Posts Tagged ‘Dickens’

Are British Schools Really Teaching Children that Medieval British Rulers Were Black?

February 9, 2022

A day or so ago Simon Webb of History Debunked put up a video discussing the book, Negro Rulers of Medieval Scotland and England, by a Black American writer, Johnson. This claims that various British monarchs in the Middle Ages and early modern periods were really Black, including James I. He believed that this was a product of the prevalence of conspiracy theories in Black American and also Dutch Muslim culture. Conspiracy theories aren’t unique to either of these peoples. He stated that they were the reaction of people, who believe they are powerless. This seems to me to be about right, especially as they are most common in peoples where there is a strong distrust of the government. Black Americans generally suffer more from poverty, crime, unemployment, drugs and alienation than other demographic groups, and have been subject to overt oppression and exploitation. It’s therefore almost to be expected that conspiracy theories should be far more widespread amongst them than in the White population. Way back in the ’90s folklorists documented various rumours and urban legends in the Black community. Some of these erroneously claimed that named fashion designers and clothing firms wouldn’t market their brands to Black. Another was that Coca-Cola was putting chemicals in the water to sterilise young Black men. This was also very much not true, but given their history and treatment, you can well understand how some people could believe it. Webb considered that it was because of this conspiracy culture that some Black Americans were inclined to believe that some medieval British kings were Black. He compared this to an episode in the 1938 Evelyn Waugh novel, Scoop, in which the hero tries to arrange a visa to enter Ethiopia in order to cover the war there. He is told by an official that just about every major historical incident and invention, from the discovery of the circulation of the blood to the defeat of the Germans in the First World War, was due to Africans. Unfortunately, Webb stated, we can no longer laugh at such historical appropriations. White liberals were taking them seriously, and so books like Johnson’s were being taught in schools. This was also the reason why a Black woman had been cast by Channel 5 to play Anne Boleyn.

Now Johnson’s book clearly exists, as Webb showed its cover in his thumbnail and provided a link to its Amazon page. It seems to be the product of the same brand of Afrocentrism that drew on Gerald Massey’s 1881 Book of the Beginnings and David Macritchie’s 1884 Ancient and Modern Britons to claim that the inhabitants of the British Isles were originally Black. And it seems to me quite credible that some schools are teaching Johnson’s book. According to Stephen Howe’s book, Afrocentrism, there were 350 private, ‘afrocentric academies’, teaching 50,000 children in America in 1991. American public schools also have afrocentric curricula and even whole Afrocentric schools in the Black majority districts in Detroit, Baltimore and Milwaukee (see page 3). But I do wonder how many schools over here are teaching it. I don’t doubt that there are many Black activists and teachers that would like to. Last year during Black History Month the local BBC News for Bristol, Points West, discussed calls for Black history to be taught in schools. If I remember correctly, some were already supposed to have done so. But Britain also has a National Curriculum, which I would have thought would have prevented much Afrocentric material, at least of the extreme type, from being taught.

I also don’t know if books like Johnson’s were behind Channel 5’s decision to have Boleyn played by a Black thesp. It seemed far more likely to me that it came from the theatre, where Black actors have been cast in traditional White roles for a long time. I also think it was influenced by Armando Iannucci’s colour-blind film of Dickens that came out a few years ago. The Tudors are a part of the National Curriculum and have been a staple of British historical programming. Producers are always looking for a way to put a fresh angle on something, and following the BLM riots the TV companies were falling over themselves to promote, or be seen to promote, Black talent. Black History Month was set up partly as a way to motivate Black children at school and raise their academic performance. There may therefore be no other explanation for the broadcaster’s choice of actor than an intention to find a way to appeal to a Black audience as well. The only sure way of proving that the decision was based on books like Johnson’s would be if a document emerges from Channel 5 stating this is the case, or, failing that, they were working with a Black group that took the view that Boleyn and other members of the British 16th century nobility were Black. But Webb doesn’t produce any such evidence.

Some Black Americans may therefore be erroneously taught that Anne Boleyn and the rest were Black, but I see no evidence that such counter-knowledge is being taught in British schools just yet.

History Debunked on Diversity Working for Black Representation Against Asians

December 17, 2021

I’ve put up a number of videos from Simon Webb’s History Debunked channel on YouTube. Webb’s an author of a string of history books and a Torygraph-reading right-winger. He specialises in tackling the gross historical distortions and myths that are now being promoted as trustworthy Black history. He’s also, you won’t be surprised to read, an opponent of immigration and affirmative action. I think his videos criticising Black history are largely accurate, though as with anything else on the net you should also check it, and your well advised to take some of his other views with more than a little scepticism. But in the video below he seems to make a good point regarding the over-emphasis on promoting Black film and talent at the expense of other ethnic minorities. It’s shown in the forthcoming Beeb adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days.

Webb argues that Blacks are actually overrepresented in the media compared to their numbers as a percentage of the British population. The total BAME population of Britain is 15 per cent, with Blacks accounting for 3 per cent. But if you look on television or film, you find a much larger proportion of Black actors, performers and presenters and relatively fewer Asian faces. It seems that when it comes to ‘diversity’ and the promotion of non-White talent, in practice this means Blacks. This is shown in the way the Beeb has swapped the races of the leading characters in their version of Jules Verne’s classic yarn. Phileas Fogg remains White, but his servant, Passepartout has been made Black. The love interest is a White woman. But in the book she’s Indian, as apparently having two non-White lead characters would be too much.

