Posts Tagged ‘jamaica’

Why Did British Public Opinion Turn Against the Empire?

August 10, 2022

The British empire and its history is once again the topic of intense controversy with claims that its responsible for racism, the continuing poverty and lack of development of Commonwealth nations and calls for the decolonisation of British museums and the educational curriculum. On the internet news page just this morning is a report that Tom Daley has claimed that homophobia is a legacy of the British empire. He has a point, as when the British government was reforming the Jamaican legal code in the late 19th century, one of the clauses they inserted criminalised homosexuality.,

In fact this is just the latest wave of controversy and debate over the empire and its legacy. There were similar debates in the ’90s and in the early years of this century. And the right regularly laments popular hostility to British imperialism. For right-wing commenters like Niall Ferguson and the Black American Conservative economist Thomas Sowell, British imperialism also had positive benefits in spreading democracy, property rights, properly administered law and modern technology and industrial organisation around the world. These are fair points, and it must be said that neither of these two writers ignore the fact that terrible atrocities were committed under British imperialism either. Sowell states that the enforced labour imposed on indigenous Africans was bitterly resented and that casualties among African porters could be extremely high.

But I got the impression that at the level of the Heil, there’s a nostalgia for the empire as something deeply integral to British identity and that hostility or indifference to it counts as a serious lack of patriotism.

But what did turn popular British opinion against the empire, after generations when official attitudes, education and the popular media held it up as something of which Britons should be immensely proud, as extolled in music hall songs, holidays like Empire Day and books like The Baby Patriot’s ABC, looked through a few years ago by one of the Dimblebys on a history programme a few years ago.

T.O. Lloyd in his academic history book, Empire to Welfare State, connects it to a general feeling of self hatred in the early 1970s, directed not just against the empire, but also against businessmen and politicians:

”Further to the left, opinion was even less tolerant; when Heath in 1973 referred to some exploits of adroit businessmen in avoiding tax as ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’, the phase was taken up and repeated as though he had intended it to apply to the whole of capitalism, which was certainly not what he meant.

‘Perhaps it was surprising that his remark attracted so much attention, for it was not a period in which politicians received much respect. Allowing for the demands of caricature, a good deal of the public mood was caught by the cartoons of Gerald Scarfe, who drew in a style of brilliant distortion which made it impossible to speak well of anyone. The hatred of all men holding authority that was to be seen in his work enabled him to hold up a mirror to his times, and the current of self hatred that ran so close to the surface also matched an important part of his readers’ feelings. Politicians were blamed for not bringing peace, prosperity, and happiness, even though they probably had at this time less power – because of the weakness of the British economy and the relative decline in Britain’s international position – to bring peace and prosperity than they had had earlier in the century; blaming them for this did no good, and made people happier only in the shortest of short runs.

‘A civil was in Nigeria illustrated a good many features of British life, including a hostility to the British Empire which might have made sense while the struggle for colonial freedom was going on but, after decolonization had taken place so quickly and so amicably, felt rather as though people needed something to hate.’ (pp. 420-1).

The Conservative academic historian, Jeremy Black, laments that the positive aspects of British imperialism has been lost in his book The British Empire: A History and a Debate (Farnham: Ashgate 2015):

‘Thus, the multi-faceted nature of the British imperial past and its impact has been largely lost. This was a multi-faceted nature that contributed to the pluralistic character of the empire. Instead, a politics of rejection ensures that the imperial past serves for themes and images as part of an empowerment through real, remembered, or, sometimes, constructed grievance. This approach provides not only the recovery of terrible episodes, but also ready reflexes of anger and newsworthy copy, as with the harsh treatment of rebels, rebel sympathisers , and innocent bystanders in the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya, an issue that took on new energy as demands for compensation were fuelled by revelations of harsh British policy from 2011’. (p. 235).

He also states that there’s a feeling in Britain that the empire, and now the Commonwealth, are largely irrelevant:

‘Similarly, there has been a significant change in tone and content in the discussion of the imperial past in Britain. A sense of irrelevance was captured in the Al Stewart song ‘On the Border’ (1976).

‘On my wall the colours of the map are running

From Africa the winds they talk of changes of coming

In the islands where I grew up

Noting seems the same

It’s just the patterns that remain

An empty shell.’

For most of the public, the Commonwealth has followed the empire into irrelevance. the patriotic glow that accompanied and followed the Falklands War in 1982, a war fought to regain a part of the empire inhabited by settlers of British descent, was essentially nationalistic, not imperial. This glow was not matched for the most recent, and very different, conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. These have led to a marked disinclination for further expeditionary warfare’. (pp. 421-2).

In fact the whole of the last chapter of Black’s book is about changing attitudes to the empire and the imperial past, which Black feels has been distorted. The British empire is seen through the lens of atrocities, although its rule was less harsh than the Germans or Italians. In India the view is coloured by the Amritsar massacre and ignores the long periods of peace imposed by British rule in India. He also notes that the cultural and international dominance of America has also affected British ideas of exceptionalism, distinctiveness and pride, and that interest in America has superseded interest in the other countries of the former empire.

Attitudes to the empire have also changed as Britain has become more multicultural., and states that ‘increasingly multicultural Britain sees myriad tensions and alliance in which place, ethnicity, religion, class and other factors both class and coexist. This is not an easy background for a positive depiction of the imperial past’ (p. 239). He also mentions the Parekh Report of the Commission on the Future Multi-Ethnic Britain, which ‘pressed for a sense of heritage adapted to the views of recent immigrants. This aspect of the report’ he writes, ‘very much attracted comment. At times, the consequences were somewhat fanciful and there was disproportionate emphasis both on a multi-ethnic legacy and on a positive account of it’. (p. 239). Hence the concern to rename monuments and streets connected with the imperial past, as well as making museums and other parts of the heritage sector more accessible to Black and Asians visitors and representative of their experience.

I wonder how far this lack of interest in the Commonwealth goes, at least in the immediate present following the Commonwealth games. There’s talk on the Beeb and elsewhere that it has inspired a new interest and optimism about it. And my guess is that much of popular hostility to the empire probably comes from the sympathy from parts of the British public for the various independence movements and horror at the brutality with which the government attempted to suppress some of them,, like the Mau Mau in Kenya. But it also seems to me that a powerful influence has also been the psychological link between its dissolution and general British decline, and its replacement in British popular consciousness by America. And Black and Asian immigration has also played a role. I’ve a very strong impression that some anti-imperial sentiment comes from the battles against real racism in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the Fascist organisations that founded the National Front in the 1960s was the League of Empire Loyalists.

