt used to fund their own buyout), asset stripping, tax-dodging and exportation of American jobs to China.

Plasma Resources UK is responsible for the vital supply of blood plasma to the NHS and all of their blood products are made from blood donations that are given for free, by the public. Bain Capital have now inserted themselves into the “blood market” and will use these charitable donations of blood in order to turn a profit for themselves. I’m fairly sure you don’t have to be as left-wing as me to be appalled at the idea of a ruthless US based financial behemoth cashing in on charitable blood donations in order to turn themselves a profit.

What is interesting here is the details about just how ruthless and amoral Bain is, and it’s connection to the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. It just seems to corroborate the Republicans’ and British Conservatives’ preference for the most immoral business partners.

AAV’s full story can be read here:

http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/blood-plasma-bain-nhs-privatisation.html

On a side issue, the use of plasma in blood transfusions is an interesting area of Black History. It was pioneered during the Second World War by a Black American doctor, who came over to Britain. It’s one of the scientific and engineering discoveries by Black people catalogued in the Book, Black Pioneers of Science and Invention, if I remember the title correctly.