Posts Tagged ‘Hailie Selassie’

History Debunked on the Media’s Un-Reporting of the Attack on a Statue of Hailie Selassie

October 9, 2021

I’ve posted a number of videos about Simon Webb and History Debunked. Webb’s channel specialises in attacking what he considers to be myths and falsehoods published as authentic Black history. He’s a Telegraph-reading Tory, and so, like everything else on the net, his claims need to be checked. Sometimes they’re true and at other times they’re much less so. As I’ve also pointed out. But this short video, of just over two minutes, is interesting.

In it, he contrasts the massive reporting of the felling of the statue to Edward Colston in Bristol last summer by a mainly White crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators with the felling of a statue to the late Ethiopian emperor, Hailie Selassie three weeks later. This received hardly any coverage. The Beeb briefly mentioned it, but did not report that its attackers were Black. The statue had been attacked as part of a dispute between the Oromos and Amharas, two Ethiopian tribes. It didn’t receive the same coverage as the attack on Colston’s statue as it didn’t fit the narrative the media were trying to push at the time of the BLM protests.

I can see how this would be so. Colston’s statue was torn down as part of the Black Lives Matter movement’s anger at the racism they perceived in British society and the continuing legacy and celebration of colonialism and slavery.

The problem is, so could the attack on Selassie’s statue.

My guess is that the attack on the statue wasn’t covered because it was seen as a dispute between the citizens of a foreign country which didn’t have any relevance to British racial politics. But this is not the case. Ethiopia has rightly been admired by Black radicals because it is the single African country that was not conquered by Europeans. But it was, like many other African nations, a slaving culture. In the 19th century the British and Egyptian authorities were concerned about Abyssinian slave raiding in the Sudan to the point were a punitive expedition was launched. In the early part of the 20th, the British authorities in central Africa were concerned about Abyssinian raids into Uganda to capture slaves there. One British officer, Major Darnley, was so outraged at the Britain’s refusal to stop these raids that he went undercover into Abyssinia itself to write a book, Slaves and Ivory, to describe his adventure. Darnley wrote that the dominant tribe, the Amharas, were enslaving the other Abyssinian peoples and as a result, whole provinces were being depopulated. His book was written with the intention of provoking an outraged British public into demanding an invasion to stop these atrocities. In fact, so great was the problem of Ethiopian slaving that Dame Kathleen Simon, a fervent opponent of it, supported the Italian Fascist invasion in the belief that it would finally put an end to it. The entry on her on Wikipedia states “Lady Simon embarrassed the supporters of Haile Selassie IEmperor of Ethiopia, on the eve of the Second Italo–Ethiopian War by uncovering his slave-owning wealth.[2] She claimed that Benito Mussolini had convinced her that he would try to eradicate slavery in Ethiopia.[5]

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathleen_Simon,_Viscountess_Simon

It’s clear that this is a problem for Black Lives Matter and their attacks on historical slavery as there really does seem a determination to play down indigenous African slavery and involvement in the global slave trade. Slave markets have reopened in the continent in Libya and Uganda. However, there is silence about this from western Black activists. Barbara Barnaby, the head of British Black Lives Matter, mentioned the slave markets in Libya in a speech at the Arise Festival of left-wing ideas, Why Socialists Oppose Imperialism. But did she did so only as the result of European and American imperialism in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy. She didn’t mention Uganda at all. The I’s columnist, Kate Maltby, has said this refusal to involve questions about Black slaving is because the question is a diversion to stop the struggle of western Blacks against racism. She has a point, but there is still a racial double standard being exercised. Whites are being criticised for historic crimes, but the same outrage is not directed at African peoples and nations that were equally culpable. How many Brits, for example, are aware that there are streets named after and statues to Efronye Tinobue, a 19th century female African slaver, in her native Nigeria? I doubt many of the mob that demolished the statue to Colston were aware of the African involvement in the slave trade, and would probably be upset if they were told.

But if monuments to Whites with connections to slavery are to be torn down and renamed, so should those to Africans with the same connections, like Hailie Selassie. And the African and Islamic involvement in the slave trade should be far better known.

Book on Fascism in Black American Literature Between the Two World Wars

January 20, 2021

Mark Christian Thompson, Black Fascisms: African American Literature & Culture between the Wars (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

This is one of the other books I’ve been reading during the last few days. It’s a fascinating examination of a little known episode of Black American literary history when, in the 1930s and early 1940s, a number of Black American authors and activists took over elements from European Fascism to form their own version of the totalitarian creed. The blurb reads

In this provocative new book, Mark Christian Thompson addresses the startling fact that many African American intellectuals in the 1930s sympathized with fascism, seeing in its ideology a means of envisioning new modes of African American political resistance. Thompson surveys the work and thought of several authors and asserts that their sometimes positive reaction to generic European fascism, and its transformation into black fascism, is crucial to any understanding of Depression-era African American literary culture.

Taking on a subject generally ignored or denied in African American cultural and literary studies, BLACK FASCISMS seeks not only to question the prominence of the Left in the political thought of a generation of writers to change how we view African American literature in general.

