Posts Tagged ‘Empire and Commonwealth Museum’

History Debunked on Nigerian Statue Celebrating Black African Slave Trader

June 14, 2021

Quite honestly, I’m sick and tired of posting pieces about racial politics, especially from a perspective that could be seen as anti-Black. I’m very aware that, as a whole, the Black community in Britain is poor, marginalised and suffers from poor educational performance, a lack of job opportunities. And I’m very much aware of institutional racism. Black and Asian friends and relatives have changed their names from their exotic originals to something more White British to get job opportunities. I’m also very much aware how the Tories are exploiting the issues around Black identity politics to drive a wedge between the Black community and the White working class in order to dominate both and drive them further into poverty, starvation and despair. But these issues are important. There is a real strain of anti-White racism in what is now being presented as anti-racism post-Black Lives Matter. It’s in the shape of Critical Race Theory, which parents are challenging in American schools. It’s also in the bad, tendentious history pushed by David Olusoga. One of History Debunked’s videos is a debunking of the claim by Olusoga and Reni Eddo-Lodge about a supposed lynching in Liverpool. This was of a sailor, who was chased into the docks. But instead of the innocent victim of a violent and prejudiced mob, the Black sailor instead was a vicious thug, who was part of a gang that had started a fight with Scandinavian and Russian seamen, and who had responded to the intervention of the rozzers by shooting two policemen.

A few days ago Simon Webb, the main man of History Debunked, put up the video below commenting on a statue in Nigeria to Efunroye Tinubu. She was a merchant in the Abeokuta region in the 19th century who traded in tobacco and slaves among other commodities. Through this she became extremely wealthy, enough to acquire a private army and act as kingmaker in Nigerian tribal politics. She also has a square in Lagos named after. There is, Webb says, absolutely no shame about her and her wretched trade. Rather, I think the Nigerians are proud of her. And she had absolutely no qualms about selling Black peeps. When she was hauled before a court on a charge of slave dealing after selling a boy, she cheerfully admitted it, saying she had a large household that needed to be fed well. When we went to war against the Nigerian city states involved in the slave trade, she announced that she was prepared to do anything for Britain, except give up slaving.

Webb uses her to attack the ignorance and hypocrisy of the present anti-racist iconoclasts, the people who tore down Edward Colston’s statue and wanted Rhodes’ removed, but say nothing about African participation in slavery and its memorialisation in statues like this. He is particularly scathing about David Olusoga, who produced the documentary last week on the Beeb about the controversy surrounding the felling of Colston’s statue. I didn’t watch it, but my parents did. According to them, Bristol’s elected mayor, Marvin Rees, came out of it very well. I’ve been extremely impressed with his handling of what is a very delicate affair, and I hope he seeks election as an MP. Olusoga comes in for criticism as he was born and raised in Nigeria, but while he’s glad that Colston’s statue was torn down, he has nothing to say about Tinubu’s.

There does indeed seem to be a concerted effort to blame the blame for the Black slave trade firmly on White Europeans and Americans. In Bristol this was shown by the motion proposed by Cleo Lake, the Green councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy mayor, who is also head of equalities. This called for reparations for slavery to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, including both Afro-Caribbean folk and Black Africans. I sent an email to both of them stating the objections to this, the foremost of which is that it was Black Africans that did the actual messy job of raiding and enslaving. So far I have received no reply. I doubt I ever will.

I think this attitude partly comes from W.E.B. Dubois, one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement. Dubois wanted equality at home for Black Americans, and freedom from European imperial domination for Africa. It was Dubois who first described the slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. In Britain, I was told when working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum that West Indians and Ghanaians didn’t get on, because the Ghanaians looked down on Afro-Caribbean people as the slaves they sold. This was certainly what Caryl Philips, the Black British writer, found when he visited Ghana a few decades ago, even though the country was trying to encourage western Blacks to migrate there.

I think the acceptance of the Black African participation in the slave trade is changing. A little while ago I posted a piece about a Ghanaian journalist and broadcaster on their television networks, who had made documentaries about this issue. I believe the traditional chiefs in both countries are coming under increasing criticism to acknowledge and apologise for their participation in the transatlantic slave trade. There’s also been friction in Ghana between Black Americans and Ghanaians about the memorialisation of the slave trade at one of the old slave forts. The Americans would like the whole building used as a monument to the slave trade, But the fort is the locus for a number of different social functions, including the local market and so the local peeps definitely don’t want this to happen.

Black African involvement in the slave trade was the subject of a Channel 4 documentary back in the 1990s, back when the channel was still worth watching. I think Tinubu was mentioned there. I recall there being some discussion about a female Nigerian slaver, who made the trip to antebellum America to negotiate slaves of slaves over there. This aspect of the slave trade had been withheld from the Black Americans, who came to visit the slave sites in West Africa. The result was literally shock and horror. Some of them reacted with screams, wails and tears, and you can understand why. All their dreams of Black brotherhood and common victimhood at the hands of White racists were suddenly dashed. I mentioned this one day at the Museum to a Black historian with whom I was working. He told me that in the Caribbean, their mammies told them very clearly who sold them to whom.

But it seems to be completely absent from the consciousness of Black Brits. When the BLM mob was tearing down Colston’s statue, a reporter asked members of the crowd how they felt about it. One of them, a young man, said simply ‘I’m Nigerian’. Of course, the answer to that is ‘But you sold them to us!’ But the reporter didn’t say that, and the Nigerian young man clearly didn’t connect his nationality to the sale of Black slaves to people like Colston.

I’ve posted pieces by History Debunked before, and the usual caveats apply. He’s a Torygraph-reading man of the right who believes in racial differences in intelligence. Some of his facts may well be wrong, such as his claim that the government didn’t encourage Black migration to Britain. But here he cites both an article on Tinubu on the website, The Black Past, and a book on her published in Nigeria by Oladipo Yemitan, Madame Tinubu: Merchant and King-maker, (University Press, 1987). I’m reasonably confident, therefore, that he has got his facts right.

I strongly believe that we should resist the oversimplification of the history of the slave trade into virtuous, wronged Blacks, and evil, racist Whites. All racism and enslavement has to be condemned, even if it makes the self-proclaimed anti-racists uncomfortable. If we are to have racial justice, it must be founded on good history.

My Email to Simon Webb of History Debunked on Ideologies of Black Colonisation and the Slave Trade

June 8, 2021

I sent a couple of emails to various people last week discussing and attacking what I believe to be a dangerous form of anti-White racism within Black Lives Matter and similar Black, allegedly anti-racist activism. One of these was to Simon Webb, the vlogger behind History Debunked. Now Webb is a Torygraph-reading right-winger, who believes in the Bell curve stuff about Blacks having, on average, lower intelligence than Whites. It’s dangerous stuff and did lead to the passage of discriminatory immigration and eugenics legislation. But Webb does not believe in eugenics – indeed, he criticises it in one of his videos. He also denies being racist and states that he has many Black friends and has been involved in their education. He’s certainly provided evidence of this with photos of himself surrounded by Black children, to whom he’s reading. Now I’m aware that some of his statements must be taken with a pinch of salt. Both Brian Burden and Trev have shown very clearly that some British authorities, at least, were appealing to Caribbean workers to come to Britain at the time of the Windrush migration. But there are others posts he’s made where he cites his sources and where it seems that he is almost certainly correct.