This popular critique on British imperialism was a part of the ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strip in 2000AD. This was about a future in which Earth had become the centre of a brutally racist, genocidal galactic empire ruled by a quasi-religious order, the Terminators. They, and their leader, Torquemada, were based on the writer’s own experience as a pupil of an abusive teacher at a Roman Catholic school. The Terminators wore armour, and the title of their leader, grand master, recalls the crusading orders like the Knights Templars in the Middle Ages. One of the stories mentions a book, published by the Terminators to justify their cleansing of the galaxy’s aliens, Our Empire Story. Which is the title of a real book that glamorised the British empire. Elsewhere the strip described Torquemada as ‘the supreme Fascist’ and there were explicit comparisons and links between him, Hitler, extreme right-wing Tory politicos like Enoch Powell, and US generals responsible for the atrocities against the Amerindians. It’s a good question whether strips like ‘Nemesis’ shape public opinion or simply follow it. I think they may well do a bit of both.

But it seems to me that, rather than being a recent phenomenon, a popular hostility to the British empire has been around since the 1970s and that recent, radical attacks on imperial history and its legacy are in many cases simply an extension of this, rather than anything completely new.

Academic Historian Gad Heuman on Post-War Caribbean Emigration to Europe

August 8, 2022

I found this paragraph on Caribbean emigration to Britain and other Europeans countries after World War II in Gad Heuman’s The Caribbean: A Brief History, 2nd Edition (London: Bloomsbury 2014):

‘In the period after the Second World War, migration patterns chanted: large numbers of Caribbean men and women migrated to the metropole. In labour-starved post-war Britain, for example, hospitals and transport services organized massive recruitment schemes to bring in workers from the Anglophone Caribbean. The first West Indian immigrants arrived from Jamaica on board the Empire Windrush in 1948, and one estimate put the total of migrants to Britain in the decade after 1951 at roughly 250,000. Concerned about the effects of this immigration, however, Britain passed the Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, severely restricting the flow of future migrants. Elsewhere in Europe, France received about 200,000 migrants from Guadeloupe, Martinique and French Guiana, and the Netherlands in 1980 had roughly the same number of immigrants from its former colonies in the Caribbean. The Netherlands has had a particularly large number of migrants from Suriname. When Suriname became independent in 1975m roughly 40,000 Surinamese, mostly of Indian and Javanese descent, fled the country, fearing discrimination by the new regime.’ (p. 184).

After another paragraph about Caribbean migration to the US, which is measured in millions, Heuman talks about the effect of emigration on the Caribbean on the next page. He writes

‘Migration has inevitably had significant effects in the Caribbean itself. It has created problems in that it has deprived the Caribbean of some of its most productive people. Since a large proportion of emigrants are relatively young, it has meant that the demography of some parts of the region have been badly skewed, leaving behind an unbalanced population of generally older people. At the same time, the remittances of of Caribbean migrants have been a very significant element in many Caribbean economies. As an example of the impact of remittance money, Bonham Richardson reported that Carriacou, a small island in the Grenadines with a population of around 6,000 people, received over $500,000 in remittances in one year in 1970. Remittances, then, are a major contribution to the GNP of most Caribbean countries. Moreover, without emigration, much of the Caribbean would now be overpopulated, creating unsustainable social and economic tensions in those societies.’ (p. 185).

It’s struck me that the importance of remittance money and the problem of overpopulation has been one of the factors driving emigration from the Developing World, not just the Caribbean but also Africa and India. Modi made a speech a little while ago stating that India would continue producing top-class technicians for the rest of the world. Apart from the graduates employed in call centres owned by western firms, it struck me that this was a policy designed to send highly educated Indians abroad because there wasn’t the work for them available in India and that the country also depended on them for their remittance money.

Academic Historian T.O. Lloyd on British Immigration Policy After World War III

August 8, 2022

I’ve turned to T.O. Lloyd’s Empire to Welfare State: English History 1906-1985, 3rd edition (Oxford: OUP 1986) to try and make sense of Simon Webb’s claims that the Windrush migrants weren’t invited here, but were merely taking advantage of cheap cabins, and that London Transport appealed to Caribbean bus drivers to migrate in order alleviate political unrest in Barbados and Jamaica. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find anything about these claims one way or another, but the history, published as part of the ‘Short Oxford History of the Modern World’, does contain some interesting snippets of information about immigration policy in this period. For example, he writes of the the wave of immigration in the 50s

‘Citizens from Commonwealth countries had always been allowed to enter England freely, but they had not made much use of this right before the 1950s. Citizens of the white Commonwealth occasionally came on shorter or longer visits, but nobody took any notice. In the fifties a flow of West Indians, Indians,, and Pakistanis began to come to England. From the economist’s point of view the country seemed to have found a fund of labour to draw on in the way West Germany drew on East Germany and Italy, or France and Italy drew on their underemployed agricultural labour. This development was not welcomed by the people who found themselves living near the immigrants. Occasionally it was suggested that immigrants took low wages and undercut the market rate, and it was sometimes said they were violent and noisy. While some of them were bachelors earning more than they had ever earned before, behaved as might be expected, most of them were quiet people with fairly strict ideas about family life. The hostility to them came simply from a feeling that black men were undesirable, just as Irish Catholics had been though undesirable in the 19th century and European aliens had aroused hostility earlier in the 20th century because they were different. The shortage of housing made matters worse; the immigrants were blamed for it, and then were blamed for living in slums. The Immigration Bill was welcomed by public opinion although it was condemned by a good deal of the Conservative press and by the Labour party. It allowed immigrants to come if they had certain skills, or if they had relations in the country, or if they had jobs waiting for them. The sentiment of liberally minded people was against the Bill partly on grounds of humane feeling and partly to promote economic growth., but most of these humane and tolerant people did not understand that other people, who were relatively uneducated and unaccustomed to novelty suffered real problems when immigrants came and lived near them.’ (p. 199).

Lloyd also writes about the shortage of labour created by the national plan of 1964, and the effects this had on immigration policy. It’s a lengthy passage, but I think it’s worth reproducing in full.

‘The point at which the planners had most clearly not accepted the constraints of reality was the supply of labour. They had accepted a target of expanding the national income by 23 per cent by 1970s, which meant a rate of growth of a fraction under 4 per cent, but their figures showed that to do this about 200,000 more workers were needed than seemed likely to be available. The prices and incomes policy was intended to check the tendency to inflation that had persisted in the economy ever since Beveridge’s definition of full employment – more vacant jobs than workers to fill them – had been tacitly accepted, but no incomes policy could prevent a rise in wages if there was a steady demand for 200,000 workers than could be found. Employers would naturally bid against each other, by offering higher wages or fringe benefits. If it was carried out, the National Plan would reproduce the very high level of demand that had existed under the 1945-51 Labour government, without the stringent physical controls that had been available just after the war. The government had in 1964 forbidden further office development in London, but in general it was ready to operate the economy with very little compulsion. This may have reassured economists that effort could not be diverted into the wrong channels by government decree, but it did leave open the possibility that a shortage of labour would lead to large wage increases.