Following the introduction, it has the following chapters:

  1. Black Literary Fascism
  2. The Myth of Marcus Garvey: Black Fascism and Nationalism
  3. George S. Schuyler and the God of Love: Black Fascism and Mythic Violence
  4. “In Turban and Gorgeous Robe”: Claude McKay, Black Fascism, and Labor
  5. His Rod of Power: Zora Neale Hurston, Black Fascism and Culture
  6. Richard Wright’s Jealous Rebels: Black Fascism and Philosophy

Conclusion: Historical Black Fascism, Black Arts, and Beyond

For some, this is no doubt shocking and uncomfortable reading. Thompson states that his book will be controversial, because it seems to challenge the dominance and achievements of Marxism in Black American politics and culture of the period. He does not seek to deny this, but to argue that there was a significant turn away from Communism towards Fascism at the tail end of the Harlem Renaissance, and that this was no mere blip in the career of the figures discussed, as some historians and critics have claimed. It’s also remarkable, in that as victims of racism it seems to run counter to reason that Black Americans would embrace a viciously racist ideology associated with White supremacy. But by the early 1940s some Black youngsters had become so alienated from their country, that they were singing songs about how they thought they’d move to Germany because they’d be better off there. The likelihood is that these kids probably didn’t understand what Nazi Germany was really like. The Black intellectuals, who turned to Fascism, didn’t support its specific European versions. They didn’t want to become Nazis or supporters of Mussolini’s Fascists. But they took elements of generic Fascism and adapted it as a vehicle for their own nationalist aspirations and desire for pan-African racial uplift.

Defining Features of Black Fascism

Thompson considers that the main elements in this turn were a dissatisfaction with Communist multiculturalism, the expectation that Ethiopia would produce a strong, modernising leader to redeem Blacks across the world, admiration for newly independent Haiti, and anti-Semitism. Black Fascists rejected Communism, because they were afraid that its emphasis on racial collaboration and the class war would lead to Blacks’ own aspirations and needs being neglected and Blacks used instead to improve conditions for White liberals. The Communist party in turn attempted to harness Black nationalism for the general class struggle, by defining Black Americans as working class. But this also created an anti-White racism that characterised all Whites as members of the exploiting classes. Which strikes me as not at all unlike Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory. The expectations of Black leadership from Ethiopia came from Psalm 68 in the Bible, which states that, after Egypt, Ethiopia will raise its hands to God. Ethiopia was the one African nation not conquered by the Europeans in the 19th century, which seemed to many Black Americans that the country was destined to lead the Black people. Coupled with this was the hope that Black Americans would return to Africa to take up positions of leadership and power in the continent, and free her from the European colonial oppressors. At the same time, the American army had just withdrawn from its occupation of Haiti. Many Black Americans admired this Caribbean nation because of the way it had thrown off French rule in the late 18th century to become a free, Black republic. At the same time, its new president, Stenio Vincent, sweeping autocratic powers dissolving the lower house and allowing him to appoint a sizable proportion of its senate. It was not a democracy in the American sense, as Zora Neale Hurston recognised, but an elected monarchy. Anti-Semitism and a hatred of Italians and Greeks among working class Blacks in Harlem was also part of the turn towards Fascism. The Black soapbox Caesar, Sufi Abdul Hamid, wished to create a separate trade union exclusively for Blacks. He was one of the leaders of a boycott against the White-owned department stores, which refused to employ Black clerks. He succeeded in getting this reversed, but his inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric – many of the stores were Jewish owned – resulted in the 1937 Harlem race riot.

Marcus Garvey and the Invasion of Ethiopia

Chapter one is a general discussion of Black American fascist aesthetics. The first of the writers and activists to be examined is Marcus Garvey, the founder and leader of the United Negro Improvement Association. This was a mass organisation, whose hierarchy was based on that of the army, with Garvey giving his followers various military ranks. Militantly nationalistic, the organisation also campaigned for a return to Africa, and Garvey was also impressed with the Italian Fascist corporatist state. Rejecting Communism, he instead supported private property. Blacks should work to acquire wealth, that they should then use to build the new Black state. However, private wealth should also be limited. Only the state should be able to hold investments over $5 or $6 million.

Of the figures discussed in the book, Garvey is the most overtly Fascist. Indeed, in a 1937 interview he claimed that Hitler and Mussolini based their movements on his. He was no fan of Mussolini, however, after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which also caused him to become a bitter critic of its former emperor, Hailie Selassie. Selassie had scarpered to London following the invasion, which bitterly disappointed Garvey. He had also expected the Ethiopian emperor to modernise the country, turning it into a modern, Fascist, corporate state, which would embark on its own destiny of imperial conquest. Selassie had not done this. Garvey also sneered at him because of the Biblical lineage of the Ethiopian monarchy. This claimed descent from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Thus, Garvey attacked him because he was, by virtue of this descent from the great Israelite king, Jewish. This was in contrast to Simon of Cyrene, who was Black, and Jesus, who was mostly Black.