I sent him this email as it describes my own experience of briefly collaborating with the Black And Asian Studies Association, and their hardly subtle anti-White bias. He has also discussed in several of his posts the apparent desire to airbrush Black African slavery out of history. This tallies with my experience in Bristol recently, where Cleo Lake and Asher Craig, in their demands for reparations for slavery for all ‘Afrikans’ seem to be determined to put the blame for slavery solely on White Europeans and Americans. While this is a private email, I hope it clarifies some of the reasons why I am so deeply suspicious and opposed to some of the policies now being articulated by the Black Lives Matter movement and associated activist groups.

I am very much aware that anti-Black structural racism exists, and have Black and Asian friends and colleagues who have suffered the most terrible abuse and threats simply because of their colour. But I don’t believe the distorted history and identity politics of BLM are helping the matter. Indeed, I firmly believe that they are driving White and Black apart, and that they are assisting the Tories by providing them unintentionally with material they can exploit to divide the great British working class.

Dear Simon,

I hope you will forgive my contacting you like this rather than commenting on your great YouTube channel. I’ve been watching your videos for a little while. Although I have to say that we probably don’t have the same party political views, I do share your concerns with the way myth and deliberate falsifications which are now being passed as authentic Black history by activists, educators and the media., I thought you might be interested to hear of my experiences with certain Black groups.

Way back in the 1990s and very early years of the present century I did voluntary work at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum at Bristol’s Temple Meads station. I really enjoyed working there, and met some great people, which include Black volunteers and historians. I was tasked with putting together a database of the Museum’s holdings on slavery. These were mostly copies of text documents and official papers the Museum had acquired from the Commonwealth Office. There was also a library of books people had kindly donated to the museum. These included not just the classic texts and studies against transatlantic slavery but also contemporary studies, including those of it in modern Black Africa. I also briefly cooperated with a Black organisatiion, the Black and Asian Studies Association in providing them with materials for Black history week. 

This cooperation ended when I had a look at a copy of their wretched magazine. I think it was number 32/33. I took immediate exception to the tone. While there were exceptions, the attitude behind most of it was that all White people were automatically racist unless shown to be otherwise. Moreover, that issue came out after the Observer had run an article predicting that by the middle years of this century, Whites would be a minority in Britain. The magazine simply reported this in its ‘things you should know about’ column. However, a few lines later it sternly rejected any limits on Black and Asian immigration to Britain as racist, and stated that Blacks needed their own, special, exclusive spaces. This is, in my view, colonialist. It resembles what we did in our colonies. 

I sent them a reply, which reminded them that certain parts of the Arab world also enslaved Blacks, backed up by an obituary in the Independent of a Sudanese Black civil rights activist, who had been told by his Arab compatriots that Blacks shouldn’t be educated and were to be used as slaves. I also pointed out that there was unreported class of White poor in South Africa, as covered by another piece in the Independent about a photographic exhibition of works on them, ‘Outlands’, as well as other bits and pieces. They sent me back a letter telling me not go get in touch with them again.

A few years agoafter I left the museum, I tried writing a book based on the material I had amassed at the Museum. This was rejected by the mainstream publishers, so I have had it self-published with Lulu. It’s in two volumes, and is entitled The Global Campaign. In it, I tried to set British transatlantic slavery in its wider imperial setting. America and the Caribbean weren’t the only British slave colonies. There was also Cape Colony, Mauritius, Ceylon and India, as well as the kidnapping of girls in Hong Kong, and slavery in Java and Sumatra. I also covered the infamous ‘coolie trade’ and the enslavement of indigenous Pacific Islanders.

And that, I believe, is one of the reasons why I think I was turned down. Slavery and its history has always been linked to Black civil rights activism ever since W.E.B. Dubois, who wanted equality for Black in America and independence for Black Africa. The problem here is that much of the slavery the British pledged to end was indigenous. It was by other Blacks in Africa, as well as by Arabs, Indians, Sri Lankans and the peoples of modern Malaya and Malaysia. It contradicts the cosy, received narrative that it was all Whites’ fault.

I also believe that it may have been unacceptable because not only did I deal with indigenous African slavery, I also showed its parallels with European serfdom, and argued that Europeans turned to the enslavement of Africans because their traditional sources of slaves – eastern European Slavs – had been cut off by the expanding Ottoman Empire. There were other reasons, I’m sure. A friend suggested that I may well have been turned down because, not being a tenured academic, I was outside the closed guild of people publishing on it.

If you want to read the book for yourself, it’s available from Lulu or I can send you a copy.

I‘ve also tried corresponding with Asher Craig, the Black head of equalities in Bristol in response to her comments about slavery in the city during an interview last years, and with her and Cleo Lake, a local Green councillor, after they both pushed through a motion in the city council calling for reparations for slavery to be paid to all ‘Afrikians’, which I also criticised for creating an ahistorical division between Whites and Blacks. I haven’t had a response from either of these two ladies.

Yours with very best wishes,

Why I Won’t Vote for Cleo Lake as Bristol’s Police and Crime Commissioner

April 23, 2021

Cleo Lake is one of the candidates standing for election as Bristol’s police and crime commissioner, and I very definitely will not be voting for her. One reason is that she’s a member of the Green party, and is their councillor for Cotham. The other reason is that she introduced the motion a few weeks ago urging the payment of reparations for slavery to all ‘Afrikans’ – both people of West Indian and those of African descent. It was seconded by the Labour deputy mayor and head of equality, Asher Craig, and passed by just about all the parties on the council with the exception of the Tories. They objected on the ground that the motion, although it came from a good place, was divisive. Unfortunately, they’re right.

I’ve blogged about this several times, as well as writing to councillors Lake and Craig about it. I haven’t received a reply or even an acknowledgement from them. I have also submitted an article about it to the papers, but this has also been rejected without any reply or acknowledgement. But here are my arguments against the motion again.

I don’t doubt that people of African heritage in Bristol don’t suffer from the same issues of racism and marginalisation as the wider Black community. However, they are not equal victims of western slavery. By and large the White slavers didn’t do the actual, nasty work of raiding and enslaving Black Africans. They bought them instead from other African peoples and states. The British generally took their slaves from the west African states of Dahomey, Whydah, Badagry and what is now Lagos in what is now Ghana and Nigeria, as well as from tribes in Senegal and Gambia. These kingdoms profited immensely from the vile trade. In the 18th century, Duke Ephraim of Dahomey took in £300,000 per year, an income that exceeded many English dukes. It has therefore been said that, when it came to reparations, it should be Black Africans paying compensation to Black West Indians and Americans.

Slavery had also existed for centuries previously in Africa, and Africans were enslaved by a number of other peoples, such as the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch. But they were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, the Ottoman Turks and Indians, and exported further east to what is now Indonesia. The first Black slaves in Europe were in al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. The east Africans enslaved were captured by other African peoples, such as the Yao, Marganja and Swahili, as well as Arabs. Ethiopia, which was never conquered by us, also raided the surrounding states for slaves.

Part of the rationale for the British invasion and conquest of Africa was the extirpation of slavery. Even before the invasion, Britain was active forging treaties against the slave trade with naval patrols guarding the African coast. We also paid subsidies and compensation to some slaving peoples in order to give them a financial incentive for abandoning the trade. And in the 1850s we actually fought a war with King Guezo of Dahomey to stop slaving by that state.

At the same time that Europeans were enslaving Africans, Muslim raiders from north Africa, the Barbary pirates, were raiding and carrying off White Europeans, including people from Britain.

It’s therefore inappropriate to pay slavery reparations to Africans, as these included the very peoples that actually enslaved them.

The payment of reparations also sets a precedent for Blacks and other people to demand similar reparations from other nations, including other, non-European states as Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, India and the Arab states. White Europeans are also entitled to demand compensation from the two states of the Barbary pirates, Algeria and Morocco. But there has been no recognition of this from either Lake or Craig. They just call for Britain to pay reparations to its ‘Afrikans’, which is quite a narrow focus.

