Posts Tagged ‘City Museum’

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

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Vox Political: Letter from Jewish Members and Supporters of Momentum Attacking Smears against Jackie Walker

October 5, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a post from Mike over at Vox Political, which reported that Greater Manchester Black and Minority Ethnic Caucus had released a statement supporting Jackie Walker and condemning her dismissal by the steering committee from the post of Vice-Chair of Momentum. I am pleased to say that Mike has put up another piece today, reporting that another group of Mrs Walker’s supporters have also publicly shown their backing for her. A group of Jewish supporters and members of Momentum have had a letter published in the Groaniad, refuting the latest allegations of anti-Semitism against her.

This makes it clear that they believe Mrs Walker was right to reject the definition of anti-Semitism used by the organisers of the Holocaust Memorial Day training event. Despite their assertion that this is the standard definition of anti-Semitism, it is no such thing, as it was scrapped by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency because it also considered criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic.

The letter also queries why her own question why the genocides of other peoples can’t also be included in Holocaust Memorial Day is also anti-Semitic. They state that it has always been a principle of the Zionists that the Holocaust was unique to the Jews, and quote the professor of Holocaust Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Yehuda Bauer, that the Nazis intended to exterminate only the Jews.

The letter concludes

Jackie’s arguments were made in good faith. They may be right or they may be wrong. What they are not is antisemitic. The decision of Momentum’s steering committee and its chair Jon Lansman to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair is a betrayal of the trust of thousands of Momentum members. Momentum’s grassroots members overwhelmingly support Jackie.

The letter is signed by a mixture of academics and ordinary people. They include two professors and several doctors. Looking down the names I recognised some as people, who have commented on Mike’s blog giving him their support after he attacked the anti-Semitism smears aimed at Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters.

Mike notes in his comments on the letter that David Schneider, whose definition of anti-Semitism he used to dismiss the accusation against Mrs Walker, has stated that individually her statement aren’t anti-Semitic. However, he feels they are taken collectively. Mike remarks that while Mr Schneider deserves credit for his hilariously funny Twitter account, he is only one voice and there are many others, who disagree. Like the signatories of this letter.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/05/jackie-walker-ruling-betrays-momentum-members-letters-the-guardian/

Proper Discussion of Jews and the Slave Trade Not Anti-Semitic

Mike’s right. Both the signatories of the letter, and Jackie Walker herself, have an excellent knowledge of the Holocaust and Jewish history, including their participation in the slave trade as one of the European slaving empires’ many junior partners. She has been accused of taking her remarks on Jewish responsibility for the slave trade from Louis Farrakhan, who has been justly attacked for anti-Semitism. Mike has commented that he’s seen no proof she has, and frankly, neither have I. Yesterday Mike put up a piece about Mrs Walker’s own defence and explanation of her remarks on Jewish participation in the slave trade. Mrs Walker cited both respected sources on the slave trade and the history of imperialism. She also made it plain that she when she talked about the participation of some Jews in the slave trade, she was speaking herself as a Jew. This is very far from the attitude of the genuine anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan and White Nazis, who make Jews solely responsible for the slave trade.

Hugh Thomas also mentions two Jewish slavers in his classic The Slave Trade, which examines the transatlantic slave trade from its origins in the late 15th century to its end in the late 19th. He also notes, contra the genuine anti-Semites, that they were the only two in Anglophone North America. My point here is that Mrs Walker has not said anything that other historians of the slave trade have not also said, as is evident from her own statement. And they, like her, are also not afraid of discussing the subject, because the real historical fact is that while some Jews participated in the slave trade, they were not the only or even the main participants. Thus, the genuine historians aren’t afraid to discuss the role some Jews played in the slave trade, as history itself shows the falsity of the claims made by the anti-Semites.

Slave Trade Increasingly Acknowledged in Official History of Other Communities

Over the past couple of decades, there has been a movement to make those peoples and communities that were involved in the slave trade be more open about their involvement, commemorate its victims, and memorialise it as part of their official, public history. Liverpool has a gallery on the slave trade in its Museum. So too has Bristol in the M Shed museum on the city’s harbourside. And back in the 1990s the City Museum and Art Gallery hosted an exhibition, A Respectable Trade, which narrated the history of the City’s involvement in the slave trade. This was staged at the same time as a TV drama of the same and on the same subject, adapted from a book by Philippa Gregory, was also being screened on the Beeb on Sunday evenings. Bristol and Liverpool were two of the three major cities that profited from the trade, the third being London. I’ve also spoken to artists researching the slave trade, who told me that they were also given generous assistance by the museums of many of the smaller towns, which were only in the trade for a few years or so before being forced out by the major profiteers.