Schuyler’s Pulp Fiction Supervillain Black Liberator

George S. Schuyler was a Black American writer and journalist, described by the book as somewhat like H.L. Mencken. He had started off as a vague socialist, believing that Africans were innately Communistic, and pan-African. Well, he was until he visited Liberia, which left him bitterly disillusioned to the extent that he wished the US army would invade so that America could take over and improve the country. This changed again with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Schuyler, like many other Black Americans, was outraged and wanted to raise an army of Black American volunteers, who would go and fight for the African nation. Seeking advice from the American foreign department, he was told that was impossible as America wished to preserve its neutrality. Schuyler thus turned to literature to express his anger and desire for revenge, writing the pulp story Black Empire. This tells the story of Dr. Belsidus, a Black American genius, who takes over Africa with his organisation, the Black Internationale, turning it into a military superpower through able to repel the Italians and then embark on the genocidal conquest of Europe through advance Black super science. Black scientists create death rays, hydroponic farms, fax machines and hypno-robots. Hypno-robots? Yes. Belsidus creates a new religion and deity, the God of Love, whose mission is to inculcate Black Africans with belief in their noble descent from the Babylonians and Egyptians and their future greatness. The hypno-robot is a giant, 50-foot tall figure of a naked Black man representing the God of Love, which has the power to move, raising its arms and nodding its head. Its eyes light up to hypnotise the congregation, so that they will become mentally receptive to Belsidus racial doctrines. Aiding Belsidus are a series of White women, his lovers, whom he casually murders if they fail him in bed or in their tasks of bringing down European rule. Belsidus comes across as Yaphet Kotto’s villain in the Bond film, Live and Let Die, but even nastier. He’s a genocide who ruthlessly kills White men, women and children. The story’s a nasty revenge fantasy, written by Schuyler to compensate for the Italian invasion. Schuyler himself didn’t stay a Fascist, but instead became a noted Black Conservative intellectual.

McKay, Sufi Abdul Hamid and Black Labour

Claude McKay was another Black American who had started out as a Communist, but then moved away from it, converting to Roman Catholicism. In the 1930s and ’40s McKay was also concerned with building a Black labour movement for which he also adopted aspects of Fascism. He was also an admirer of Sufi Abdul Hamid, an eccentric individual who styled himself Bishop Amiru Al-Minin Sufi Abdul Hamid, an Egyptian, but whose real identity may have been Eugene Brown of Philadelphia. Hamid had founded his own cult, the Universal Temple of Tranquillity. In 1932 he led a jobs boycott in Chicago and in 1934 led a similar boycott against Blumstein’s department store in Harlem. He was not popular with the other Black intellectuals, who regarded him as a charlatan and racketeer. Before his death in the late 1930s he was trying to promote himself as a cult leader in an attempt to challenge Father Divine. Called the Black Hitler because of his virulently anti-Semitic speeches, Hamid was partly responsible for the 1937 race riot, for which he was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the Jewish Minute Men. He appears as ‘Omar’ in McKay’s unfinished novel, Harlem Glory. This is partly an examination of the divided psychology of Black America. ‘Omar’ represents its Fascist side, while Father Divine, who appears as ‘Glory Savior’, and his cult, the ‘Glory Soulers’, represent religion and Communism.

Hurston, Moses and Haiti

Zora Neale Hurston is included because of her novel about Moses leading the Exodus, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in which both the greatest of the Hebrew prophets and his adversary, Pharaoh, have the nationalistic, genocidal qualities of modern Fascist dictators. Hurston also linked Moses to Haiti’s founder, Toussaint L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture’s power was represented by the Voodoo god, Damballah, who was also Moses’ rod of power. Damballah’s a snake god, while one of the miracles Moses performed was changing his staff into a snake. This novel is strongly influenced by Hurston’s admiration for Haiti and its authoritarian leader.

Cross Damon, Fascist Murderer or Existentialist Anti-Hero

Wright was another Communist intellectual, who then went to France to hang out with Sartre. He then wrote his own existentialist novel, The Outsider, about a former postal worker, Cross Damon. After losing his job, and suffering problems from the women in his life, Damon becomes a murderer, committing a series of killings across America. The novel was widely criticised at the time for not saying anything about the condition of Black America. Thompson argues that this is untrue. The book does examine their plight, as Damon personifies the Fascist tendency within Black America through his ruthless pursuit of the power over life and death. His murder of two twins, one a Communist, the other a Fascist, shows that to Wright these political creeds were essentially the same, and that Damon is also similar to them through their murder.

The Black Arts Movement and Neo-Fascism

The Black Arts movement was a post-War phenomenon, in which Black intellectuals and artists attempted to create a distinctly Black artistic culture, in contrast and opposition to that of White America. This chapter argues that historic fascism ended with the Second World War, and that its post-War successor, neo-Fascism, is markedly different. Fascism itself is also broader than Nazism, with which it has been identified, and which has itself been reduced to murderous anti-Semitism. It is a distortion, therefore, to describe the Nation of Islam as Fascist and genocidal simply because they held a joint rally with the American Nazi party, for which the party’s Fuhrer, Lincoln Rockwell, donated $20 to them. The chapter nevertheless states that the Black Arts movement constitutes an extreme form of Black nationalism, and ends with a call for it to be examined as a form of neo-Fascism.