Years ago, when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I was advised to be careful when writing to Black organisations, as West Indians and Ghanaians disliked each other. The Black British writer, Caryl Phillips, discussed in one of his books how, when he visited Ghana, he found that West Indians were looked down upon there as former victims of the slave trade. This was in the ’90s, and I think Phillips’ book may be somewhat older. I have to say that there seemed to be no such hatred between West Indians and Ghanaians in the organisations I dealt with. If this friction still exists, then it puts quite a nasty light on Lake and Craig’s inclusion of Africans as well as West Indians as victims of White slavery. Because it then looks like they are trying to create a unified Black community by putting the blame for slavery solely on Whites.

I also have serious objections to her eccentric spelling of African. She spelt it ‘Afrikan’, claiming that this was how Africans themselves spelled it before the coming of the Europeans. This looks like a piece of Afrocentric pseudo-history. I’m an archaeologist and historian, and so considers history immensely important. Which is why I profoundly object to the way the Tories are trying to pervert it for their propaganda purposes. But Lake and Craig are also pushing a highly ideological, selective interpretation of history.

This leads me to suspect that Lake wants to become police and crime commissioner, because she also feels, like BLM, that the police unfairly pick on cops and wants to stop it. Now the St. Paul’s riots of 1981/2 was directed very much against the police. One of the rioters later gave a quote in the press that there was a feeling that the police were occupying St. Paul’s. But I haven’t heard any such criticism since. I’ve relatives and friends, who are and were members of the Avon and Somerset police, and they aren’t remotely racist.

I leave it up to you to decide for yourself, if you’re a Bristolian, whether you want to vote for Lake or not. But because of her historical views, which I consider false and racist in their own turn, I won’t.

But Belfield, Churchill was a White Supremacist!

January 23, 2021

A few days ago right-wing internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up a video expressing his outrage yet again at those evil lefties and their attacks on great British heroes. The lefties in question were the awesome Ash Sarkar, Michael Walker and co. of Novara Media, and the great British hero was Winston Churchill. Sarkar and Walker had dared to call Winnie a White supremacist and chuckle about it! How terrible! And so Belfield put up his video attacking them for daring to scoff at the great man.

The problem was, he did nothing to refute their accusation. He played a clip of Sarkar and Walker calling Churchill a White supremacist and laughing, but didn’t actually provide any facts to prove Churchill wasn’t a racist. All he did was attack Sarkar and her comrades for saying he was. And I don’t think he could have argued that Churchill wasn’t a White supremacist. In the clip he used, Sarkar states that Churchill was a White supremacist by his own admission. And I find that entirely credible. Churchill is now a great, molten god thanks his inspiring leadership during the Second World War. So much so, that he is supposed to stand for everything good and right and be absolutely above criticism. Or at least, he is to members of the Tory faithful. But such attitudes obscure just how controversial Churchill was in his own day, and the real racism in British society. Churchill is still hated by proud, working class Welshmen and women today for sending the troops in to shoot striking miners in one of the pit villages. He was responsible for the debacle of Gallipolli during the Second World War, a bloodbath that in my opinion has tainted the relationship between us and the Ozzies. It shows Johnson’s complete lack of any real historical sympathy for the victims of his blundering that in his biography of the great man, he gives it a ten for being both a colossal mistake and for showing ‘the Churchill factor’, whatever that is. Churchill was so bloodthirsty and keen to use the army to suppress the general strike, that Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was determined to keep him away from it as far as possible. Irish nationalists also hate him for sending the Black and Tans in to crush the Irish revolution. Churchill spent many years in the political wilderness. What saved him was his tour of Africa in the 1920s. At the same time, his opposition to Nazi Germany wasn’t based on any hatred of their racism and suppression of democracy. The historian Martin Pugh in his history of British Fascism between the two World Wars states as an authoritarian himself, Churchill liked the Spanish dictator General Franco. He considered Mussolini to be a ‘perfect swine’, possibly because the Duce declared that his Blackshirts were the equivalent of the British Black and Tans. But nevertheless, Churchill still went on a visit of Fascist Italy. Churchill’s real reason for opposing Nazism was because he was afraid that Germany would be a threat to British interests in the North Sea.

I got the impression that Churchill was without question an imperialist, which means that he believed unquestionably that White Brits were superior and had every right to their empire and dominion over the darker races. Imperialism was so much a part of official British culture, that I think it’s forgotten just how powerful a force it was and how deeply embedded it was. Empire Day was a national holiday, the British empire was lauded in books like Our Empire Story, and one of the strips in the Dandy or the Beano was ‘The Colony Nigs’. Some British scientists also shared the biological racism that served to legitimate discrimination against non-Whites. As late as 1961 wannabe dictator Oswald Mosley cited articles and papers by British scientists claiming that Blacks were less intelligent than Whites in his book Mosley – Right or Wrong.

If Churchill had only believed that non-Whites were inferior, but otherwise treated them with the benign paternalism that Britain was supposed to show towards its subject races, then his White supremacist views wouldn’t have been too bad. It would have been patronising, but no harm would have been done. But his racism was partly responsible for creating the Bengal famine, which carried off 3-6 million Indians. Churchill had ordered their grain to be sequestered as a reserve food supply for the troops in Europe. This left the Bengalis unable to feed themselves. Many of Churchill’s senior military staff pleaded him to release the food, but he refused, stating that the Indians were a filthy race and that it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’ – in other words, breeding and having too many children. It’s an atrocity that could be compared to the horrific murder of the Jews by the Nazis, and some of Churchill’s generals certainly did so. It’s a monstrous stain on Churchill’s character, but very few Brits are probably aware of it.

Does that mean that it’s acceptable to deface Churchill’s statue, as one irate young man did during the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted earlier this year? The lad scrawled ‘was a racist’ on it, an act which raised right-wing hackles. It was ostensibly to protect his and statues like it that prompted mobs of White Brits to stage their own counterdemonstrations. No, I don’t believe it is, even though it’s true. It is thanks to Churchill’s leadership that western Europe at least remained free from Nazi domination or that of Stalinist Communism. Spike Milligan in one volume of his war memoirs states that if Britain hadn’t entered the War, the Iron Curtain would have stopped at his home town of Bexhill. Churchill, monster though he was in so very many ways, deserves respect and credit for that.

But that doesn’t mean that he should be above criticism either. There’s another video put up by Belfield in which he complaints about a planned re-vamp of Have I Got News For You. Apparently the Beeb is going to replace long time contestants Ian Hislop and Paul Merton as part of their diversity campaign. This involves sacking middle-aged White men in favour of more women and BAME presenters and performers. In his video, Belfield complains about how this change will deprive British television of the pair’s comedic talents. Which is true, but I wonder how he feels about Hislop’s magazine’s attitude to his great hero. Private Eye when it started up was deeply critical of Churchill, running cartoons and articles lampooning him as ‘the greatest dying Englishman’ and criticising him for betraying just about every cause he ever embraced. The Eye and its founders were never radical lefties. They were all public schoolboys, but nevertheless the magazine was regarded with intense suspicion and distaste by many. When it first began many newsagents refused to stock it. One of my co-workers at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in the ’90s and first years of this century shared that dislike. Seeing me reading it over lunch one day, he asked me if I really read it. I dare say that it was the magazine’s willingness to poke fun and attack respected figures like Churchill that provoked some of that intense dislike. But nevertheless, Britain remains a free country – just! – because we are able to criticise our leaders and point out that they aren’t flawless idols we have to revere and obey, like some monstrous dictator. And that includes the right to criticise and spoof Winston Churchill.