More workers could easily have been found: Commonwealth citizens from the West Indies, India, and Pakistan were ready and eager to come. During the election the question of Commonwealth immigration had been lurking just below the surface, but the results suggest that the Labour party lost three or four seats on the issue in areas where there had been a certain amount of immigration and where local conditions of life were generally unpleasant enough to make the voters want to blame somebody. The bad housing conditions in Smethwick or Slough were not the fault of the immigrants, but the inhabitants thought differently and were influenced by the slogan ‘If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Labour’.

Tension and dissatisfaction over immigration rose after the election, with some Conservatives suggesting that their party ought to take a more determined stand against immigration than it had done in the Commonwealth Immigration Act. The government decided that it could not hold the existing position, and issued a White Paper indicating the way it would interpret the Commonwealth Immigration Act in the future. The policy laid down was decidedly more restrictive than in the past, at least so far as entry to the country was concerned; the White Paper also suggested ways in which the immigrants might be cared for more effectively once they were inside the country, and legislation against discrimination in public places was passed. Some people argued that legislation was not the best way to deal with the problem, though in fact other countries faced with the same situation had, in the end, fallen back on legislation after feeling at first that there must be less formal ways of acting.

The White Paper stated that no more than 8,500 Commonwealth immigrants, of whom 1,000 would be from Malta, were to be allowed work permits every year. All questions about freedom of movement and Commonwealth solidarity apart, this closed one of the ways in which the labour shortage revealed in the National Plan might have been made up. Rapid economic growth has, more often than not, been associated with rapid increase of the working population; there was no underemployed rural population in England to draw into the economy, as there was in the countries of Europe that had been thriving since the war, but an inflow of people from the underdeveloped parts of the Commonwealth might have enabled the economy to grow as intended. Public opposition to immigration was not inspired by a conscious choice between growth and keeping England white, because most of the people who opposed immigration did not realize that they had such a choice before them, but this was the effect of the policy in the White Paper.'(pp. 397-9).

These passages don’t say anything about whether there was a labour shortage in the immediate aftermath of the war, which immigrants from the Caribbean came to fill. But it does say that there a labour shortage created by the 1964 National Plan, which was prevented from being filled by opposition to immigration.

I looked through the book to see what sources Lloyd used for the pieces on immigration. In those chapters, he seemed to have relied on Paul Foot’s Race and Immigration in Britain of 1964.

There might be more information in more recent treatments of the issue, like Bloody Foreigners: Immigration and the English.

Did Barbados and Jamaica Really Appeal to Us to Take their Workers to Prevent a Political Crisis?

August 8, 2022

Here’s another unusual claim from Simon Webb of History Debunked about the origins of the first wave of Caribbean immigration here in the 1940s and 50s, if some of the great readers of this blog will indulge me talking about him once again. I know how he and his very right-wing views really annoy some people. This morning Webb put up a video repeating the claim once again that the Windrush migrants hadn’t been invited by the British government, but instead took advantage of the cheap cabins available on the Empire Windrush to come to Britain to seek work. He then moved from this claim to discuss the advertisements London Transport had placed in the Caribbean for men willing to work as bus drivers over here. Citing the Runnymede Commission and something they say on their website, to which he provides a link, Webb claimed that this had been done, not because Britain needed the Labour but for the benefit of the Barbadian and Jamaican authorities. At this period in the 1950s, there had been high unemployment and civil unrest in those colonies, and the British government had made the appeal for workers their to relieve the political pressure by taking the hotheads to Britain. He also stated that the West Indian nurses that came over here were intended simply to study, then go back to their own countries taking their skills with them.

I’m not an expert on immigration or immigration policy, and this occurred well before I was born. But history matters, even when some of the claims about it come from people like Simon Webb. I always understood that there was a labour shortage, and that some sort of appeal for commonwealth workers had been made. Though this wasn’t necessarily for Black workers. I therefore left this comment on the video:

‘I’ve seen several stories in the press about the appeal for West Indian workers to come to Britain. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent a decade or so ago claimed that the British government had put out such a call, but that five Labour MPs had joined the opposition in voting against it. Another version I’ve heard is that the British government had put out a call for commonwealth workers, but were expecting them to come from the White colonies like Australia, New Zealand and Canada. They weren’t expecting the mass influx of Black and Asian migrants. Is there any way to get to the bottom of these stories and see whether they’re truth or myth?’

Webb claims that the story that Caribbean immigrants were invited here is a myth created by Blacks a little while ago, and uncritically adopted by Whites because it made them feel ‘warm and fuzzy’. But from pieces like Alibhai-Brown’s in the press, it seems to me that some kind of appeal had been made. I suspect that you would have to read through a lot of books and documents looking for the truth of these claims. However, I do wonder if any of the readers or commenters here know anything about this issue and so may be able to correct or refute it.

Some of the comments to Webb’s video are interesting as personal reminiscences of meeting Caribbean immigrants and hearing from them why they came here, as well as seeing films in the Caribbean advertising for workers.

53supermojo said:

‘n 1964/5 I went to Football Matches and stood generally in the same place and by same people at every game. Amongst them were a group of Bus Drivers and Conductors from Barbados. Sometimes they came to the Match in their work Clothing , having worked the Morning Shift. They were all friendly and well mannered. They told my older Cousin and his Workmates, that they came here because they were unemployed , they saw advert in local newspaper for people to come and work here. So someone must have known about that in Home Office ? They said they had been here for 3 to 4 years at time and moved from London Area up to West Midlands , they lived in ‘ Digs ‘ and had Girlfriends. If they are still here , they would be in their late 80s or 90s now !’