Belsidus’ Statue and Fascist Homosexuality

Thompson’s a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so the book is less a work of political science as literary criticism. Thus it frequently refers to the works of such literary theorists as Georges Bataille, Foucault, Althusser and Guy Debord. I found some of the book’s arguments extremely convoluted, particularly in the chapter on Wright and The Outsider. There are times when he seems to be arguing for the Fascist nature of Cross Damon, from that character’s difference to or opposition to Fascism. He also follows the German writer, Ludwig Theweleit, in considering that their is a homosexual component to the Fascists’ adoration of their leaders. This causes the book to contain some bizarre passages about the significance of the penis in some of the pieces discussed. For example, he writes of the Belsidus’ 50 foot statue of a naked Black man

The statue is what Siegried Krakauer calls the “mass ornament”: a ritual object that is “an end in itself”. But even after the “ritual meaning” of such objects is discarded, “they remain the plastic formation of the erotic life which gave rise to them and determined their traits”. (146). The mass ornament is emptied of its ritual content and plenitude and re-cathected with an erotics of power that seeks to control the masses’ libidinal urges by converting them into an iconic religious outpouring. This is why Schuyler’s mass ornament is depicted as “a huge statue of a nude Negro standing with legs apart, gazing sardonically downward with arms crossed. It was all of 50 feet high and every part of the body was clearly depicted” (58). The bearer of the sardonic gaze cannot be mistaken. “Sardonic” is, after all, one of Schuyler’s favorite adjectives for the good Doctor and his notorious gaze. Also inescapable in this mammoth fifty-foot statue of a male Negro is an anatomical accuracy that surpasses the bounds of decency. If one wondered whether Dr. Belsidus’s movement followed the fascist phallocentric logic of male ego-reintegration Theweleit theorizes, the appearance of the fifty foot “God of Love” in all his anatomical glory removes all doubt. (pp. 90-1).

Black Fascism and other Forms of Dictatorship

The book acknowledges that none of the authors and activists discussed founded Fascist parties or movement, and he regards them as individual figures rather than the leaders of mass Fascist organisations. Garvey, with his militaristic nationalism and claims to have inspired the European Fascist dictators is the closest figure to European Fascism. So too is Sufi Abdul Hamid with his emphasis on labour, Black separatism and anti-Semitism. Hamid’s similar to the Nazis in another way: they also hated the department stores as an example of ‘Jewish capital’. Schuyler’s Black Empire is a revenge fantasy, whose hero – or anti-hero – would certainly qualify as a Fascist, even though Belsidus himself doesn’t appear to his followers to make speeches from the balcony. He just leaves that to his naked 50-foot robot. But this doesn’t make Schuyler himself a Fascist or mean that he is calling for a similar Fascist movement. It is questionable, however, whether Hurston’s Moses or Pharaoh are really fascist either. Political scientists have debated the difference between Fascism and other forms of authoritarianism and aggressive, intolerant nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, argues that it possesses distinct features that distinguish it from the militant, dictatorial regimes of some of the nations in Africa and the Developing World. Stenios Vincent was highly authoritarian, but it’s questionable whether his regime can be considered Fascist. This also raises the question of how far Hurston’s Moses and Pharaoh are Fascists, although they certainly act in a way which could be described as fascistic. I find the argument about Wright’s The Outsider rather less convincing. It may be that Cross Damon partakes of part of the psychology of Fascist and Communist dictators through his murders, but it seems to me to be a straightforward piece of existentialist literature rather than an examination of Black American Fascism. It reminds me of Albert Camus’ novel of the same name, about a Frenchman in Algeria who murders an Arab out of boredom. Wright’s outsider is another murderer, but is a Black American rather than French.

Conclusion

I don’t know how far the Black Arts movement could be described as neo-Fascist, but historians of post-War British Fascism have noted the radical revisions of doctrine the BNP went through under its generalissimo, Nick Griffin. But Critical Race Theory does seem very similar to the Communist party’s simplification of race relations in America to Black workers versus White exploiters. My guess is that an examination of the Black Arts movement would uncover clear parallels and influences from European neo-Fascism, as would Black Lives Matter today.

Adele’s Adoption of Black Style Is In a Long Tradition of White Anti-Racism and ‘Allyship’

September 1, 2020

One of the controversies that has now broken out in the wake of Black Lives Matter has been over the dress and hairstyle Adele adopted yesterday. She was hoping, like many folks, to attend the Notting Hill carnival. But it was cancelled due to the restrictions on large gatherings imposed by the Coronavirus. I’ve heard that they held a Virtual one online instead. Adele decided to signal her support for the carnival by posting a picture of herself in a bikini showing the Jamaican flag and with her done in a Black hairstyle. So the league of those wanting to find any excuse to be offended have accused her of ‘cultural appropriation’.

I really don’t accept this. I believe that she wore the bikini and the hairstyle as a genuine gesture of support to the Carnival and the Black culture that created it. And moreover, without people like Adele adopting Black fashions and Black music, Black culture would not have the acceptance it does among Whites and the racism Black people experience would be much, much worse.