Belfield constantly sneers at the younger generation as ‘leftie snowflakes’, but he’s the one with the delicate sensibilities here. I’m not denying Churchill deserves respect for his stern resistance to Nazism, but he was a racist whose supremacist views caused death and suffering to millions of Indians. Getting annoyed with Sarkar and the rest for calling him a racist and White supremacist won’t change that.

Belfield had therefore do what he’s always telling left-wing millennials to do, and show a bit of backbone and get over it.

History Debunked Refutes the Myth that James I was Black

December 31, 2020

More from the whackier end of racial politics. History Debunked has put up a number of videos refuting various assertions and myths promoted as Black history. One of his videos attacked the claim, seen in the Netflix interracial historical romance, Bridgerton, that Queen Caroline was Black. This has arisen from the fact that one of her ancestors was a 13th Spanish Moorish prince. But that was five hundred years before her birth, and so any biological trace of her non-White ancestry would have disappeared way back in her lineage. Apart from which, the Spanish Moors were Berbers and Arabs from North Africa. They were darker than Europeans – the term ‘blue-blooded’ for the aristocracy comes from the Christian Spanish nobility. Under their idea of limpieza de sangre, ‘blood purity’, the racial ideology that distinguished them from the Moors, their skin was supposed to be so pale that you could see the veins in the wrist. But the Moors were nevertheless lighter-skinned than the darker peoples south of the Sahara, in what the Arabs called Bilad as-Sudan and the Berbers Akal Nguiwen, ‘The Land of the Blacks’. Which I think shows that the Arabs and Berbers, dark as they were compared to Europeans, very clearly didn’t think of themselves as Black.

In this video Simon Webb debunks a similar myth, that James I of England/ VI of Scotland, was Black. This ahistorical idea apparently began with the Black Hebrew Israelites, a Black Jewish sect who believe that one of the lost tribes of Israel went to sub-Saharan Africa. Webb mentions that a group of them settled in Israel in the Negev. He uses this to try to refute the demand that Israel should open its borders by stating that Israel had taken in people of a number of different racial groups. They are now, for example, taking in people from India. It’s true that Israel has taken in refugees from Africa, but many of the groups they’ve accepted were Jews. In the 1970s they mounted a rescue operation to transport the Falashas, the Black Jews of Ethiopia, away from their oppression in that country to safety in Israel. My guess is that the Indians they’re accepting are also Jewish. There’s an indigenous Jewish community in India, the Bene Israel, and it sounds like some of them may be migrating. There is, however, considerable racism amongst White Israelis. Abby Martin covered this in some of her reports for The Empire Files on TeleSur, in which she interviewed Black Israelis about the abuse, including physical assault, they’d experience. Gentile African refugees, although present, are resented by many Israelis as ‘infiltrators’, the term they also use for Palestinians trying to return to the ancestral lands from which they were evicted during the Nakba, the term they use for foundation of Israel and their massacre and ethnic cleansing in 1947.

But back to the Black Hebrew Israelites and James I. The Black Hebrew Israelites believe that the Spanish Moors were Black, and that they went from Spain to colonise Ireland and Scotland. Which must be news to most Scots and Irish. Mary, Queen of Scots was mixed race, but Lord Darnley, James’ father, was fully Black and so was James. The English, however, were determined to erase any trace of this Black ancestry, and so embarked on a deliberately policy of intermarrying with the Black Scots and Irish in order to make them White, at the same time destroying all the contrary evidence that they were Black. Although this myth began with the Black Hebrew Israelites it has spread out from them into the wider Black community. To support his description of this bizarre myth, Webb on the YouTube page for the video has link to an article in the Zimbabwean newspaper, The Patriot, which proudly promotes this claim.

Was King James I of England black? – YouTube

The belief that the Spanish Moors were Black has formed the basis for an anti-White racist view of history. A few years ago the American left-wing magazine, Counterpunch, carried on its online edition a piece by a Black historian, Garikai Chengu. This claimed that the Moors were ‘obviously Black’, and their colonisation of Spain brought science and reason to a Europe then gripped by ignorance and superstition. There’s some basis for this in that the revival of science in the West began when Christian scholars acquired Arab and Islamic scientific texts from places such as Islamic Spain and Sicily after that was conquered by the Normans. However, it’s grotesquely exaggerated and is really just a piece of racial supremacist propaganda, albeit one by Blacks rather than Whites. I think it’s fair to see such Afrocentric views of history as a form of Fascism, including this myth that the Irish and Scots were also really Black. Some historians have no trouble describing certain Black political movements as forms of Fascism. One recent book by an academic historian not only includes the classic Fascist movements of German Nazism, Italian Fascism and various other White, European far right movements, but also Marcus Garvey’s Negro Improvement Association and the Nation of Islam, as well as Narendra Modi’s BJP in India. The inclusion of Marcus Garvey and his organisation may well offend many Black activists. Garvey is one of the pioneers of Black liberation. A month or so ago there was a Black celebrity writing in the pages of the Radio Times recommending that children should be taught about him in school. I really know very little about Garvey, but the claim that he was Fascistic rings true. When I was working as a volunteer in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol one of the jobs I was given was unpacking some of boxes of material given to the Museum by private individuals and institutions. One of these included a document by Garvey’s organisation. I didn’t do more than glance at it, but it appeared to be describing some kind of military parade or armed wing. This included women’s units and mechanised and mounted forces of various kinds. I don’t know if Garvey and his followers were ever able to set up such a paramilitary force or whether it was all a fantasy. But one of the features of Fascism is its militarism. The Nazis and Italian Fascists, not to mention the various other Fascist movements, all started out as paramilitary organisations complete with uniforms and arms.

Alongside the entirely reasonable demands for social and economic improvement and renewed action to combat White racism, the Black Lives Matter movement has also brought out and articulated strains of overt anti-White racism. One example of this was the attempt by Sasha Johnson, of the Oxford branch of the organisation, to set up her own paramilitary Black army in Brixton to protect Blacks from the cops, and her tweet that the White man wouldn’t be Blacks’ equal, but their slave. Which got her banned from the social media platform. I think there is a real need to start studying and publishing material specifically on Black racism and Fascism. At the moment, there appears to be very little, if any, books specifically published on it. If you search for ‘Black racism’ on Google, what comes up is articles and books on the attacks on affirmative action programmes by right-wing Whites. Way back in the ’90s and early parts of this century there was a book published on Black anti-White violence in America. This might be White Girl Bleed A Lot, which is a similar book. However, I’m not sure how academically respectable the latter is, as I think its author may have joined the extreme right. I can see many people on the left resisting any attempt to categorise and study various Black Fascist movements from the belief that, as Blacks have been oppressed in the West, and are still disadvantaged, it is unfair to characterise such movement as they arose in response to White racism and persecution.

But this does not change the nature of these movements and the racism and racist history they promote. Whatever their connections to the broader Black liberation movement, they’re still racist and Fascist themselves, and should be viewed as such. Fascism everywhere needs to be fought, regarded of race.

