Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm X’

Racial Politics and the Toppling of the Statue of Slaver Edward Colston

June 9, 2020

On Sunday Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol pulled down a statue of Edward Colston from its plinth in the city’s centre, and threw it in the Floating Harbour. It’s been both local and national news. The local news interviewed a White woman, who had been part of the protest. She was married to a Black man, and as the mother of a half-Black child thoroughly approved of the statue’s maltreatment. In fact, she felt a bit teary and overcome with emotion.

Colston, Slavery and Charity

It’s not hard to see why. Colston was a 17th-18th century slaver and president of the Royal African Society. He made a colossal fortune from the enslavement of Black Africans. As historians and Black activists have pointed out, millions of the enslaved died en route to America and the Caribbean due to the appalling conditions on board the slave ships. Slavers like Colston also responded brutally to slave mutinies aboard ship by throwing their cargo overboard, chains and all, to drown. They also did this if a storm threatened to sink the ship, and they needed to lighten it. That’s shown in the classic 19th century painting of a ship at sea facing an oncoming storm. It was based on a real incident, that of the Zong, and the painting shows the struggling Blacks drowning as a detail.

Anti-racism activists have been campaigning for the statue’s removal for over forty years, ever since the St. Paul’s race riots of the 1980s. Mike wrote a long piece about it yesterday. He, and the peeps, whose tweets he cited, viewed the statue’s fall as good riddance to bad rubbish. He wondered why it hadn’t been done years ago. Some of those commenting were Blacks, like the awesome Kerry-Ann Mendoza of The Canary. They compared the statue to those of Hitler, and described how it had tore them up to go past it. If Colston had only been a slaver, the statue’s removal wouldn’t have been an issue. What complicated the matter is that Colston, who actually spent most of his life in Mortlake in London, gave very generously to charity. He endowed several schools in Bristol, one of which was Colston Girls School. As Mike explains in his excellent article, we also had Colston Day at school. This was a one-day holiday. Some pupils were also called upon to attend a special service at St. Mary Redcliffe church, and received a Colston bun. Mike had that experience. So did I.

Bristol and the Slave Trade

I should also point out here that, like Mike, I also grew up believing that one branch of our ancestral family tree, the Haberfields, had been slavers. That was dispelled last week by the historian David Olasuga on the Beeb’s programme, A House Through Time. Olasuga stated instead that the Haberfield’s made their money as wine merchants. There may have been other branches of the family that were slavers, however. I don’t know. I’ve heard stories that one ancestor was the captain of a slave ship, and that the City Museum has his log. But when I talked to people from the City’s museums, they denied they had any such thing. Bristol did benefit immensely from the slave trade, but, contrary to popular belief, most of the slaves were taken to the Caribbean. Those few that came back to the City were trusted personal servants. As a result, there is precious little in Bristol, apart from the luxurious homes the slavers built for themselves, that is directly connected to the slave trade. When the City Museum held an exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade there were so few objects left over from Bristol’s slave trade, that they had to borrow some from elsewhere. There are written documents, like contracts and ledgers, but museums don’t like putting them on display. Not because they’re trying to hide anything, as some people have alleged, but simply because visitors don’t find them interesting.

Anti-racist Politics in Bristol

There have been petitions over the years to remove the statue. It’s remained, because these campaigns did not achieve a majority. At the last poll, Bristolian opinion was divided half and half. Roughly the same proportion of people wanted the statue to stay as those, who wanted it gone. And not all Black anti-racism activists wanted it removed. Paul Stephenson was one of the leaders of the Bristol bus boycott in the 1960s and 1970s. This was against the colour bar operated by the local bus company, which refused to employ Blacks. When he was interviewed about racism and the slave trade in the city a few years ago, he felt the statue should be kept, but with a plaque pointing out that he was responsible for enslavement and genocide. As it is, the statue is going to be fished out of the harbour, and put on display in the M Shed. One of the arguments for keeping it up is that it serves to educate people about this aspect of Bristol’s history, but as one of the tweeters Mike quotes also says, this comes from people, who really don’t want schoolchildren talk about the dark side of the British empire.