Real Appropriation of Black Music and Culture

I am very much aware that cultural appropriation has occurred. Black people have complained for a long time that ‘the White man stole the Blues’. One of the great stars of the Big Band era, Benny Goodman, is a case in point. Goodman was a White man, but all his hits were written by Black Jazzers. One of the most notorious cases is that of ‘Tar-ra-ra Boom-de-ay’ in the 19th century. It’s credited to a White musician, but he heard it from a Black lad singing it on the streets. And cultural appropriation also doesn’t just apply to Blacks. Native Americans are also uncomfortable when Whites adopt their traditional culture, like some of the New Agers and pagans, who have adopted aspects of their religion. And I can’t say I blame them. But what Adele has done is the opposite, and goes right back to the 1920s and before when White youths began adopting Black fashion and music.

The ‘White Negroes’ of Jazz and Rock-n’Roll and Anti-Racism

One of the first in the 1920s was ‘Mezz’ Mezzrow. He was a White kid, who first immersed himself in the emerging Jazz scene. He adopted Black culture to such an extent that he has been called ‘the first White Negro’. Later on, one the ‘White Negroes’ – I’ve forgotten which one, painted himself with melanin in order to see what being Black in America was really like. I think he got an unpleasant surprise. But this didn’t stop him writing a book pleading for reconciliation between Whites and Blacks. And after Jazz faded with changes in youth culture, it’s place was taken by rock’n’roll. The books on music I’ve read state clearly that it’s a hybrid musical genre – a mixture of White Country music and Black barrel house Jazz. I’ve got a feeling that the primacy given to the guitar in rock and pop, rather than the piano or keyboard, comes from the old Blues master Howlin’ Wolf when he was performing in Chicago. Little Richard, who passed away recently, once claimed in an interview that it was thanks to him Blacks and Whites started dancing together. Before he started performing, he noticed that White the dance floors were full of Blacks tripping the light fantastic, the Whites just stood around the edges watching. ‘White spectators, we used to call ’em’, he reminisced. Then he started playing and they suddenly joined the Blacks on the floor. ‘So a decade before Dr. Luther King, we had integration’.

Nazi Hatred of the  White Adoption of Black Culture

And those Whites that did adopt Black music got real hate for it from the real racists. It comes from the old biological determinism that sees culture as the product of biology. By this standard, Whites are somehow betraying their race and degrading themselves by adopting Black music and fashion. Back in the 1980s there was a book, The Best of Signal, which published articles from the big popular Nazi mag of the Third Reich. It was published by a mainstream publisher as I think one of the very many titles on the Nazis, the Third Reich and World War II that appear every year. I found a copy in a secondhand bookshop. One of the articles in it was an explicit attack on the contemporary Jazz scene in America. It showed a groups of American youths – I can’t remember whether they were White or Black – wearing the characteristic ‘Zoot suits’ and made it very plain what the writer and the vile regime he served thought of them. When White kids in the 1950s started listening and dancing to rock’n’roll, Conservative voices accused them of taking over ‘Negro sensuality’.

And the same criticisms was still being voiced in the 1990s. That was the decade that saw the emergence of the Militia movement in the US and the gathering of various neo-Nazi outfits in the Hayden Lakes area, where they started building communes and compounds. These are real Nazis, not the casual racists who are often simply called it for their vile opinions. I think Louis Theroux went to one of them in his Weird Weekends. It was built like an armed fort or concentration camp, complete with watchtowers and barbed wire fencing. The obergruppenfuhrer Theroux interviewed proudly showed him the stack of greeting cards he’d had printed for his storm troopers to send. For most people, it would have been blasphemy, as it showed Adolf Hitler as Santa coming down a chimney bringing presents. In the interview I read, the writer tried to tackle one of these Nazis on the subject of Whites. The reply they got was that contemporary White culture had been corrupted by Black. They listened to Black music, wore Black fashions and danced like Blacks. Except he didn’t say Blacks. He said ‘N***ers’. It’s the same sentiments David Starkey got rightly panned for in 2012 or so when he was asked what was responsible for the riots. He blamed Black music. When it was pointed out to him that a fair proportion, at least, of the rioters were White, he stated that ‘they have become Black’. I don’t doubt that same White racists would condemn Adele for her choice of dress and hairstyle yesterday.

Blacks and Musical Apartheid

And these sentiments are contributing to apartheid in music. One of the complaints that has been voiced in the wake of the Black Lives Matter has been by Black musicians about the racism in their industry. I remember reading newspaper interviews 25-30 years ago by Black British musicians complaining about the musical apartheid they found when they toured America and parts of the continent, like Austria. They found there that music was strictly compartmentalised between ‘White’ and ‘Black’. One section dealt with Black performers another with Whites. I can’t remember who the Brit muso was, but she was really shocked because back here in Blighty she performed for people of all colours. But when she went to America, there was an expectation in the record company that she’d only perform for Blacks. At the same time, she and other Black musos, when they toured Austria, found their CDs and records put in the section of the music stores devoted to Black music.