Gary Dennis commented

‘My parents and many of her friends and associates from Jamaica recalled seeing what that called ‘propaganda’ films encouraging them to come to Britain. It painted a romantic and quant image of Britain, which did exists but not for most people. If you know any elderly Caribbean people ask them about these films and adverts. When Jamaicans came they actually had not intent of staying beyond five year, they wanted to make a bit of money then go back. Life was not as they expected and most were unable to leave and therefore settled in and made the best of it. My suspicion was that my parents generation had been ‘invited’ – or more perhaps more accurately ‘an opening made’ – to undercut the cost of local labour. I believe this was the origin of racial tension but I have no evidence. I remember reading an article in Lobster Magazine where Harold MacMillan was heard to have said in conversation that he didn’t expect so many to come. I began to question the need for immigrants from the Caribbean when I began to take an interest in basic economics and started to question the premise that there was not enough labour available after the second world war. Obviously many people died but I understand that women had already taken up much of the slack in the workforce. I don’t claim to know the truth but there are some of us descendants of immigrants that also question the official narratives about immigration. We need to remember that some of these countries were British territories and these policies and actions would have been arrangements between Parliament and the Governor Generals of the countries and I suspect that the trigger for the movement of immigrants originates from these parties with Barbados only having got it’s independence in 1966 and Jamaica in 1962; well after Windrush. Jamaica had turned violent because of militant unionism during the 1930s and 40s escalating significantly in the 60s so I suspect the worry expressed by the governments was less to do with the welfare of the locals but the stability of the territory. The European Coal Community also took advantage of massive movements of cheap labour after the second world war. Is cheap labour the common theme here?’

I’ve heard that many migrants from what is now Pakistan and India also originally came here to work for a very limited time before going back to their home countries. It was chain migration, in which one set of migrants would move in after the last set had returned. According to this view, the great surge in Black and Asian immigration came after Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and the imposition of limits on immigration by Ted Heath, as there was a rush of people to come to this country before the gates were closed. So many migrants from south Asia came here with the intention of making enough money to go back to Pakistan or India again that one ethnographic study of the British Asian community I’ve come across was called The Myth of Return.

As for women taking on male jobs during the War, I understood that there was the expectation that after the War women would return to their domestic role, just as they did after World War II, and that this is largely what happened until the rise of second wave feminism in the 1960s.

Also interesting is this comment from david c:

‘Back in the 60’s, I worked at a well known clothing company, who were praised for their charitable efforts to give employment, to about 300 people from Mauritius, with an agreement from their government, so they could work in the basement of the shop, making clothes. Nobody mentioned that they were being paid about 50% less than the the rest of us.’

This looks like a nasty bit of exploitation under the cover of humanitarianism, which makes you wonder what else was going on.

A Thorough Critique of Afrocentric Pseudo-History, Psychology, and Science

January 27, 2022

Stephen Howe, Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes (London: Verso 1998)

This is another excellent book I’ve been reading lately. I first came across in it an excellent review by the Black British writer, Caryl Phillips in the Financial Times at the time it was published, though it’s only now I’ve actually got round to ordering a copy and reading it. Afrocentrism is a set of inter-related, pseudo-academic disciplines based on the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and are the unacknowledged source of White western culture, which was stolen from them. Not only were the Egyptians themselves Black, but they may also have derived their culture and achievements in turn from the peoples further to the south, the Nubians and Ethiopians. Some Afrocentrists claim that Greece, Rome and Carthage were originally Black ancient Egyptian colonies and that the original peoples of the British isles were also Black. Some push this claim of Black African primacy even further, claiming that ancient Egyptians travelled to the Americas before Columbus, where they founded the Olmec culture. The ancient peoples of Asia too, the Indians, Thais, Chinese and Japanese were also Black. At the same time ancient Egypt expanded to colonise Africa, where it was also responsible for the major cultural, artistic and architectural achievements. Where these coexisted with alleged brutality and barbarism, as in West Africa, which had a highly sophisticated art alongside human sacrifice, this was due to biological degeneration from the original Egyptian herrenvolk.

Black Americans are held to be part of a single Black race and culture with Black Africans, and Afrocentric scholars are active trying to trace authentic African survivals in the speech, culture and psychology of Black America. There is supposed to be a single Black character and psychology and a distinct Black philosophy. At the same time, ,Afrocentric scholars believe that the Egyptians were masters of political theory and science, which can similarly be grotesquely exaggerated. Some of them claim that the ancient Egyptians knew about quantum physics and gravity and that the Tanzanians had semi-conductors. At the same time they are active researching and promoting various Blacks figures they believe were great scientists. Again, these figures, who could, like Benjamin Banneker, be genuinely impressive in their real lives, and their achievements are often wildly exaggerated.

Unsurprisingly there’s much racism mixed up with this. There’s a bitter hatred of Whites, as well as, Jews and Arabs. One Afrocentric writers claims the latter has been attempting to destroy African civilisation and enslave its peoples for 5,000 years. Which is quite incredible, considering that I think the Muslim Arabs only conquered north Africa in the 7th/8th century AD. There’s also a bitter hatred of homosexuality and strong rejection of feminism. In the early 1960s one Afrocentric group insisted that female members should show their submissiveness by crossing their arms and lowering their heads when one of the men passed them. There’s also an insistence on traditional family structures. At the same time, some believe that Blacks are intellectually and emotionally superior to Whites because of the greater amount of the melanin pigment in their brains.

At their heart, this is an attempt to compensate for the massive racial oppression and disparagement Blacks and their civilisations have suffered over the centuries, far more than any other ethnic group. Yet much Afrocentric scholarship is based on the severely dated writings of 19th and early 20th century European colonial officials and anthropologists, as well as other White writers, who definitely believed that Blacks were inferior. For example, Afrocentric scholars assert that, while Whites and Europeans are logical and rational, Blacks are emotional and intuitive. Which is very much like the old imperialist claim that Blacks were inferior because they weren’t rational and logical. The claim that ancient Egyptians were responsible for the colonisation of Africa and every advance made by the peoples of the continent also derives from 19th and early 20th century White sources. The only difference is that those writers believed that the Egyptians were part of a superior, ‘Hamitic’, White civilisation. And also mixed up with it are various occult, Masonic and New Age ideas. Some of these derive from Albert Churchward, a freemason, who believed that there was a war going on between freemasonry and socialism, and only the former could defend civilisation from the Red Menace. Other figures in the New Age part of the Afrocentric movement include Credo Mutwa, a genuine Zulu shaman, honest guv, and apologist for the South African apartheid state.