I’ve also no doubt that some of the resistance to tearing the statue down and to some of the initiatives by the local authorities to commemorate Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and its millions of victims comes from the highly emotive and divisive racial politics in the city. Although Britain has had a Black presence since the Roman Empire, and Bristol has had a Black population from at least the 16th-17th centuries, there has only been a large Black community in Bristol since the mass immigration of the post-War years. The Black community in the inner city has, like those elsewhere, a reputation for drug dealing, prostitution and violent crime. St. Paul’s was a district Whites from outside the area drove through with their windows up and doors locked. Furthermore, some of the demands and accusations made by the community’s representatives were less than tactful.

It’s often asserted that Bristol was built on the slave trade. That’s true, but only up to a point. Bristol did profit very well from the trade, as did many other ports. But Bristol was great trading city before the slave trade took off in the 17th century. We traded with France, Spain and Portugal, as well as Ireland and across the Channel to Wales. And the first slaves sold by Bristol were White Anglo-Saxons bought by Irish merchants. The Anglo-Saxon cleric St. Wulstan visited the city to condemn the trade in the 11th century.

There’s also the problem that some anti-racist activists make unwarranted assumptions about racism and Whites. There’s an automatic assumption by some that if you’re White, you must be racist. That naturally gets peoples’ backs up. One of the Conservative blogs I read years ago quoted an American study that found that police officers tended to become more racist after anti-racist training than previously. I don’t know if that’s true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was. The automatic reaction of anyone accused of racism, whatever their colour, is going to be resentment and defensiveness. And in the 1980s the Tory papers explicitly claimed that the riots were caused by Black racism. Some Black leaders didn’t help their cause either. I remember an article in the Absurder c. 1984/5 attacking one Black politician – it might have been Paul Boateng – for suggesting that Blacks should have their own autonomous areas. The writer correctly pointed out that this was a demand for segregation and apartheid. Fortunately, the call for separate Black communities went unheeded.

There has also been the problem that the city has devoted funds and resources in combating the poverty, unemployment and crime in the racially mixed inner city areas of Bristol, at the expense of the White majority areas further out. South Bristol was promised a local hospital back in the 1970s, but it was only built a few years ago. Positive discrimination schemes also give more funding to those areas with a large ethnic minority population. This has caused some resentment.

As a result it has seemed at times that the demands for Colston’s statue to be pulled down, and for the slave trade to be commemorated in Bristol, has come from a position of anti-White racism, rather than a desire for racial justice in itself.

Black Separatism and the Name of the Malcolm X Centre

And if you’re talking about the official commemoration of racists, there is the whole issue of the name of the community centre in St. Paul’s. It is, or was called the Malcolm X Centre, after the American civil rights leader. The problem is that Malcolm X’s organisation, the Nation of Islam, is racially separatist. They want a separate Black state, to be formed from a group of Black majority states in the US. In the 1960s they used to hold joint rallies with the American Nazi party. There was an article on this in the Sunday colour supplement for the Independent back in the 1990s. It contained an article written by a White American female photographer, who followed, interviewed and photographed Malcolm X at the time. The article reproduced some of the photos shed’ taken of these rallies. Now Malcolm X didn’t remain a separatist. He later converted to orthodox Islam, and supported integration after he went on the Hajj to Mecca, during which he found that people of all races were fundamentally the same. I think he also took an orthodox Muslim name. There is therefore the problem that if it is wrong to commemorate a slaver like Colston, then why should a Black activist, who also stood for racism and separation, be commemorated?

Conclusion

Colston’s statue had its time long ago. It’s removal, one way or another, was pretty much inevitable. It won’t be missed. The argument for its retention was weakened when the Americans began pulling down the statues of Confederate generals. At the same time, it’s right that Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade and the slaves transported should be commemorated. There’s a whole gallery devoted to this at M Shed on Bristol’s docks. There’s also a slave walk, and a commemorative plaque. Black Lives Matter still has an urgent point. Racism still exists in this country, and Black communities as a rule are underprivileged, poorer with higher rates of unemployment and underrepresented in large parts of industry, society and the arts.

But anti-racist campaigns also need tact and sensitivity. Accusations that Whites in general are racist, or that Bristol must somehow be intrinsically racist because of slavery, just cause more division and resentment.