I’ve also heard since then about the racism and abuse Black artists have had to face when they’ve tried performing in ‘White’ genres. A friend of mine told me a little while ago about the amount of hate the founder of the Heavy Metal band, Living Colour, got. Living Colour was an all-Black band, who wanted to produce awesome Rock. And apparently they got a lot of hate from both sides, Blacks as well as Whites, for daring to play a ‘White’ style of music. A month or so ago Radio 4 one started broadcast a piece about a Black American Country and Western performer. I can’t remember who he is, but I think he’s pretty old and has been playing it for a long, long time. And he’s suffered the same kind of abuse from the same type of people. It’s hard for me not to think that by accusing Adele of cultural appropriation, her critics are supporting the same kind of racist attitudes that would keep Whites and Blacks from appreciating and performing music outside very strict racialised boundaries.

Whites and Black Fashions and Hairstyles

As for Whites adopting Black hairstyles, I’m old enough to remember the ’70s and the big Afros that were in style then. From what I understand, they did so as part of the ‘Black is beautiful’ movement. Instead of adopting White hairstyles, Blacks in America and Britain wanted to wear their hair more naturally. And because of the influence of Black musical culture, so did many Whites. Leo Sayer had one, and when I was child I honestly thought he was Black. I don’t know if anyone from the Black community complained, but as this was also when the NF were back on the rise over here, along with organisations like the ‘Anti-Paki League’ – that’s what they called themselves – I think people had colour had worse to worry about.

I only came across the accusations of cultural appropriation for Whites adopting Black culture in the 1990s, and that was only in the American satirical comedy, Spin City. This starred Michael J. Fox in one of his last roles, as the head of the communications team for a fictional New York senator. In one episode, his Black co-workers are upset because one of the Whites has moved into a Black neighbourhood. And to fit in, he’s started wearing stereotypically Black clothes. Like turning up in an African robe. Fox’s character tries to explain that the man isn’t trying to be racist. He’s just trying to identify with the people of his new community. He also tries to explain to the man that he is, inadvertently, causing offence. The next day the guy comes in very obviously wearing a hat. Fox whips it off to reveal that the guy’s had his hair dressed in dreadlocks.

At roughly the same time that was on, I knew White people with dreads. As there still are. And the Black people I’ve known and worked with had absolutely no problem with it. They told me they had White friends, who looked good with it. Victor Lewis Smith, the satirist, TV critic and practical joke responsible for such shows as TV Bile and Inside Victor Lewis Smith, used to wear dreadlocks. Now I’ve got very mixed views about Smith. Some of his material I found funny, but in other ways he could be anything but. And he was an ex-public schoolboy, and so could be accused of cultural appropriation. But I don’t think anyone did.

Western Black Traditional Culture, Hip Hop Fashion and Ethiopian Dreadlocks

It seems to have begun with some Black Americans claiming Whites were stealing Black culture when they took over Hip Hop fashion in the 1990s. But I also remember one Black celeb scornfully pointing out that expensive trainers and the designer accessories also aren’t a traditional part of Black culture. And then a few years ago there was a video clip going round on YouTube of any angry Black female student haranging a young White lad in an American university because he had his hair in dreads. It was clipped and repeated in posts by Conservative Whites attacking the aggressively intolerant anti-racist culture in parts of American academia. And now that same attitude appears to have crossed the Atlantic.

But what was said about Hip Hop style not being part of traditional Black culture, could also be said about dreadlocks. Don’t mistake me – they are an authentic part of African Black culture. They were taken over by the Rastafarians from the hairstyle worn by Ethiopian warriors. They did so because at the time – I don’t know if they still do – they revered the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie Makonnen as the Black messiah they believed was foretold in the Bible, who would liberate western Blacks from their bondage. But it’s a hairstyle that was introduced from Africa, not one that was preserved in the traditional culture of Black slaves and their descendants. And many of the Blacks who wear it just do it because they like the style, but aren’t Rastafarians. Which, if we’re strict about the issue of cultural appropriation, raises all kinds of awkward questions. If it’s wrong for Whites to adopt Black styles, it could be argued that it’s also wrong for western Blacks, as the same dress and hairstyle properly belongs to its original African people.

Black Performers in White Makeup

And then there’s the question of how you judge Black performers, who have adopted White hairstyles and makeup. There are a number of videos, for example, where Beyonce actually looks White. She has straight hair, which appears blond rather than brown or black, and her skin has been made up to appear very pale. Certainly much paler than she appears in other videos, where she appears much darker. I am not accusing her of racism. But if people start flinging accusations of cultural appropriation around, then it could be applied to Black musos like Beyonce.

Skin Whiteners and the Damage to Black Skin

And incidentally, I am also very much aware of the harm being done to Black people by the feeling that somehow they should try to make themselves appear more ‘White’. Akala apparently discusses his book on race and racism the use of skin lighteners by many Blacks in a desperate attempt to appear Whiter. It’s nasty stuff. These chemicals work by taking off the top layers of skin. Other Black and ethnic minority writers have attacked their use. And there was a nasty incident that got into the pages of Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column. It was during a boxing match in Ghana. One of the boxers had been using these wretched potions, and as a result he lost the skin on part of his face after a particularly vicious blow from his opponent. Which provides an extreme, and very graphic argument why people shouldn’t use them. Skin has its own natural beauty, whatever shade it is.