Howe’s book traces the history of these ideas, some of which have been around for longer than I thought. I was aware that the claim that the ancient Egyptians were Black and therefore equal to or superior to White civilisation began in the 19th century. I was surprised, however, to find that Black Americans, largely clergymen, were making the claims as early as the 1820s. He carefully distinguishes between those writers, like the Senegalese mathematician and nuclear physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, who, while wrong, nevertheless were diligent researchers and produced significant insights, and others who were far less impressive. Some of the latter can only be described as cranks, like the female Afrocentrist who claims that nearly everything, including Christmas trees, are representations of the Black male genitals. Some of the most virulently anti-White racist material comes from White writers, such as the assertion that Whites are inferior because we’re all descended from the Neanderthals, who are given a whole series of unpleasant traits. Some Afrocentrists seem to have set up their own Stalinist ‘cult of personality’. Molefi Asante, for example, has his own academic department and institute, who members and scholars always pay generous tribute to him for guiding them on their intellectual quest, and largely don’t say anything that wasn’t already said by the master. Quite a number give themselves impressive African names, meaning things like ‘Bearer of Enlightenment’, and a number have also claimed to have been African princes or holy men. Their real identities and backgrounds, however, tend to be much more prosaic. He also notes the connection and major differences with other major figures in Black scholarship and anti-racist campaigning, like Franz Fanon and W.E.B. DuBois, and the French Caribbean Negritude movement.

There are some significant difference between the scholars discussed here. Cheikh Anta Diop believed that ancient Egypt was the source of western culture and I think he wanted Greek and Latin replaced as languages by ancient Egyptian. But while his thinking was highly racialised, he wasn’t a racist. He wanted Blacks to join the global community of peoples as equals. He also believed that civilisation was cyclical, and that as Europeans supposedly took their ideas from Africa, so Africans should now learn from Europeans. Others were definitely racist, such as the speaker at the first Black History Month in 1986 who seemed to advocate shooting Whites, although he couldn’t tell his audience when, where and whom. In the case of Marcus Garvey’s son, this went into pure Black Nazism. When Jamaica celebrated Garvey’s birth in the 1970s, his son called for Garvey’s movement to become a Black National Socialism, because Africa also needs its lebensraum.

Among the researchers and writers examined and critiqued is Martin Bernal, the White author of Black Athena. This caused a major stir when it was published in the 1980s, possibly because, as Bernal himself suggested, he was White. Bernal was able to assemble a massive amount of information and was extensively criticised at the time. But he was also controversial because he believed that ancient Greece was also strongly influenced by the Semitic peoples, specifically the Phoenicians and the Jews. This was in fact based on contemporary Israeli scholarship, and was itself highly controversial. As a result, some of the criticisms of him and his work have a very nasty element of anti-Semitism.

The book is a thorough examination and demolition of Afrocentric scholarship with considerable sympathy for the genuine achievements of Black scholars, some of whom have made very trenchant criticisms. One Ghanaian or Nigerian philosopher lampooned the claim that there is a single, African philosophy based around a transcendent life force. In a spoof article he argued that the English, and therefore all westerners, venerated the mystic force ING, because English verbs often ended in ‘ing’, like ‘doing’ or ‘being’. In fact the claim that there is a single African philosophy comes from Tempels, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest, who only researched a single Bantu tribe, and the anthropologist Griaule and his Dogon informant, Ogotommeli. The latter two have become notorious because of their books’ claim that the Dogon had an advanced knowledge of astronomy. They knew that the planets circled the Sun in ellipses, and that Sirius had an invisible companion star. For R.K.G. Temple in the 1970s, it was because they’d been visited by aliens. For the Melanists, it was because they had intuitive knowledge of it through their pineal gland. Howe suggests that Ogotommeli probably knew about it from visiting colonial officials with an interest in the subject, and made the claim that all this was known to the Dogon as a way of pulling this arrogant colonial anthropologist’s leg.

The book also argues that Afrocentric views of Africa are themselves also damaging. They present the continent as a static, unfied culture, which has never suffered war and conflict between its peoples before the advent of Europeans. In fact it’s a continent of many different peoples and cultures. There’s no evidence that it was ever colonised by the ancient Egyptians. Only six ancient Egyptian artefacts have been found outside Egypt and Nubia. And rather than the ancient Egyptians introducing agriculture to the rest of Africa, there is evidence that it was independently discovered in six different places on the continent. As for the assertion that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are the source for various African writing systems, such as the Vai of Liberia, some of these are known to have been invented by specific individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some African peoples are happy to promote the idea that they are descendants of the ancient Egyptians, while others very definitely are not. The problem here is that Afrocentrist claims of Egyptian primacy are obscuring the real achievements of Africa and its peoples.

As for the question of the racial origins of the ancient Egyptians, the book notes that this is a subject of near to Zero interest to professional, mainstream Egyptologists. A number of academics books and journals he surveys make no mention of it. When one does, it is simply to say that it is a distraction from the real issues Egyptologists want to examine. Genetic and craniological examination, however, suggest that the ancient Egyptians were racially identical to other peoples in that part of Africa. They show genetic links to the peoples of Neolithic Europe, the Middle East and India, and lesser genetic connections to the peoples further south. The Egyptian scholars themselves, however, see themselves as racially mixed and there was an argument at a conference in Cairo when the Black Americans insisted that they were Black. I also find some of the Afro-centrists’ concern to establish the racial identity of the Nubians rather odd. One Afrocentric writer hoped that one day science would be able to reconstruct the features of the Nubian pharaoh Taharqa from its skull fragments, and that these would show he was Black. I found this quite puzzling, as I’ve always assumed that the Nubians were Black. In fact I’ve never seen anything said to the contrary. When TV documentaries refer to Egypt’s Black pharaohs, they usually refer to the period when the country was conquered and ruled by Nubian kings. I honestly don’t know who these people are that assert that the Nubians were White, unless it’s some of the White writers the Afro-centrists have discovered in their search for suitable sources.

This pseudo-scholarship is spreading massively. The book notes the large number of university departments teaching it, as well as college and private schools and the torrent of books published, some of them also aimed at schools. It’s alarming that such pseudo-scholarship has become so widespread. And rather than liberating, as Afrocentric scholars believe, he makes the point that the subject is deeply racist, drawing on the same sources as White racists.

But rather than be angered by it, he finds it immensely sad.

Vandal Attacks BBC Statue Because of Colston Verdict

January 12, 2022

This evening, a man climbed up to a ledge on the front of Broadcasting House, the Beeb’s HQ, and started to attack the statue of Ariel by Eric Gill. Someone took film of him smashing the statue’s feet with a hammer, and it’s been widely posted and reposted by right-wingers over YouTube. The man was David Chick, and there’s a phone call from him on the channel of someone rejoicing in the monicker ‘Tyrant Finder UK’. Chick and the Tyrant Finder are both men, who can’t utter a sentence without using the F-bomb nor other foul language, but in the phone call Chick makes it clear that he’s attacking the statue because Gill was a paedophile. Indeed he was. During his life he professed to be the model of Roman Catholic piety as a tertiary Franciscan. After his death it was discovered that not only did he rape his two daughters but also the family dog. But Chick also seems to have done it out of anger for the acquittal of the Colston Four. And he’s being applauded by people, who similarly believe, or seem to believe, that the BBC is promoting child abuse with the statue and who are also angry at the Bristol verdict. The attitude seems to be that if the woke can tear down statues, then so can they.