Channel 4 Documentary Next Wednesday on the Murder of Damilola Taylor

October 23, 2020

Here’s another documentary that may interest you, particularly if you’re old enough to remember it and the horror it rightly provoked. Damilola Taylor was a ten year old boy, who was stabbed to death by a gang on an estate in Peckham twenty years ago in 2000. It was a murder that shocked the nation, comparable to that of Stephen Lawrence who was killed in a racist attack by a White gang. Channel 4 have made a documentary in which Yinka Bokinni, a radio presenter and former friend and neighbour of the murdered lad, talks about the murder and speaks to other members of the community about it. It’s entitled ‘Damilola: the Boy Next Door’, and is on Channel 4 at 9.00 pm on Wednesday, 28th October 2020. There are two blurbs for it in the Radio Times. The first, by Jack Sealse on page 95, runs

The murder in 2000 of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor shocked Britain but, for most of us, it was an abstract, distant tragedy. Not so for Yinka Bokkini, now a radio presenter and then a kid for whom “Dami” was a friend and neighbour.

Bokinni’s documentary about the killing and its repercussions is unusually personal. She explores her own imperfect memories of Damilola and the south London community they lived in, visiting fellow residents to talk about the horror and how growing up on their Peckham estate, which was demolished soon after Damilola’s death, shaped them.

Gradually – it feels harsh to say it, but a bit too gradually – a complex picture emerges about our attitude towards run-down urban areas and the people who live there.

The second blurb, on page 97, goes

To mark the 20th anniversary of her friend Damilola Taylor’s death, Yinka Bokinni confronts the impact it had on her community, as she discovers that she is not alone in having grown up never mentioning Damilola, or even wanting to admit that she is from Peckham. Yinka attempts to reconcile the happy community she remembers so fondly with that presented in the media as a crime-ridden “sink estate”.

I have to say that I felt particularly shocked by the murder, because I was bullied at school. The whole idea of a young boy living in fear of his life, and finally being killed by a gang really did fill me with horror.

I was also massively unimpressed by the attitude towards the media coverage of his murder by the Black and Asian Studies Association, one of the groups I’d been in contact with in my volunteer work in the slavery archives at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol. Their editor commented on the murder and the news coverage in an issue of their wretched magazine they sent me, I think it may have been number 31 or 32. They complained about the murder being covered, and asked instead why the media didn’t cover all the children murdered by Whites. Or something like that. They clearly believed that the media was only covering it because Taylor’s killers were black. In fact, the gang’s race was not mentioned on the news as I recall, and I think when it was mentioned the gang was composed of individuals of different races.

But I was heartily disgusted by the Association’s attitude. A ten year old boy had been murdered, for heaven’s sake! It shouldn’t matter what the colour of the victim or the perps is, it’s a chilling, horrific, contemptible destruction of a young life. It deserved to be on the news, just like the reports of other gang violence at the time. Anyone remember the story about the school teacher or headmaster murdered by another teenage gang at the gates of his school trying to protect the kids within?

And young people are still killing, or trying to kill each other in the epidemic of knife crime that’s hit this country. And I don’t doubt that the majority of the victims there are Black people from deprived, inner city estates.

I have to say, I’m not a fan of Black Lives Matter and its automatic opposition to the police. I’m well aware that some coppers have been and probably still are racist, and that perfectly decent, innocent men and women like Dawn Butler have been aggressively stopped and harassed simply because they’re Black. But I also know some excellent cops, who did their job conscientiously and with dedication. I heard from the husband of one, who had herself several times successfully arrested armed criminals, that when she went out each day, she did so with the intent of making sure no-one was going to die that day.

And no-one should.

Black lives matter, and I wish the organisation, apart from attacking the police, would also stand up to Black on Black violence. And all children’s lives of whatever colour, ethnicity or religion do matter. That’s why we should be doing our best to make sure there aren’t any more murders like this.

Black and Islamic Calls for Autonomous Communities and Colonies in the West

September 17, 2020

On Tuesay I put up a piece comment on the plans by two Black entrepreneurs to set up a Blacks-only town in rural Georgia, to be named Wakanda after the fictional African supertechnological nation in Marvel’s Black Panther. The idea’s part of a long tradition of American ideal communities, beginning with the first Puritan settlers. it recalls the Utopian Socialist communities of the 19th century as well as the Free Black townships set up by Baptist missionaries in Jamaica, Antiqua, Demerara and Berbice in order to protect the newly freed former slaves from re-enslavement by the planters. However, coming nearly a century and a half after the abolition of slavery in America and the British Empire, this looks more like the compounds and proposed colonies of White racists, that have been set up in the Hayden Lakes area of America and which a group of British Nazis tried and failed to set up on a French farm.

Paul Boateng and the Black and Asian Studies Association

Way back in 1984/5 the Black British Labour politician, Paul Boateng, called for the establishment of autonomous Black communities in Britain. He was criticised for this in the pages of the Observer, which rightly viewed it as an attempt by Blacks to introduce apartheid. I’ve mentioned before that when I was doing voluntary work for the Empire and Commonwealth I was for a time corresponding with a Black studies organisation. This was the Black and Asian Studies Association, based in London. I split with them over the views they expressed of Whites in a copy of their magazine they sent me. I think it was no. 32/33, around about 2001-3 or so. One of the views, which I objected to was their comment that Blacks need their own space. I presume they meant by this separate arts and community centres, rather than separate geographical areas. When Blacks and other ethnic groups are a minority, and a depressed minority, this is actually reasonable and just. But they made it after reporting an article in the Observer that predicted that after the middle of this century Whites would be a minority in Britain and Europe. This was followed by another comment firmly rejecting any restrictions on non-White immigration, because it was racist. Now there was no comment about the Observer article itself. It was simply presented as something their readers should know about. I don’t know whether the editor believed the prediction or not. They could have felt it was alarmist. I don’t know. But coming after this prediction, the continued support for unlimited immigration and separate spaces for Blacks – but not for Whites – struck me as simply a form of colonialism.

Demands for Muslim Autonomous Colonies

I recall reading a passage in Ali A. Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation (New Haven: Yale University Press 2009) in which he discusses the establishment of autonomous Muslim communities in America. He bases his argument on the methods used by the British in founding their own colonies. The British themselves were a minority, and so they encouraged the citizens of other European nations to settle in their colonies in exchange for which they promised to respect and preserve these peoples’ own languages, culture and laws. Thus America should permit the similar establishment of autonomous Muslim communities, who would be free to follow their own culture under sharia law but which nevertheless would still be loyal to the American state. Allawi, a former Minister of Defence and Minster of Finance in the postwar Iraqi government, is a critique of both the westernisation of Islam and Salafi fundamentalism and Islamism. But this call for Islamic colonisation really can’t be tolerated. The best defence against it is the American separation of church and state, which was used against the followers of one of the grunge gurus from India when he tried to set up a theocratic town in Oregon.

The radical Islamist Anjem Chaudhry made the same demand for an autonomous Muslim community in the pages of the Financial Times colour supplement for the 1st January, 2000. Chaudhry, then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, was claiming that Muslims should have their own separate community with Arabic as its language under sharia law. I think he may have been able to argue this as Belgium is already split into several different regions occupied by its different traditional ethnic groups – French-speaking Wallonia, Flanders and a German-speaking enclave. Chaudhry’s own lack of engagement with Belgium’s traditional peoples is shown in the title of his organisation. The 4/for pun simply doesn’t work in either of the country’s two majority languages, French or Flemish. This is another demand for what is in effect Muslim colonisation.

Way back in the 1990s I briefly tried a postgraduate degree researching British Islam. I eventually gave up, partly because I couldn’t handle some of the polemic coming from the radical fringes. During this time I came across similar arguments contained in books from British Islamic publishers. One was on sharia law by Ibrahim E. Doi, the former head of the Islamic society at Oxford University. Another was a guide to the adab, the traditional Muslim system of morals and courtesy. The introductions to both books demanded the establishment of independent, autonomous Muslim communities, governed by sharia law, in Britain. If these were not permitted, then British multiculturalism was a sham.