I realise this is a long article and that some of the outrage is understandable coming after the condemnation of certain comedians for appearing in makeup as Black characters, like Bo Selecta and Lucas and Walliams in Little Britain. But Adele was not in Blackface, and she is nowhere near the Black and White Minstrels, who were subject of massive controversy in the ’70s before being axed in ’80s because they did perform the old Black minstrel songs in Blackface.

But Adele seems to be coming from a completely different direction. She’s following a century-old tradition in which the White aficionados of Black culture have shown their appreciation by adopting it. People like Mezzrow, who would now be viewed, using the jargon of intersectional feminism, as ‘allies’.

White Youth, Black Music and the anti-Racism Campaigns of the 1980s

It was people like Adele, who helped push back against the NF and BNP in the 1980s. Rock Against Racism before it collapsed thanks to a takeover attempt by the Socialist Workers Party brought Black and White youth together through a series of concerts by some of the great bands of the day. But I’ve friends, who are worried we’re losing that musical culture. I was watching the old episodes of Top of the Pops one of the cable/ satellite channels has been repeating. Yeah, I know it was cheesy and some of the bands that appeared were jokes even in their time. But some of the bands were awesome. The first pop video I ever bought was UB40. In case you’re too young, they were a reggae band with Black and White performers. I bought the video of their tour in Russia. They were one of the first western groups that were able to play when Gorby gave the country glasnost. And they rocked! The video shows the crowd dancing after their translator tells them that they can. This was the country that banned Boney M’s ‘Ra-Ra Rasputin’ as evil and subversive. There were other bands, too, who mixed White and Black performers. Quite apart from White groups like Madness, who played Ska- more Black music – and wore the characteristic suits. Yes, they took over Black music and culture, but it came from a place of affection and solidarity. The kids of my generation saw them bands like them on TV, in concert, heard them on the radio and absorbed the general anti-racist message as it was coming out.

A New Apartheid in Music?

But my friend was afraid that this is being lost because of hardened attitudes that Black and White performers should stay to certain genres within very racially defined boundaries. So racially mixed bands can’t come forward and perform. Because it’s cultural appropriation, or somehow betraying Black culture or some nonsense. Whatever it is, it’s still segregation.

Conclusion

I think before accusations of cultural appropriation are directed at people like Adele, there are some, who should do a bit of reading first. About Mezrow and the adoption of Black culture and music by alienated Whites. There are some classic studies of it. I think one of them has the title ‘White Youth and Black Culture’. They should understand why the Punks took over the Pogo – it came from the jumping style of dancing of the Masai. And at the same time they did so, they were mixing it on the streets giving the real Fascists – the NF, BNP and the rest of the scumbags the hiding they deserved.

Adele’s trying to show anti-racist solidarity. And it’s the people denouncing her for cultural appropriation who are strengthening real racism.

Because the opposite side of that coin is that the Whites, who do adopt Black culture are somehow betraying their Whiteness. And that’s always been an argument for real racism and apartheid.

 

 

Radio Programme on Sylvia Pankhurst’s Support for Ethiopia against the Fascist Invasion

February 1, 2018

There are a number of programmes next week marking the centenary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote. One of the most interesting of these looks like a programme on Radio 4 on Monday, 5th February 2018, at 8.00 pm, Sylvia Pankhurst: Honorary Ethiopian. The brief description of it in the Radio Times runs

Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst got involved in the Ethiopian cause following its invasion by Italy in 1935 , and would later be recognised as an honorary citizen and given a state funeral. Here, Helen Pankhurst explores her grandmother’s role in the fight for Ethiopian independence.

Bristol and Bath have a connection to Ethiopia’s struggle for independence, as those cities were the home of Haile Selassie’s children during the War. They used to go to Victoria Park, though I think this was the one in Bath rather than Bristol.

There were some western intellectuals, who sided with the Italians during their invasion. One of these was Lady Kathleen Simon, who wrote a book on slavery. The Ethiopian emperor, Menelik II, had formally ended slavery in the country, but slaving still went on. British officers like Major Darnley, the author of Slaves and Ivory, complained that Ethiopian slavers were crossing the border to abduct the indigenous peoples of Uganda, then very much part of the British empire. His book was an account of his undercover mission into Ethiopia and a description of the way various provinces had been devastated by slave raiding by the Ethiopian aristocracy. It was partly written as a piece of polemic. Darnley was incensed that the authorities were taking no action against the slavers, and that in fact an area in Uganda around the border with Ethiopia had been declared a ‘no-go zone’ to British personnel. At the end of his book he argued that we should invade and conquer Ethiopia in order to halt their raiding into British territory, as well as the horrors of slavery and the slave trade in Ethiopia itself.

I don’t think Darnley supported the Italians, but Simon certainly did. At the end of her book, entitled simply Slavery, she also discusses Ethiopian slavery and slave raiding, and praises the Italian invasion as she believed that it would put a halt to it. I don’t think Mussolini had much of an interest in slavery, if any. He was far more keen to build a mighty new Roman empire. And issues like personal freedom certainly were very much not the concern of the man, who invented totalitarianism. Still, Simon’s book shows how some members of the British aristocracy supported Italian Fascist imperialism for ostensibly liberal motives.