Mad right-wing Youtuber Alex Belfield was one of those who put up an approving video of the attack earlier this evening. He has his own grievances against the Corporation. He claims he was forced out of the Beeb because he’s a poor White kid from a pit estate and not one of the middle class, Guardian reading, university educated Naga Manchushy types, as he calls them. He also has some kind of personal feud with various broadcasters, like Jeremy Vine. He frequently rants against the Beeb demanding its privatisation and the Eric Gill statue is one of the weapon he uses in the attacks. He criticises the Corporation for keeping the statue on its facade, which he seems to claim shows the indifference to child abuse which allowed Jimmy Savile to carry on with his predations unstopped.

Gill certainly was a vile human being, and some of his art does pose a genuine moral problem. A few years ago Victoria Coren discussed him in her documentary, How to Be a Bohemian, which traced the history of bohemianism from 19th century Paris and the Romantics to Britain, the Bloomsbury Group, the Bright Young Things and today’s London and its drag queens. Gill was one of the Bohemians she discussed. She was particularly upset at a bas relief Gill had made of a nude girl. I can’t remember what the sculpture’s official title was, but Gill called it ‘F*cking’. The girl in it was his 15 year old daughter, whom he was abusing at the time. Victoria Coren was talking to a female art expert about the sculpture and the unsettling questions it raised. The expert denied that this was a problem with a comparison to W.B. Yeats and his poetry. Nobody, she declared, objects to Yeats’ poetry because he was a Fascist. Coren replied that they did, and she was particularly unhappy about it. As her father, Alan Coren, was Jewish, it’s very easy to understand why Victoria Coren would have deep misgivings about the poet. It must be said, though, that Yeats was only a Fascist for a short time. If I remember correctly, this was c.1919. He later left them and was very critical about them.

I’m sure most people would be unhappy at Gill’s sculpture of his nude daughter, and would have very strong moral questions against its display. But it isn’t the Ariel statue. And there is still a need to separate the artist from the art. Many of the greatest figures in the arts, literature and science were vile people, or had loathsome views, like Dickens, for example. He’s undoubtedly one of the greatest writers in the English language, but he fully supported General Eyre and his brutal suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion by former slaves on Jamaica. But that in no way invalidates his work, in the same way that Orwell pointed out that Hamlet isn’t diminished by the fact that Shakespeare left his wife his second best bed. I also don’t think you can quite compare the Ariel statue to that of Edward Colston. The Ariel statue is of a character from Shakespeare, used as a kind of mascot by the Corporation. It is not a monument to someone who was a slaver, even if he did give most of his money away in charity.

Those defending and applauding the attacker are wrong on another point. They seem to believe that Colston’s Four’s acquittal has somehow become a precedent, which they can use to defend their attacks. But this isn’t the case. Jury trials, according to Adam Wagner, a lawyer on the Net, don’t set precedents, so Chick could still find it difficult to defend himself if he’s arrested.

I’m deeply unhappy about cultural vandalism regardless of who’s doing it. The attack on Colston’s statue is understandable given that it’s been a subject of controversy and demands for its removal for decades. And now it seems the right have also decided that they are entitled to attack any statues they find offensive, and I’m afraid that this will kick off more vandalism rather than reduce it.

I don’t deny that there’s a good case for taking some statues down, but I don’t support violent attacks on public art, regardless of whether it comes from the right or left. And I think Belfield’s attacks on the Beeb’s statue largely come from his own personal feud with the corporation and the Conservative’s demands for the Beeb’s privatisation and its replacement by a private broadcaster. This hostility partly comes from the Tories’ deep ideological objection to nationalised industries, their loyalty to Rupert Murdoch and his shoddy empire and their hatred of the Beeb because, once upon a time, it used to hold them to account. Some of us can still remember the time Michael Heseltine stormed off Newsnight, tossing his mane after a grilling by Paxman.

Britain’s statues are now threatened not just by the woke left, but by a vengeful, intolerant Conservative right using the outrage it has generated against the offending statue as part of its campaign to silence its critics.

Paul Joseph Watson on Alex Scott’s Devastating Discovery of a Black Slave-Owning Ancestor

October 20, 2021

Paul Joseph Watson is another right-wing YouTube personality like Sargon. He used to be Alex Jones’ British sidekick on InfoWars on the other side of the pond. And like Sargon, he contributed to the destruction of UKIP by joining it. So, I make the same caveats and warning about his content as I do about Sargon’s. However, like Sargon and the ghastly Lotus Eaters, he also makes very good points occasionally. In this video he discusses the shock Alex Scott had on the genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are?, when she discovered that one of her Jamaican ancestors, Robert Francis Combs, owned slaves in the 1820s. Scott is a Black woman, who was brought in as part of the Beeb’s diversity campaign to replace Dan Walker on Football Focus. Her ancestor was Jamaican, and I at first thought that he might have been a White planter, as many of them had children through their Black mistresses. But this was not so. Combes was Black. Scott was assured by an historian present that this actually wasn’t uncommon. Paul Joseph Watson goes on to make the point that slavery was found all over the world, and that it was Africans who sold the slaves to us. At the same time the Barbary pirates from North Africa raided Europe as far as Iceland for slaves. He asks why this isn’t taught in schools, and complains that only Whites are taught to feel shame about their ancestor’s past involvement in slavery.

Watson is exactly right. One of the problems faced by the Abolitionists was that slavery was found all over the world. In America and the Caribbean, free Blacks and those of mixed race often did own slaves. Black slave owners also received compensation for the emancipation of their slaves by the British government on abolition in 1837. One of the documents I looked at when I was working on the slavery archive at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum contained a list of Maroons – the descendants of the runaway slaves, who succeeded in establishing free Black towns in the Jamaican interior – who owned slaves, with the recommendation that they should also receive compensation. Watson also points out in the video that so great was the involvement of indigenous African chiefs in the enslavement of other Africans, that it’s become a major issue in Nigeria with commenters stating that they can now no longer blame the Whites.

However, it does seem that Black involvement in the slave trade is being deliberately played down because of current racial politics. It is held that there is a direct line from slavery to the current underprivileged condition of much of the western Black population. This is true, but it’s also an oversimplification as it assumes that slavery is only something Whites did to Blacks. Real, undisguised chattel slavery has returned to Africa, apart from areas like Mauretania where it’s never gone away. The Islamists in Libya have opened slave markets there, and there are also markets selling slaves in Uganda. But anti-racist activists really don’t want to discuss this issues because, as I columnist Kate Maltby wrote, it is diversion from the main issue of tackling western racism and inequality.