And it isn’t only in Britain that towns involved in the trade are confronting their past. Nantes in France was also a major centre of the French slave trade. This town has also put on its own exhibition on its part in the history of the trade, called L’Annees du Memoir. This is a clever pun. If I understand properly, l’annee can means ‘year’, and also ‘link’, referring to those of the chains which bound the slaves. It seems to me that that if Jackie Walker, as a Jew, is discussing the role of her people in the slave trade, then she is being no more biased or hostile against her people, than other people are communities are in confronting, debating and memorialising their involvement in this horrific trade.

The Holocaust and Similar Genocides

As for Yehuda Bauer’s statement that the Jews were the only people Hitler intended to exterminate, this isn’t quite the case. The Nazis also targeted the Gypsies as well, and historians have also shown that before Hitler began the genocide of the Jews, he tried out the technology on the disabled during the infamous Aktion T4 ‘euthanasia’ campaign. There is also a link to previous 20th century genocides. Hitler was persuaded that he could murder the Jews with impunity because of the failure of the Allies to react to defend the Armenians when they were slaughtered by the Ottoman Turks. Furthermore, in 1905 the German Empire had attempted to exterminate an African people, the Herero, when they rose up against German imperial authority in Africa. I’ve read that the German imperial authorities attempted to justify their genocide of this people with the social Darwinism later used to justify the Holocaust and the enforced sterilisation of the disabled. I’ve also seen it claimed that some of the personnel involved were also the same. I can’t comment on whether these claims are right or wrong, as I don’t know much about the genocide. This undoubtedly did happen, but I’ve only ever seen claims about a direct connection to the Holocaust made by the right. It might be true, or it might be rubbish, like the claim by one Conservative that the First World War was also caused by the Germans holding social Darwinism as an official policy, which is rubbish.

And I was taught at school that as well as six million Jews, about five and a half million other people, of various nationalities and political and religious beliefs perished in the concentration camps. These included prisoners from the Slavonic peoples of eastern Europe, who were worked to death as slave labourers. They may not have been targeted for absolute extermination, like the Jews and Gypsies, but they were seen, like those two peoples, as untermenschen, ‘subhumans’, who lives were less than ‘aryans’. You can come across some truly horrific accounts of Nazi massacres of gentile Poles during the occupation of Poland, for example. One BBC programme on this described how a Nazi thug tore a baby from its mother’s arms and, after trying to beat the little mite to death, finally shot it. Whole Polish towns were torn down and their inhabitants forced out in order to prepare that part of Poland for German colonisation, and the Nazis also massacred an entire village, Lidice, in Czechoslovakia. The Holocaust was part of a general programme of mass murder across occupied Europe. This does not detract from the horrific nature of the Holocaust, as they were specifically targeted for extermination in a way that many others weren’t. But that does not mean that the Jews were the only victims. Indeed, it’s in Hitler’s Table Talk where the Fuhrer makes a point about Nazi policy being to stop the Slavs from breeding too much by saying that they should send them contraceptives.

Jackie Walker and Others Smeared as Anti-Semites by Israel Lobby

I’ve stated before that Jackie Walker and the others, who’ve been smeared as anti-Semites, are no such thing. Walker’s only crime, in the eyes of the organisers, was to be a critic of Israel. As were so many of the others. She has been accused through the cynical misrepresentation of an discussion she was having about a complex topic on Facebook with people, who knew exactly what she was talking about, and the context in which they were made. This is the Israel lobby trying to stifle entirely reasonable debate about the nature of genocide and the uniqueness of the Holocaust, to further their own imperialism and persecution of the Palestinians. Free speech, honest debate, and a genuinely open questioning of the past is too precious to allow these bullies to win. I look forward hopefully to seeing more messages of support for Jackie Walker and the other victims of these disgraceful slurs in the future. I hope that Momentum’s steering committee will reconsider their decision, and reinstate her as vice-chair.