Ethiopian Martyrs under WW 2 Italian Fascism

June 1, 2013

The Ethiopian Coptic Church is one of the most ancient churches in Africa. The country converted to Christianity under King Ezana in the fourth century. The currency he established was on a par with the Roman denarius, so that the country could freely trade with Rome. The Copts are Monophysites, who believe that Christ had only a divine nature, while Chalcedonian Christians in the western churches – Roman Catholics, Protestants and Greek and Russian Orthodox consider that Christ was both human and divine. The theological argument for this is that Christ’s humanity was swallowed up in His divinity, in the same way a small drop of water is swallowed up by an immense ocean. As I understand it, the liturgical language of the Church and the Ethiopian Bible is Ge’ez, an ancient language descended from the South Arabian languages. It’s therefore a semitic language, related to Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the language of the Syrian Orthodox church, which is itself descended from Aramaic, the language probably spoke by our Lord Himself. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church received its Christianity from the Egyptian Copts. During the succeeding centuries the Ethiopians were in communion with the other eastern Orthodox churches, and translated a series of theological and other religious works from Coptic and Aramaic.

The Book of Enoch

The Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also contains a book not in the Western Biblical canon – the Book of Enoch. This is about the journey of the prophet Enoch to heaven. It contains a series of passages describing the Fall of the Angels and predicting the arrival of the Messiah at the End of Time. This Messiah is called the Son of Man, the title, which Christ uses of Himself in the Gospels.

Ethiopian Society and Church Similar to Old Testament

The Church itself, and traditional Ethiopian society, has been described as very similar to that of the Old Testament. According to the ancient epic of the Ethiopian emperors, the Kebra Nagast, the country’s monarchs are descended from Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The lyre is still played in Ethiopian, and as in King David’s time. The churches each possess a copy of the Ark of the Covenant. Ethiopian men also wear the tobe, a kind of toga. The country’s great buildings include a number of churches cut into the very rock itself, so that they are below ground level. These were built in the Middle Ages to protect them from attack from the neighbouring Muslim peoples. Many traditional Ethiopian names are direct statements or references to Christian theology. For example, the name of the former Emperor Hailie Selassie, means ‘Power of the Trinity’.

Invasion of Ethiopia and Defeat of Italian Army during World War II

During the Second World War Ethiopia was attacked and conquered by Fascist Italy as part of Mussolini’s project to create a revived, Roman Empire in the Mediterranean and Africa. This included a brutal extermination campaign in the Ethiopian countryside in 1937 under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani. Graziani was responsible for a series of atrocities during Italian invasion of Libya, earning him the nickname ‘the Hyena of Libya’. During his campaign in Ethiopia Graziani was responsible for killing a quarter of million Ethiopians. These atrocities were in response to an attempted assassination on Graziani in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. After its failure, the assassins fled to the ancient monastery of Debra Libanos. Graziani order the massacre of the monastery’s monks and nuns, as well as the citizens of Addis Ababa itself, and directed a campaign of terror against educated Ethiopians. The Fascist colonial regime finally ended in 1941 when British and Ethiopian forces entered Ethiopia from Sudan. On May 5, 1941, the Emperor Hailie Selassie re-entered the ancient capital of Addis Ababa. Older people in the area around Bath and Bristol in the English West Country remember that during the War, Hailie Selassie’s children were sent to safety in Bath.

Selassie’s Overthrow

In the event, Hailie Selassie’s failure to modern the country and his cover-up of a famine in one of the Empire’s provinces resulted in him becoming increasing unpopular. He was overthrown in a coup in 1973, which ushered in a Marxist, military dictatorship until Communism itself finally fell. The great rock cut churches have been featured in a number of programmes on the BBC, including one where they were visited by the great architectural historian and broadcast, Dan Cruikshank.

The Legend of St. Tekla Haymanot and the 1985 Famine

In 1985 Collins published a retelling of the legend of the Ethiopian saint, St. Tekla Haymanot, by Elizabeth Laird and an Ethiopian priest, Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, to raise money for Oxfam’s campaign against the Ethiopian famine. It was that famine that prompted Bob Geldof’s Band Aid and Live Aid records and concert to provide relief for its African victims. The frontispiece contained a prayer, written in Ge’ez that is recited at the festivals of St. Tekla Haymanot and the other saints of the Orthodox Church. The prayer gives glory and praise to God, Our Lady, and Christ’s Cross. The priest requests that the prayer may rise before the Lord’s throne, and praises Him for providing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, and food and clothing.

“Of him who has given us to eat this bread,
Of him, who has given us to drink this cup,
Of him, who has prepared fr us our food and
our clothing.”

Sources
‘Africa, Italian East (AOI, Africa Orientale Italiana)’, ‘Ethiopian War’, ‘Graziani, Rodolfo’, and ‘Selassie, Hailie’, in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut/ London: Greenwood Press 1982)

Elizabeth Laird and Abba Aregawi Wolde Gabriel, The Miracle Child: A Story from Ethiopia (London: Collins 1985).

Edward Ullendorf, The Ethiopians: An Introduction to Country and People, 3rd Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1973).