Posts Tagged ‘Edward Colston’

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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Going Underground Interview with Momentums Jackie Walker on the Anti-Semitism Allegations

May 21, 2016

I was sent this very interesting clip from RT’s Going Underground by Michelle, who included it as a comment on my piece ‘A Very British Coup against the Left’ on the anti-Semitism allegations against various members of the Labour party. In it, Madam Walker describes the context of her comments, and her own family history as a Black woman, whose father was Jewish, and whose partner is also Jewish. This makes the accusation even more vile and grotesque than it was already known to be.

Madam Walker was accused of anti-Semitism, because she described the enslavement of Black Africans during the transatlantic slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. She explains here that she did so in a private conversation on Facebook between two friends, one of whom was Jewish, the other not. They were talking about the movement to boycott goods produced in the Occupied West Bank. One of Walker’s friends stated that they shouldn’t boycott Israel, because of the debt they owed the Jews. Walker states that she asked, ‘What debt?’ as up till then they had been talking about monetary debts. Her friend replied, ‘the Holocaust’. Walker then went on to mention the holocausts experienced by other peoples, such as Black Africans during the Slave Trade, native Americans in the conquest of the New World, and the genocide of Aboriginal Australians.

The accusations of anti-Semitism were made by a group calling itself the Israel Advocacy Movement. It was they, who dug up what was basically a private conversation made in February. They have said that they will do anything and everything to protect Israel’s interests.

She also says that she does not believe that the Labour party is profoundly anti-Semitic, and believes that it has a good record when it comes to challenging racism. The interviewer, Afshid Rattansi then mentions the accusation by the Chief Rabbi that Labour is permeated with anti-Semitism.

Rattansi also asks her about the observation made by the Palestinian ambassador, when he was previously on the programme, about why Jeremy Corbyn, one of the loudest voices for the Palestinians at the UN, has suddenly gone quiet about the issue now he is head of the Labour party. Walker states she cannot answer that, as she is not so important that Corbyn has discussed this issue with her. Nor did she want to comment about one of the other cases, in which a Labour party member had been accused of anti-Semitism.

Rattansi observed to her that these accusations all sounded very McCarthyite. She agreed, and it was particularly true that her mother had been one of the victims of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. Her mother was a Black Civil Rights activist, and her father was a Russian Jew. They had met on a march organised by Martin Luther King. Because of her activities against segregation, Walker’s mother was hauled before McCarthy’s kangaroo court and asked the notorious question, ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?’ Walker’s mother was then deported.

Not only is Walker Jewish, but so is her partner. When asked by Rattansi about the problems this must have placed on her family, she states that she doesn’t know quite what has happened, as they haven’t heard from her partner’s family since these allegations are made. This obviously must be a matter of distress and concern to Walker and her partner.

Here’s the video:

There are a number of observations to be made about the allegations in the light of this interview. Firstly, a woman, who is half-Jewish, and whose partner is Jewish is hardly likely to be an anti-Semite. This in itself is grotesque. It’s even more so when you consider that her Jewish father was Russian, and just how severely oppressed they were. Just before the tsar was overthrown there was the notorious Bielis case, in which the tsar was trying to get a Jew prosecuted under the Blood Libel that he had murdered a Christian child to use their blood to make the matzoh bread eaten during Passover. It’s a vile myth, which has caused hundreds of pogroms and violence against the Jews since it first appeared during the Middle Ages. In the 1890s many Russian and eastern European Jews fled to the West because of the terrible pogroms launched against them in the Russian Empire from racist organisations such as the Black Hundreds. As a Russian Jew, it’s highly likely that Walker’s father, his parents or grandparents, had experienced such horrors.

Her comment linking the Holocaust against the Jews with other genocides, including Black slavery, and the extermination of the First Nations of the Americas and Australia, is entirely reasonable. W.E.B. Dubois, the pioneering Black civil rights leader, was the first to make the connection between slavery and the Holocaust after he had gone to Ghana after World War II. it was part of his campaign to begin reparations and call attention to the historic injustices visited on Western Blacks. Paul Stephenson, a Black civil rights leader in Bristol, made the same comment twenty years ago when interviewed by Philippa Gregory about the statue of Edward Colston, a former slaver, on the city centre on local television in Bristol.

It is also part of accepted academic debate into what constitutes ‘genocide’. I can remember going to a seminar on this by someone, who had researched this issue when I was a postgraduate student at Bristol University. They made the same point that there have been other genocides in the past, including a notorious massacre of the Irish by the invading English in the 16th century, that was still intensely controversial in the Emerald Isle two centuries later in the 18th. Other genocides mentioned included those of the Native Americans. The brutal treatment of Aboriginal Aussies does count as a Holocaust, as they were deliberately exterminated as vermin by the invading Europeans. it’s estimated that the Aboriginal population of the continent before the British arrived was 200,000. After the conquest it was half that, 100,000.

Also, mainstream Jewish organisations also accept that the extermination of other ethnic groups are also similar to the Holocaust. They also feel that as Jews their history also obliges them to protect other ethnic groups that are the victims of racial violence. For example, Bernie Farber, the head of the main Canadian Jewish organisation, launched a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’, or religious day of fasting to call attention and to protest against the genocide in Darfur when that was an issue a decade ago.

And there were those on the Zionist and general Right, who hated Farber for it. He was particularly attacked on the website Five Feet of Fury, run by Kathy Shaidle, a former journalist. Shaidle herself I don’t think was Jewish, at least not by religion. She was, however, militantly Zionist, and quoted and supported the various radical Jewish organisations, that argued that Jews should stop looking outward to reach other to other threatened racial groups. Instead, they should concentrate on defending themselves and their own interests. And this was constructed as mainly against Arabs and Islam.

As for the Chief Rabbi, depending on who that is, I don’t have a whole lot of time for them in this regard. I thought the comment about Labour being riddled with anti-Semitism came from Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who I always thought was a Lib Dem. If so, she has her own political bias. If it was Jonathan Sacks, he had his own problems about bigoted comments. A few years ago Jonathan Sacks, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi, got into trouble as he described Reform Jews as ‘enemies of the faith’ – highly partisan and sectarian language, which frightened many people.

Madam Walker’s case shows that this isn’t about anti-Semitism. In fact, I think Walker was partly accused because she said in her conversation that she didn’t think that anti-Semitism was the real issue in racism, but the treatment of Blacks. Ken Livingstone shares the same sentiments, despite the fact that he has also very publicly condemned anti-Semitism in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. This just seems to be a nasty, extremely cynical attempt by the Israel Lobby to smear any opponents of the Israeli’s treatment of the Palestinians. Especially as, during her private Facebook conversation, one of Walker’s friends argued that there were only Palestinians in Israel as refugees during the Arab-Israeli War. Which seems to me to be another piece of Zionist mendacity. Golda Meir started that one in the 1940s when she denied that there were any indigenous Palestinians before Israel was settled.

This isn’t about genuinely defending Jews from real anti-Semites. This is about defending Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in a grotesque distortion of history.