It’s a very long time since I read the book, and I can’t remember very much about it, though I’ve got the film version on DVD. Assuming that what he says is right, and the leading lady in the book is Indian, I would have thought that made the story diverse enough without messing around with the other characters. Not so, apparently. Webb speculates that this emphasis on Black talent possibly comes from the TV companies’ need to sell to America, where Blacks constitute a much higher proportion of the population at 13 per cent. I think he has a point. A few months ago a Black actor or director appeared in the I calling for more parts for Black actors otherwise they would leave Britain and go to America. And it certainly seems to me that there are more opportunities for Black actors over the pond. It might also come from Blacks being rather more integrated into the western entertainment business. In America, people were listening to Black music, like Scott Joplin’s Rags since before the Jazz age. Over here, I think the pioneers were the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Americans who made a tour of Britain before the Second World War. And White Brits also listened to Caribbean calypsos before the emergence of Rock and Roll and such great performers as Little Richard, James Brown, Motown and so on. Despite the claims of racism in the music industry, which led to the establishment of the MOBOs as a set of separate music awards for Black artists, it really isn’t at all remarkable to see Black singers and musicians in the charts. In fact, I’d say it would be more remarkable if there weren’t any.

The same with drama. There are a number of Black Shakespearian thesps – Josette Simon, who played Dayna in the classic SF series Blake’s 7, had that theatrical background. I think a year or so ago Lenny Henry, who is very active promoted Black talent, appeared on stage as Hamlet. And this is apart from other plays from the classical repertoire, including those from Ancient Greece. There have also been a number of contemporary plays examining the position of Blacks in western society. I also wonder if part of the relative underrepresentation of Asians – and I am very well aware that there are Asian actors and presenters, like Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Adil Ray – may come from that community’s general preference to choose careers other than the entertainment industry. Or at least, not the western canon. I am aware of the casting of an Asian actor, whose name I’ve forgotten, as the Master in last season’s Dr. Who, and others in Armando Iannucci’s film version of one of Dicken’s classics. But I wonder if the Asian community generally prefers to look to its own cultural traditions, like Bollywood movies and traditional Indian arts and theatre, rather than mainstream film, TV and music. There have been Asian artists and bands in the charts – Apache Indian, Corner Shop and Kula Shaker, and I remember Jaz Mann’s brief hit with Babylon Zoo in the ’90s. But there seems to be far fewer of them than Black performers.

Clearly in a White majority society, there are limited roles for Black and Asian performers, hence the demand for ‘colour blind’ casting, as actors from ethnic minorities are given the roles of White characters. I also wonder if some of the casting of Black performers for reasons of diversity isn’t part of an attempt to create work for them. I heard from academics years ago that there’s actually only work for a 1/4 of the drama students who graduate everywhere. I think if this was not tackled, it would be particularly acute for Black performers. And so to avoid another furore about racism and for the other reasons discussed, the entertainment industry is deliberately casting Black performers in greater proportion than they are as part of the general British population.

This forced diversity is unpopular with White right-wingers like Webb and Belfield, but it is a problem when it serves to discriminate against Asians. And that needs to be tackled, like any other form of racism.

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

This is my schoolboy German for ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’

One of the major problems facing this country is the British refusal and apparently inability to learn other people’s languages. Having a second language can be immensely personally enriching, as it gives you a greater access to nations and cultures beyond your own. British visitors to the Continent, for example, can be pleasantly surprised and delighted by the way their stumbling attempts to speak the language of the country they’re visiting is appreciated by its people. Even if what you’re trying to say is halting and stumbling, the people you’re saying it to generally appreciate you’re making the effort, rather than arrogantly assuming that everyone speaks English. There have also been concerns for a long time that British industry is being held back by our collective reluctance to learn other tongues. Industrialists have long pointed out that if we want to sell our products to other nations, we have to persuade them to buy British in their own languages. And unfortunately, too few of us are studying another tongue.

This problem was being earnestly debated on breakfast television Tuesday or Wednesday morning. The Beeb were talking about the personal and professional advantages of speaking foreign tongues. One of their guests in this matter was a gentleman, one of those veritable ‘Briareus of tongues’, who could speak very many of them. In this case, the man could speak about eleven fluently. This is rather less than the eighteenth century Italian cardinal, who had mastered fifty, and who was therefore given the above nickname. Unfortunately, despite such multi-lingual experts as the Beeb’s guest a day or so ago, few people are following their example.

And it does shows, especially in some of the ideologues of the Right, who argue we should be following the employment practices of other nations, like the authors of Britannia Unchained. This bunch denounced British workers as lazy, and urged that the nation’s workforce copy those of the powerhouses of the developing world like China and India in working 19th century hours for miserable pay in the kind of conditions described and denounced by Charles Dickens and the other 19th century reformers. They are also doing the workers of the Developing World no service with their book either. Just as Britain and the rest of the Developed World has increased hours, so the working hours in India, China and the other developing nations have been massively extended. It’s a vicious circle, which seems to profit no-one except the multinational business elite now exploiting workers across the globe.