It leads to embittered Whites giving their votes to the Tories, who will just use them to justify their own racism and destruction of state aid for the disadvantaged regardless of their colour.

 

 

 

Black British Politico John Archer’s Address to African Progress Union

May 31, 2019

I think for most of us outside the Black anti-racist movements, this country’s Black history and its tradition of Black activism against racism, imperialism and exploitation is largely unknown. It’s overshadowed to a large extent by the inspirational American civil rights movements of the 1960s, and its heroes and heroines. Towering figures like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. A few Black British anti-slavery activists from the 18th and 19th century, like Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince, are known to a certain extent, as well as the Crimean War nurse and heroine Mary Seacole. But that’s it. And I think for most mainstream Brits, Blacks and other non-Whites only entered politics and got elected to public office in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and others.

But Black and Asian activism goes right back to the 19th century, and Britain has had elected BAME politicians since the early 20th century. The BBC 2 series, Victorian Sensations, mentioned two in the second episode of the series broadcast Wednesday night, 29th May 2019. Victorian Sensations is about the massive scientific, social and political changes that shook Victorian society in the 1890s. Last week’s was on scientific advances in electricity and Roentgen’s discovery of X-rays, which revolutionised medicine. The pioneers of X-ray examination, however, paid a terrible price for their research in skin cancer caused by their machines. One British pioneer ended up losing the fingers on one hand, and another arm was amputated completely.

This week’s edition was on ‘Degeneration’, and the late Victorians’ fears of racial, social and imperial decline. This covered the ideas of racial decline in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Francis Galton and the birth of the eugenics movement, aimed at preserving and improving British biological stock; the controversy over the New Woman, liberated Victorian ladies, who dared to move out of the traditional female domestic role and pursue masculine hobbies like cycling; Hans Nordau’s book, Degeneration, Lombroso’s Criminal Man, and the fears about mental illness, which resulted in entirely blameless people banged up in lunatic asylums for the most trivial reasons, like a pathetic young man, who was incarcerated for masturbation. It also covered Oscar Wilde, the Aesthetic Movement and the Decadents, including Arthur Symonds, Havelock Ellis and the first sympathetic scientific research in homosexuality. But one of the most interesting pieces in the programme was right at the end, when presenter Paul McGann spoke to a modern Black activists about two Black British activists, who came to Britain from the West Indies, and founded pioneering Black anti-racist movements. One of them was Celeste Matthews, who became a Methodist minister, and founded a Black rights magazine attacking imperialism, Lux.

Another pioneering Black rights activist, who gained public office later in the second decade of 20th century was John Archer. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in 1913, becoming the first person of African descent to hold public office in London. In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union, a post he would hold for three years. This was formed to promote ‘the general welfare of Africans and Afro peoples’ and spread knowledge of Black history. There’s an extract from the speech he gave at the Union’s first meeting in Colin Firth’s and Anthony Arnove’s great anthology of British radical writing and activism throughout history, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013). This runs

The people in this country are sadly ignorant with reference to the darker races, and our object is to show to them that we have given up the idea of becoming hewers of wood and drawers of water, that we claim our rightful place within this Empire … That if we are good enough to be brought to fight the wars of the country we are good enough receive the benefits of the country … One of the objects of this association is to demand – not ask, demand; it will be ‘demand’ all the time that I am your president. I am not asking for anything, I am demanding. (p. 189).

Unfortunately we really don’t know about the great history of Black activism in this country. Victorian Sensations gave a small glimpse of this on Wednesday, and I’d like to know more. Not only is this worthwhile in itself, as a piece of British history that’s been unfairly neglected, but we also need it to combat that growing racism that’s spreading across Europe and which has resulted in Farage’s Brexit party getting 36.7 per cent of the vote in the Euro elections last week.

Radio 4 Extra Programme on Malcolm X at Oxford

February 14, 2018

This Saturday, 17th February 2018), there’s a programme on Radio 4 Extra at 3.00 on Malcolm X at Oxford, part of the series Archive on 4. The Radio Times’ blurb for it runs

Pembroke College history professor Stephen Tuck explores the story behind influential Muslim minister Malcolm X’s visit to Oxford just two months before he was assassinated in February 1965. The programme features archive recordings of Malcolm X speaking at the debate, and testimonies from those who were close to him at the time.