But this issue has to be tackled, even if it complicates matters particularly when it comes to reparations for slavery. I’ve pointed out how the motion passed by Bristol council calling for reparations for all ‘Afrikans’ is actually unfair, because of the complicity of many African peoples in the slave trade. And Critical Race Theory and other forms of extreme anti-racist ideologies are also unjust for precisely the reason Watson points out. They do demand that Whites feel guilty for slavery while ignoring others’ involvement.

I have every sympathy for Scott. It was a terrible shock to her as a woman of colour, and she is not responsible for whatever her ancestors did. But neither are contemporary Whites.

This is why we need to be properly informed and educated about historical slavery, rather than accept the received, simplified view devised by well-meaning anti-racists.

History Debunked on Black Hero, Racist and Crook Marcus Garvey

October 7, 2021

Marcus Garvey is a towering figure in Black history, starting up one of the earliest Black rights organisations, the Universal Negro Improvement Association. Black History Month was launched in Britain in October 1987 to mark the centenary of his birth. There are monuments, streets and parks to him in various towns in the UK and in New York. A few months ago a Black writer published a piece in the Radio Times calling for him to be taught in schools. History Debunked has marked Black History Month with a series of video showing that in reality, many of the heroes being commemorated are actually much less impressive. Garvey was very definitely one of these.

The video states that he was born in 1887 and apprenticed to a printer, but didn’t take to it, and spent some time instead travelling around Central America and Britain. He returned to his homeland, Jamaica, where in 1914 he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, whose aims included inspiring Black brotherhood and the civilisation of the backward peoples of Africa. This ran into trouble, as many Jamaicans dislike the word ‘Negro’ as, in my experience, many West Indians still do. More seriously, he was suspected of using the association’s funds to support himself personally. So he moved to Harlem in New York where he set up his organisation there. This again was massively controversial. Garvey was a racial separatist who hated racial intermixing and Blacks, whose skins were lighter than he is. He became even more unpopular amongst Black New Yorkers by going off to meet the head of the Klan. They got on like a house on fire, as Garvey assured the White racist that they both had the same objective. He wanted Blacks to go back to Africa, while the Klan wanted a White America. But what really brought Garvey down was his attempt to found a Black shipping company, the Black O Line. He was prosecuted for fraud as he was caught selling shares in a ship that didn’t actually exist. Both the judge and the prosecution in the trial were Jewish, as were two members of the jury, or so he claimed. He then made an anti-Semitic rant which blamed the Jews as well as the White authorities for his prosecution. And there the video ends.

I think Webb has been rather selective in the video, choosing some of the worst episodes of Garvey’s career. I understood he was forced out of Jamaica by the authorities, who regarded him as a subversive. Not that it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t also unpopular there for the reasons Webb suggests. Webb does mention that in New York he invented various bizarre uniforms for himself and his followers. The image for the video shows Garvey in one of those uniforms, a hat which makes him look a bit like Napoleon. When I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum one of the boxes of items donated to the Museum contained pamphlets from Garvey’s organisation. And they were weird. One of them seemed to be for some kind of rally and listed a whole series of paramilitary ranks and organisations, such as head of the armoured division. It reminded me of the White British Fascists, who invented grandiose names and titles for themselves but have at most a handful of members. The type of people lampooned in the Jeeves and Wooster books in the shape of Spode and his Blackshorts, who seemed to be always going off to address the Eagle battalion in Minchinhampton. Garvey emigrated to Britain, and certainly wasn’t ashamed of the weird Fascist nature of his organisation. He said in an interview with a British magazine in 1938 that Hitler and Mussolini took everything from him. I don’t think they did, and you would have thought that by that time Garvey would have wanted to keep any similarity between his outfit and Fascism very quiet. But he didn’t.

He also seems to have fancied himself as the self-appointed leader and saviour of Africa. In New York he declared himself to be president of the continent, and he and his lieutenants were the government in exile. This was without any input from the African themselves. He carried on calling for himself to be made the Africans’ leader when he emigrated to England. He made repeated request to the Colonial Department to be made its head. The video doesn’t mention that. Nor does it mention that Garvey also joined the Conservative party after he moved here. As I think Webb himself is a Telegraph-reading Tory, I don’t think he wishes to remind people how Garvey entered the party.

A few months ago I drew this cartoon of Garvey to express what I consider to be real Fascist elements in BLM and some of the other, supposedly anti-racist movements. Here it is.

I don’t think he was ever a supporter of the Nazis, but the parallel between his organisation and White Fascism is so close that he is features in books on Fascism, including Mark Christian Thompson’s Black Fascisms (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press 2007).

Garvey is an important figure in the history of Black Liberation. The Rastafarian religion grew out of his Negro Improvement Association. But it’s questionable whether he should be celebrated. I suspect there are far worthier figures waiting to be discovered and promoted, who people haven’t heard of.

History Debunked on the National Maritime Museum’s Falsehoods about Francis Drake

September 7, 2021

Here’s another very interesting video by Simon Webb of History Debunked attacking what he considers to be the semi-literate fake history retailed as fact by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. He notes that the museum has changed its emphasis somewhat so that there is less about the British navy’s victories and British sea power, and more about peaceful exploration and, inevitably, the slave trade. But it is its attack on Drake that really draws his ire. Drake’s achievement in fighting off the Armada isn’t mentioned. Instead the museum blithely calls him a pirate, whose circumnavigation of the globe was really a secret mission to raid Spanish shipping and colonies by Queen Elizabeth. It also says that he kept no record of the treasures he acquired in order to avoid paying tax to the Spanish. He is also described as slavery, who began raiding west Africa for slaves with Jack Hawkins as early as 1560.

Webb points out that England was at war with Spain at the time, and so Drake’s attacks on Spanish possessions wouldn’t therefore be what people normally consider piracy. It, and his concealment of the goods seized, were acts of war. As for slaving, Drake apparently released slaves from any Spanish vessels he captured. He quotes John Sugden, an authority on Drake, who says that the Elizabethan seaman was the closest his age came to an abolitionist. He acquired an insight into slavery through a Black man, known only as Diego, and when attacking Spanish ships in the West Indies, captured two. He released their slaves onto Jamaica so that they might gain their liberty.

The ’10 Facts about Francis Drake’ on the museum’s website, which promotes these lies, also seems to have been written by someone with a very dodgy command of English. At one point it says that Drake led an ‘exhibition’ against the Spanish on the pacific coast of America. He concludes the video by saying that other countries celebrate their heroes. We run ours down.