Of course, the author’s of Britannia Unchained seem unaware of this. If they are aware, they certainly don’t want you to be. And they also appear to be stunningly ignorant of business cultures much nearer home, like Germany.

In recent years the Germans have been doing their level best to challenge their image around the world. There has been a flow of steady articles and pieces in the German and foreign press challenging their image as the staunch incarnation of the Prussian virtues of hard-work and efficiency that created the Wirtschaftwunder. Rather than the dour, humourless drones slaving away all hours in the name of ruthless efficiency, the Germans are keen to point out that they do, in fact, enjoy a good joke. A few years ago there were adverts for Berlin, which boasted that it was the place where the art of living was practiced 24 hours a day, complete with a photo of a German rock star strumming out a mighty power chord on his electric guitar. The new Germany, the adverts said, stands for fun.

The punishing labour regimes of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships are similarly an image from the past that the Germans are increasingly challenging. Rather than spending their entire time grafting away at the workplace, German writers and commenters have pointed out that Germany has one of the shortest working weeks, and gives its workers longer holidays than many other countries. I can remember reading a piece by one German journalist in one of the British newspapers, which said that nothing contradicted the image of the hard-working German that the typical modern office in the Bundesrepublik. There, the staff quietly worked in comfort, with the coffee machine bubbling away to itself in a corner. And in such a relaxed, comfortable employment environment, it’s almost inevitable that someone would be going on about how lazy they all were. A few years ago, one of the German magazines ran a feature entitled ‘The German National Hobby: Krankfeiern‘, which I assume means ‘throwing a sickie’. The piece was accompanied by a photo showing an office worker crouched on a desk, surrounded by water, presumably to indicate the way German industry was being drowned by a flood of lazy workers, all skiving off work.

To Anglo-Saxon audiences, the idea that the Germans are all fun-loving with a relaxed attitude to work is almost comically bizarre. It runs directly counter to everything we know, or think we know, about the German character. After all, northern European nations are expected to be sober and hard-working, while it’s the Mediterranean south that’s all about fun and relaxation. It’s like the comment Badvoc made about the difference the Romans and ancient British in the 1980s Channel 4 comedy, Chelmsford 123: ‘We’re not like these hardworking Romans with their roads and efficiency. We have a more relaxed attitude to life. We say ‘manana!’ Yet, believe it or not, this was the German national image before the Prussian kings – one of whom had such a foul temper he was called ‘Die Bose Wetter von Hohenzollern’ took over the country. I was taught at school that in the 17th century the Germans were considered to be the most easy-going people in Europe. That was shattered by the rise of Prussia, the Napoleonic, Franco-Prussian Wars, and World Wars I and II. This has passed, on the Germans are going back to their national image in the 17th century, despite the horrors of the Gradgrinds of German industry.

So how does this new generation of relaxed funsters regard us across the North Sea? Well, as far as the work ethic is concerned, the attitude is now very much reversed, or so it seems. A few years ago a group of German financial workers and banking whizzkids from ‘Manhattan am Main’ were sent off to work in the company’s London branch. They were reported as making jokes about how, in England nothing worked properly. This seems to be pretty much a constant since Britain’s disastrous industrial performance in the 1970s. Unlike the 1970s, when we were the strike-ridden ‘sick man of Europe’, other jokes were about how hard we worked. We had, at least in the opinion of these employees, swapped places with their country as the nation, whose workers slave away driving themselves into the ground at work. Only without the efficiency and product quality.

All this appears to have been excluded from Britannia Unchained. After all, it would undermine their case if they compared us to the Germans, who now know how to combine a strong economy with a reputation for quality products and have a good time. After all, you can’t tell a country of miserable wage-slaves that they’re all skivers and malingers compared to their fun-loving EU counterparts across the Nordsee, regularly clocking with ruthless efficiency at a reasonable hour every day.

Way back in the 1980s Channel 4 briefly held won the rights to broadcast the cricket from the BBC, before they, in turn, were trumped by Murdoch and Sky. Their trailer for the test match season against the West Indies was, in its own small way, a work of art. It opened with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tropic rainforests, while a female Caribbean face lilted the Kiplingesque lines ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Hence the title of my piece. One of their innovations, I believe, was a female commentator, who had a West Indian accent. They take cricket extremely seriously over that side of the Atlantic. The University of the West Indies in Kingston has a department of Cricket Studies. One of the course’s professors appeared on TV over here a little while ago talking about how the West Indies team’s sporting excellence had boosted the region’s self-image and pride. And the quote used by the advert is still a very, very good question. Kipling himself held some extremely Right-wing views. In the 1920s he formed a group to fight the General Strike. This collapsed when their treasurer ran off with their funds. He wrote the poem with the lines ‘What should they know of England, who only England know?’ in response to riots in the north of England against working conditions there. Nevertheless, the question is a good one, and can be asked of the Right as well as the Left. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Going by the authors of Britannia Unchained, very little.