Self-Enclosed Communities in Britain and Germany

Since then I have seen plenty of articles in the press, including liberal journals like Prospect, worrying about the increasing separation between White and Muslim communities. There was an article a while ago in that magazine discussing a city in the north of England, where the Muslim and non-Muslim White communities were nearly separate with a minimum of interaction. Other articles elsewhere in the press have mentioned the situation in Germany, where the Turkish minority may also form self-enclosed communities. It has been argued that in these communities, people can get by without any knowledge of German, supported as they are by Turkish businesses and able to watch and listen to Turkish broadcasting. But I don’t believe I’ve ever come across anyone discussing the demands for separate Islamic colonies, at least not in Britain. It’s possible that the journos writing those articles don’t know about and neither do British politicians. I’ve also never heard Tommy Robinson mention them either, so it seems very likely that he and his gang of thugs don’t know about it. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the authorities are aware of them. They’re just not publicising them for fear of riots and the breakdown of ‘community cohesion’. The same reason they permitted the Asian paedophile gangs in Rotherham to go on for so long.

In many ways this is doubtless a good thing, as you can imagine the massive scaremongering and islamophobia that would be generated by the right, including Tommy Robinson and the EDL and the Daily Heil. 9/11 saw a rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s infamous article in the Torygraph attacking the burqa resulted in further physical attacks on the minority of Muslim women clad in the garment. Several were murdered.

Sharia Law Small Minority in British Islam

It’s important not to exaggerated the numbers of western Muslims, who may support this view. One of the papers a few years ago notoriously claimed that the majority of British Muslims wanted the establishment of sharia law here. In fact a close reading of the stats showed that only 5 per cent of Britain’s Muslims wanted it, and then only where it didn’t conflict with British law. I’ve heard that most Muslims in the West base their ideas on Islamic law on the Qu’ran, where most of this is about inheritance, rather than systems of government. I very much doubt that the majority of Muslims would welcome the formal imposition of what amounts to a system of autonomous ghettos, and certainly not those immigrants who have come to Britain to escape persecution in very draconian and authoritarian Islamic states.

The demands for separate, autonomous Muslim communities seem to be attempts by Islamic traditionalists to impose their views on the majority of their coreligionists, who seem more comfortable in a multi-faith society allowing the free interactions of people with different religious or non-religious views. And the general Muslim community seems to have become less insular, stressing engagement with wider British society rather than retreat. This has been shown in Muslim restaurants feeding the poor and homeless during the Christmas period, and community festivals like Eid, commemorating the end of Ramadan. This is celebrated with a large feast, which the Muslim community in parts of Bristol shared with their non-Muslim fellow residents.

No No-Go Zones in Britain

Fox News made itself a massive laughing stock a few years ago when it hysterically claimed that Muslims were taking over Britain. Birmingham was 100 per cent Muslim, which surprised the mayor and people of that great city. There were no-go areas in towns throughout Britain, where non-Muslims feared to tread. This was also angrily refuted by the mayors and politicos of those towns so accused, as well as ordinary British peeps.

Nevertheless, these calls for segregation do seem to be still around. A while ago I noticed in the ‘ethnicity’ shelves in Bristol’s Central Library a book by a prominent Muslim woman from one of the northern cities. I can’t remember who she was, but one of her claims was she was a matchmaker and an agony aunt, who had appeared on the Beeb’s Asian Network. The book’s blurb stated that it was about the rise of racial conflict and violence between Asians and other ethnic groups, and offered ‘a surprising solution’. The only surprising solution I can think of is segregation. I didn’t look at the book, so I might be wrong.

Belfield on Islam in Birmingham

I also wonder if this, or similar views, are secretly held by some of the leaders of Britain’s Muslim communities. Following the stabbings in Birmingham, right-wing radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up video calling for Birmingham’s authorities to clamp down on the threatening environment in one particular area of the city. Some of this was uncontroversial. He specifically mentioned the druggies on the streets there. But he also, and some of the callers to his programme, claimed that there was a Muslim presence there which was overpowering and threatening to non-Muslims. He attacked the chanting coming from the local mosque, as well as preaching, some of which seemed to be political by Muslims on the street. This, he said, was not tolerated in other towns.

I wouldn’t like to say that Belfield is personally racist. Certainly one of the callers supporting his view wasn’t. She said she had no problem with the Black population of the area, who were also Brummies. But he is vehemently anti-immigrant, condemning the arrival of asylum seekers from Calais. He also seems to be have been taken in by the rumours that the stabbings were committed not by a Black Brit with mental health problems, but by one of the Somalian asylum seekers he and Nigel Farage have been moaning about. He also attacked Leeds English language local radio for broadcasting warnings about the Coronavirus in Urdu, which is the language, or one of the languages used on the Beeb’s Asian Network, which is also based in Leeds.

Covert Support for Extremism Among Some British Muslim Leaders

But there is a problem in that the leaders of Birmingham Central Mosque and British Islamic organisations have a history of saying one thing and believing quite another. Ed Hussain in his book, The Islamist, an account of his time as a militant Islamic radical, describes the various leaders of the British Muslim community, who visited No. 10 to reassure Tony Blair that they supported his campaign against Islamic radicalism, all the while holding the very beliefs they affected to condemn. It’s therefore quite possible that the leaders of whatever mosque Belfield was attacking may want Muslim autonomous areas, and are acting on this belief as far as they can in a democratic, pluralist society. I hope not, but I don’t know.

This is a situation that needs watching. It will be interesting to see if Black British and Muslim radicals start making demands for autonomous areas following developments in America. If so, they need to be discussed, refuted and fought. Such views would be unacceptable coming from White supremacists and racists, and should be no more tolerated coming from any other colour or religion.

Is Random Stop and Search Saving Black Lives?

August 25, 2020

I realise that this is a very controversial position, as one of the complaints made by the Black Lives Matter protests was about the hugely disproportionate numbers of Black people stopped and search for weapons by the rozzers. But nevertheless, I do wonder if there’s an issue here that isn’t being addressed – that of Black on Black violence.

This was an issue way back in the 1990s, as I recall. Black activists and anti-racism campaigners pointed out that Black people, and particularly Black men, were the commonest victims of violence. I don’t doubt that this information was revealed partly to calm White fears that Black violence was largely directed outwards at them. There was naturally great concern about the gang culture, not just confined to Blacks but including Whites and others, especially after the murder of Demilola Taylor. He, you may remember, was a 12 year old Black lad, who was chased home from school and stabbed. He bled to death in the stairwell of the block of flats where he lived. It was an horrific crime that truly shocked the nation. The issue of Black and Black violence was also picked up by Ali G. In one of his interviews, in which he took the mick out of serious celebs, politicos and other figures of authority, he talked to a senior police officer about it, and the weapons that ‘brothers were using against brothers’. After pretending to be seriously concerned, the character turned to a selection of the weapons the officer of the law had brought along to show just what they had taken from the criminals responsible. Ali G immediately started asking about which was the coolest. To which the officer rightly replied that none of them were. I used to watch Ali G, and found some of it hilarious. But there were times when Sasha Baron Cohen overstepped the mark with him and his other characters, and there were protests from Blacks offended at what they considered to be racism in a White performer appearing as a Black character. Even though Baron Cohen never appeared in Blackface, and the character was later presented as a White lad, who wanted to be part of urban Black culture but didn’t really understand it.