I know very little about Drake beyond the Spanish Armada, the circumnavigation of the globe, and the fact that he was a privateer. They were private sailors commissioned by the crown to fight against the Spanish, with whom we were indeed at war. So, not quite a pirate then. Jack Hawkins certainly was a slaver, but this is the first time I’ve heard that discussed about Drake. He may well have started off as one, I really don’t know. But if he did have a genuine sympathy for enslaved Africans and released them, then that needs to be mentioned as well.

I’m aware that, as a man of the Torygraph-reading right, some of Webb’s views need to be taken with a pinch of salt. However it does seem that there really is a campaign going on to rewrite and falsify British history in the name of anti-racism. If so, then it needs to be challenged, whatever your political views.

History must not be allowed to be rewritten and established facts altered, whether it’s done by the left or the right.

Beeb’s ‘Horrible Histories’ Pushing Myths and Falsehoods as Black History

May 7, 2021

One of the major aims of the ‘History Debunked’ YouTube channel is attacking the myths and sometimes deliberate lies, which try to present past British society as far more ethnically diverse and multiracial than it really was. This is being done in order to create an image of the past that fits and reflects today’s racially diverse society. Although undoubtedly well meant, it is a fabrication. Simon Webb, the YouTuber behind the channel, is a Telegraph-reading Conservative, but I don’t think he can be fairly accused of racism. He’s a published author, who does know his history and the reality behind the falsehoods he tries to debunk.

On Tuesday he put up a video attacking the latest editions of the Beeb’s Horrible Histories programme. This is a children’s history programme based on a series of best selling books. This is intended to present history in a fun way with much comedy, though Webb, with rather more serious tastes, decries it as slap-dash and inaccurate. A recent edition of the programme was on Black British history, and was simply full of myths and falsehoods presented as solid, historical fact. So much so, that Webb said he couldn’t go through all of them, and described the programme as propaganda aimed at children. So he confined himself with a couple of the more egregious.

The programme began with the Empire Windrush and the statement that its passengers had been invited to England to help with reconstruction after the War. This is a myth that’s been promoted by a number of people, including Diane Abbott. The truth is that Blacks weren’t invited to Britain by anyone and definitely not the British government. They were appalled at the immigrants’ arrival because they didn’t have anywhere to accommodate them. Webb states that some ended up living in air raid shelters because of the lack of proper housing. The truth is that the Empire Windrush was a troop ship that was returning to Britain from South America. There was hardly anyone on board, so the captain decided to open it up to paying passengers to reduce costs. The adverts for places aboard the ship in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner simply gives the prices of the various classes of accommodation. There is no mention of work in Britain. As for the motives of the people, who took passage aboard the ship, the Sheffield Daily News in Britain reported the comments of a Jamaican businessman, Floyd Rainer, who said that the immigrants had come to Britain because they were dissatisfied with pay and conditions in the Caribbean. They were seeking better opportunities for themselves, not to help Britain.

The programme then followed this with an item about Black Roman soldiers at Hadrian’s Wall. These were Moors from the Roman province of Mauretania. However, Mauretania was in North Africa, in what is now Morocco and Algeria. It was a province settled by Carthaginians, who were Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon, and the Berbers. Although comparatively dark-skinned, they had Mediterranean complexions, and were not Blacks from the modern West African country of Mauretania, has an American website claims.

It then went on to St. Adrian of Canterbury, who it was claimed was also Black. But he came from what is now Libya in north Africa, and so wouldn’t have been a Black African. However, the programme stated that he was an African, and left the viewer to imagine that he would therefore have been Black.

Mary Seacole was also shown tending British soldiers in a hospital during the Crimean War, which is also a myth. She set up a bar and restaurant and never did any actual nursing. It also showed Cheddar Man as Black. This is based on a reconstruction that was widely covered in the press at the time. However, Webb has done a previous video about it and similar reconstructions showing how flawed they are. In the case of Cheddar Man, the scientists behind the announcement that he was Black actually retracted this in a piece published in New Scientist. No-one really knows what colour people’s skins were 10,000 years ago.

I think the BBC actually means well with all this, and its presenters and compilers probably don’t think that they’re falsifying history. I’m sure they genuinely believe that they’re uncovering previously hidden aspects of the British past. I think projecting the presence of Black people back into the past is part of an attempt to deal with the continuing racist attitude towards Black and Asian Brits that still sees them as foreign, even though they have now been here for three generations. And a smaller number will have been here for much longer.

But I also think that the Beeb is also prepared to falsify history in this direction as well simply to make a programme. Back around 2003/4 the Beeb screened a series about the way modern artists and musicians were taking inspiration from the Psalms of the Bible. In one edition, feminist icon Germaine Greer went to Jamaica to meet the Rastafarian musicians, who sang the Psalms in the origin Amharic, according to the Radio Times.

Historically, this is nonsense. The Psalms were originally written, like almost all of the Tanakh, the Christian Old Testament, in Hebrew. Hence its alternative name of Hebrew Bible. It very definitely wasn’t written in Amharic, which is the modern Ethiopian language of the Amhara people. But Rastafarianism is based on the worship of Haile Selassie, the late emperor of Ethiopia, as the Lion of Judah and Black messiah. Hence, presumably, the insistence that the Psalms were written in Amharic. It seems to me that the Beeb obtained the cooperation of the Rastafarian musos for the programme on the understanding that the programme would be presented from their theological point of view. If they contradicted the assertion that the Psalms were written in Amharic, a language that didn’t exist when the Psalms were actually composed, then no programme. And so the Beeb and the Radio Times published this piece of historical nonsense.

I think a similar process may also be working behind the Horrible Histories and similar programmes present long held myths as facts about the Black past. I don’t know, but I think some of them might be made in collaboration with Black groups and individuals, who passionately believe these falsehood. The Beeb wants to make these programmes and include the views of Blacks themselves. These individuals insist on the inclusion of these myths, which the Beeb won’t challenge because its researchers don’t know that their myths, and the organisation is afraid of these organisations denouncing them as racists if they ignore these long-held Black views.

There are some excellent books and materials on Black British history out there. Three I’ve come across are Gretchen Herzen’s Black England – Life Before Emancipation, the collection Under the Imperial Carpet – Essays in Black History, edited by Rainer Lotz and Ian Pegg, and Our Children Free and Happy – Letters from Black Settlers in Africa, edited by Christopher Fyfe and published by Edinburgh University press. But there is an awful lot of myth and falsehoods as well.

However well meant, these need to be rejected as falsehoods, even if they’re told as truth by the Beeb.