I don’t quite know what happened to the issue of Black on Black violence. It seemed to fade away into media obscurity, along with general concerns about the influence of Hip Hop and gangsta rap, which was held to be responsible for promoting the violent gang culture. I’ve noticed in recent reports on the news attacking and condemning knife crime that many of the victims are Black, but there are also Whites represented, presumably to dispel any further racial fears that it’s a peculiarly Black problem. However, extreme right-wing YouTuber, Paul Joseph Watson, in one of his rants the other day claimed that 70 + per cent of the perpetrators of violence or knife crime were Black, and 62 per cent of the victims. He did not give the source of these statistics, so you may well be justified in taking them with a pinch of salt. I can think of one reason why these figures may be incorrect. If the police are massively disproportionate in their targeting of Blacks for stop and search, then the figures could be an artifact, not of the real amount of Black violence, but simply a product of more Blacks being found with weapons simply because more Blacks than Whites were searched. But it may also be true that these figures are accurate, and that for a variety of reasons – poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities, and yes, the influence of certain strands in popular culture, more Blacks than Whites are involved in violent crime, with Black people the chief victims.

If that’s the case, then there is clearly an argument for retaining stop and search and targeting Blacks rather more than Whites as an anti-racist strategy. Because if Blacks also constitute the majority of victims, then those searches are saving Black lives. Even though I think the criticisms of the excessive use of stop and search on Blacks is justified. And there is also clearly an argument for cutting some of the funding to the police and using it instead for social programmes, that may have greater success in leading some young Black people away from gang culture and its violence.

As for the murder of Demilola Taylor, that was one of the issues I had with a Black rights academic organisation with whom I was briefly in touch when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum. They thought I’d be interested in looking at their magazine. It honestly had the opposite effect on my, as I was angered at the magazine’s presumption of racism against Whites. I was particularly furious at a piece they’d included criticising the coverage of Taylor’s murder. They decided it was racist, and felt that the news should instead be concentrating on all the Blacks attacked and murdered by Whites. I got the impression that they thought the poor lad had been murdered by a Black gang. But there was no mention of the gang’s ethnicity on the news, and it was later revealed that it was of mixed race – it included members of all colours. The tone of the article made me furious, as regardless of the race or whatever of the murderers, a young child had been horrifically killed. It was one of the issues I raised in a reply I sent back to them about their magazine, along with several others. They replied in turn by telling me that if I wanted to talk to them again, I should send my comments to someone else.

This seems to be an example of the wider sensitivities surrounding the reporting of Black violent crime. And you can understand why, with the long history of extremely biased, racist reporting by the Tory press, Black people don’t want their community automatically associated with crime and violence.

But if there is a real issue here – if the majority of gang or knife attacks are by Blacks against other Blacks – then these sensibilities are counterproductive. There are certainly good arguments for scaling back stop and search, and being far more discriminating in targeting the real villains, rather than ordinary, decent Black peeps simply for being Black. But at the same time, these searches could also be saving Black lives. And as the news reports have shown, even for those who survive, the trauma is still very real.

If Black lives truly matter, then it’s also an issue than means cracking down on Black on Black violence, and not just the excessive tactics of the police. 

 

Liverpool to Put Information Plaques on Buildings and Monuments with Connections to Slavery

August 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world have prompted the authorities in Liverpool to examine once again their great city’s connection to the slave trade. According to an article by Jean Selby in today’s I, for 24th August 2020, the city is going to put up information plaques around the city on areas and places connected to the slave trade. The article’s titled ‘Liverpool to acknowledge its history of slavery’. I think it’s slightly misleading, and something of a slur, as the City has already acknowledged its connection to slavery a long time ago. It has an international slavery museum, which I think may have started as a gallery in its maritime museum way back in the 1990s. This has inspired Black rights and anti-racism campaigners to approach the council here in Bristol calling for a similar museum down here. From what I gather from the local news website, The Bristolian, Asher Craig, a councilor for St. George’s in Bristol and the head of the local equalities body, told them to go away and find a private backer first. This is the same Asher Craig, who in an interview on Radio 4 showed that apparently she didn’t know about the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed, nor about the various official publications, including a 1970s school history book for local children, that discuss Bristol’s history in the slave trade, and told the Beeb she wanted a museum of slavery here in Bristol. According to The Bristolian, the campaigners are dismayed at the city’s refusal to build such a museum following the examples of Liverpool in the Britain and Nantes in France.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of London journos writing pieces about places like Bristol and Liverpool blithely claiming, or implying, that only now are they acknowledging their role in the abominable trade. I can remember getting very annoyed with the News Quiz and some of the comedians on it over a decade ago when I similar story came up about Liverpool. Jeremy Hardy, a great left-wing comedian sadly no longer with us, said something suitably sneering about the city and slavery. But the impression I have is that it’s London that has been the most sensitive and most desperate to hide its past in connection to slavery. Nearly two decades or so ago, when I was doing voluntary work at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, I had the privilege of meeting a young Asian artist. She was working on a project commemorating the slave trade by making models of old factories and mills from the foodstuffs they produced, which had been cultivated through slavery. She told me that she’d approached a number of towns and their museums, and received very positive reactions to her work. They had all been very willing to give her whatever help they could, though some of these towns had only been in the slave trade for a very short time before being squeezed out by competition from Bristol and Liverpool. As a result, they often genuinely had little in their collections connected to slavery. But they were willing to give any help they could. But her experience with the Museum of London had been quite different. They made it plain that they didn’t have any holdings on slavery whatsoever. I’ve been told since then that things are a bit different, and that individual London boroughs are quite open and apologetic about their connection to the slave trade. But it does seem to me that it is London that is particularly defensive and secretive when it comes to commemorating its own history of slave dealing.

Back to the I’s article, which runs

Liverpool will address its ties to the slave trade with a series of plaques around the city explaining the history behind its street names, building and monuments.

The city council plans to acknowledge the role the port city played in colonialism and the vast wealth generated from the trafficking of human beings. According to the International Slavery Museum, Liverpool ships carried about 1.5 million slaves, half of the three million Africans taken across the Atlantic by British slavers.

Falkner Square, named after an 18th-century merchant involved in the slave trade, is among those expected to have a plaque installed.

“We have to be led by our communities on how to do this and do it in a way that is sensitive to both our past and our present,” mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said as he announced the project yesterday. He was marking Slavery Remembrance Day – which commemorates the anniversary of a 1791 slave uprising in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He continued: “I do not believe that changing street names is the answer – it would be wrong to try and airbrush out our past. It’s important that we have a sensible and informed discussion about theses issues. We need to judge the past with a historical perspective, taking into account today’s higher ethical standards and, most importantly, how everyone, from every community in the city, feels about it.”

And advisory panel, chaired by Michelle Charters, recommended the creation of Eric Lynch slavery memorial plaques, named in honour of Eric Lynch, a Ghanaian chief who is a descendant of African slaves and spent his life drawing attention to the city’s slavery history.

His son, Andrew Lynch, said: “These plaques are a tribute to Eric’s long years of work as a black community activist and educator, teaching the people of Liverpool to acknowledge and understand their historic inheritance in an honest and open way, and uncovering the contribution made by black people throughout our great city.”

This all sounds actually quite reasonable. I think it’s fair to put the plaques up for those wanting such information. And I really don’t believe those places should be renamed, as this is a form of rewriting history. You shouldn’t try to erase the past, although I accept that some monuments, like those of Colston, are unacceptable in today’s moral and political climate for very good reasons.

However, I think this says less about Liverpool’s history and more about the present desperate state of the Black community in Britain. Back when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum all those years ago, I remember talking about some of the materials we had on slavery and its history by West Indian academic historians. I heard from some of the staff that some of this was actually quite controversial in some of the West Indian nations, but for reasons that are completely the opposite to the situation in this country. They’re controversial, or were then, among Black West Indians, who feel that they’re racist against their White fellow countrymen and co-workers. Apparently after one book was published, there was a spate of letters in the local press by Black people stating that their bosses or secretaries were White, and certainly weren’t like that. I think if the Black community in Britain shared the same general level of prosperity and opportunity as the White population, there would be precious little interest in slavery and its commemoration except among academics and historians. It would be an episode from the past, which was now mercifully over, and which the Black community and the rest of society had moved on from.

I also think that demands for its commemoration also come not just from the material disadvantages the Black community in general suffers from, but also its feelings of alienation and marginalisation. They feel that they and their history are being excluded, hence the demands for its commemoration. However, I think the reverse of this is that such demands can also look like expressions of anti-White sentiment, in which the present White population is demanded to be penitent and remorseful about something they were not responsible for, simply because they’re White.

And there are also problems with the selection of the events commemorated International Slavery Remembrance Day. This looks like Toussaint L’Louverture’s Black revolution on Haiti. L’ouverture was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. It was he and his generals that overthrew the French authorities in what is now Haiti, giving the country its present name and making it a Black republic in which power and property could only be held by Blacks. It naturally became a shining beacon for the aspirations of other Black revolutionaries right across the Caribbean and even the US. Major Moody discusses it in his 1820s report on slavery, which critically examined whether Blacks were prepared for supporting themselves as independent, self-reliant citizens after emancipation. His report included correspondence from Black Americans, who had been freed by their owners and moved to Haiti, but still kept in touch with them.

Moody was not impressed with the progress of the revolution, and concluded that Blacks weren’t ready for their freedom. This shocked many abolitionists, as Moody himself was a married to a Black woman. But if you read his report about Haiti, you understand why. After successfully gaining their freedom, the Haitians had been faced with the problem of maintaining it against European aggression on the one hand, and economic collapse on the other. The result was the imposition of virtual enslavement back on the plantation workers, who had fought so hard for their freedom. The country’s estates were divided up among the generals. The former slaves were forbidden to leave them, and quotas of the amount of sugar they were required to produce were imposed. If the poor souls did not produce the required amount, they were tortured or burned to death. It seemed to me when I read the Blue Book Moody published, kept in the Museum’s libraries, that Moody’s decision against supporting immediate emancipation for the enslaved peoples of the Caribbean was based on a genuine horror of such atrocities and fear that this would be repeated across the West Indies.

I don’t think Marxist historians would be surprised at the brutality that arose after the Haitian revolution. Marxist revolutionaries like Lenin believed that history followed certain deterministic laws, and were acutely interested in the French Revolution. From this they believed that all revolutions followed an inevitable pattern. After the initial gains of freedom, the revolution would be overthrown and a period of reaction arise, created by a dictator. Just like Napoleon had overthrown the French Revolutionaries to create a new, imperial monarchy. In their own time, they were afraid that the new Napoleon, who would undo the Russian Revolution, would be Trotsky. And so they missed Stalin’s threat. The reintroduction of slavery by L’Ouverture’s generals is just part of this general pattern in the progress of revolutions. Nevertheless, like the destruction of personal freedoms following the Russian Revolution and then Stalin’s Terror in the 1930s, it does raise the awkward question of whether it should, like the Russian Revolution, really by celebrated or commemorated without significant caveats.

This aside, I’m sure that following Liverpool’s decision, there will also be demands for Bristol to do the same. There is already a slave walk around the docks in Bristol and a plaque commemorating the slaves exploited and traded by Bristol merchants. The M Shed has a gallery on Bristol and the slave trade, which includes a map of various streets and properties in the city and its surroundings built and owned by slavers and those with connections to the trade. And the latest monument, set up in the 1990s, is a remarkable bridge down on the docks. This has two horns either side of it, but has been named ‘Pero’s Bridge’ after one of the very few slaves traded by the city in the 18th century, who identity is known.

Radio 4 Programme Next Thursday on the Repatriation of Looted Museum Exhibits Following Black Lives Matter

August 18, 2020

The Radio Times also states that next Thursday on Radio 4 at 11.30 am there’s a documentary on the debate about the repatriation of looted African artefacts now on display in British museums. The blurb for it on page 125 of the Radio Times runs

In the wake of protesters in Bristol pulling down a statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, Gary Younge talks to museum curators as they review what is on display.

There’s an additional piece by Simon O’Hagan on the previous page, 124, which adds

Museums might be closed, but curators are keeping busy reassessing what they have on display – minds focused by the toppling of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June. In the words of one curator, “in Britain you’re never more than 150 miles rom a looted African object.”

Presented by Gary Younge, who discovers that when the public is re-admitted to museums after lockdown, there is a distinct possibility that some display cases may have notable absences.

The debate over the return of looted and seized objects to indigenous communities around the world has been going on for several decades. Much of it is about the display of human remains. A few years ago a series about the British Museum showed that august institution repatriating a set of indigenous Australian burials to Tasmanian people from which they were seized. It’s not just African and indigenous peoples demanding that their ancestors and their property should be returned. The Greeks have famously been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles for decades, if not since they very moment Lord Elgin collected them in the 19th century. In very many cases, I don’t doubt that the moral argument is with those demanding their return, and that it’s the right thing to do.

The mention of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol adds a dimension that complicates the issue. The repatriation of these objects is supposed to be about modern, western museums correcting the moral injustices of an imperial past. But many of the looted objects themselves are the products of slaving societies, and were seized by British forces during wars fought to extirpate the slave trade.

The Benin Bronzes are case in point. These are superbly sculpted bronze heads, which were made as part of shrines to the chief’s oba. Literally meaning ‘right arm’, the word also denotes his spiritual power, rather like the numa of the pagan Roman emperors. However, Benin, then Dahomey, was a major centre of the African slave trade. It had a plantation economy centred on cotton production like the American Deep South, and was a major exporter. So much so that the British launched a war against them from 1850 to 1852 after their king, Guezo, refused to give it up and continued trading. The bronzes were seized by the victorious British forces.

Nobody was talking about their repatriation until the 1980s, when ‘African radical’ and the highly controversial leader of Brent council, Bernie Grant, demanded their return. I’ve no doubt that Grant was motivated by genuine indignation about the humiliation of an African nation by the British empire. But there is an irony here in that such a very outspoken opponent of anti-Black racism should have been seeking to return objects that had been taken as part of military action against an African slave state. And one that had absolutely no qualms, and grew rich, from enslaving the ancestors of Black Brits, West Indians and Americans like Grant.

Ditto with some of the objects that may have been returned to Ethiopia. A year or so ago the I reported that a particularly holy cross belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which had been seized by the British army in the 19th century, had also been repatriated to its country of origin. I wondered if the relic had also been looted in a similar campaign launched in that century to stop Abyssinian slave-raiding across the border into Sudan and what is now Kenya. If so, then it could be argued that it should not be repatriated, as it was a legitimate spoil in a war the British were justified in waging.

And let’s not be under any illusion that the African slaving nations wouldn’t also have enslaved the British servicemen they fought. One of the documents I found cataloguing the materials on slavery in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum in Bristol was a parliamentary blue book on the British action against the African slavers in Lagos. One of the chiefs involved stated that if he won, he was going to shave the head of the British commander and make him carry his palanquin. Which sounds very much like a declaration that he intended to enslave him.

I think the area of the repatriation of objects looted from Africa is much more complicated morally than is being discussed and presented, and that African involvement in and culpability for the slave trade is being quietly glossed over in order to present a cosy, straightforward narrative of imperial aggression and guilt.