It’s a repeat, like most of the rest of the content of Radio 4 Extra, and was first broadcast four years ago in 2014.

Democracy Now on Muhammad Ali’s 1966 Anti-Vietnam Speech

June 6, 2016

On Saturday, the world mourned the passing of one of the all-time greatest boxers and sports personalities, Muhammad Ali. Not only was Ali a superb boxer, he was also intelligent and witty. He was known for his trademark rhyme about being Muhammad Ali, ‘dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. Parkinson was justifiably proud at having him on his show, along with many other talented, respected and beloved celebrities. Ali was a convert to the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim religion begun in the 1920s by W.D. Fard, a Syrian immigrant to the US, and notorious a few years ago for what some would consider to be the extreme, anti-White racism of its leader, Louis Farrakhan. The Nation of Islam’s best known representative and Black civil rights leader is Malcolm X, but Ali was certainly one of those, who took part in his people’s struggle for social improvement, respect and equality. He said in an interview that he wanted to give his people a hero. After his boxing career ended, he starred in a film about a Black slave fighting for his freedom during the American Civil War. His last years were marred by Parkinson’s disease, though he was still able to make an appearance at one of the Olympics to light the flame at the beginning of the games.

Mike put up on his site the text of Ali’s speech, in which he refused to go to Vietnam to help the White slave masters oppress another ‘coloured’ people. He stated firmly that if he believed that the War would help the 22 million of his people in America improve their position, he’d volunteer like a shot. But it wasn’t. See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/06/04/say-what-you-like-about-muhammad-ali-he-stood-up-for-what-he-believed/

In this piece from Democracy Now, the musician John Legend reads Ali’s speech in a clip from The People Speak, based on the book Voices from a People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Arnold Arnove. The show’s anchor, Amy Goodwin, also talks to Ishmael Reed, the author of The Complete Ali, about the effect the speech and his subsequent prosecution had on Ali’s career. Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title, and then dragged through the courts as the authorities tried to prosecute him for his refusal to enlist. Eventually the case reached the high court, and the sentence of five years in prison was overturned. However, three years had passed, and Ali had also aged. He was passed his peak. Before, his opponents had been unable to hit him. Not they could.

Reed and Goodwin also talk about the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the fight between Ali and George Forman, staged by the dictator of Zaire, General Mobutu, which Mobutu himself didn’t attend, probably from fears of assassination. Ishmael points out that Ali played ‘footsie’ with dictators. He fight in Manila is credited with bringing the Philippines into the 20th century, and giving the country and its people a new respect and dignity. While this certainly enhanced the prestige of the country’s dictator, General Marcos, to the chagrin of the Aquino family, Ali himself took a break from the fight to go and meet the country’s rebels during Ramadan.

Rest in Peace, big man.

Here’s the video:

Inventions by Black People

January 21, 2016

A few years ago I put up a post about Blacks and African civilisations, which got a heated response from a White racist. He stated that Black people hadn’t invented anything since the discovery of fire, and challenged me to refute this by posting anything invented by them.

Well, I found this list and salutary fable, posted by King-emare listing about eleven or so of them over at 1000 Natural Shocks on Tumblr (over 18s only).

LIFE WITHOUT BLACK PEOPLE

A story is told about a group of white people who were fed up with African Americans, so they joined together and wished themselves away. They passed through a deep dark tunnel and emerged in sort of a twilight zone where there is an America without black people.

At first these white people breathed a sigh of relief. At last, they said, “No more crime, drugs, violence and welfare. All of the blacks have gone!”

Then suddenly, reality set in. The “NEW AMERICA” is not America at all — only a barren land.

1. There are very few crops that have flourished because the nation was built on a slave-supported system.

2. There are no cities with tall skyscrapers because Alexander Mils, a black man, invented the elevator, and without it, one finds great difficulty reaching higher floors.

3. There are few if any cars because Richard Spikes, a black man, invented the automatic gearshift, Joseph Gambol, also black, invented the Super Charge System for Internal Combustion Engines, and Garrett A. Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic signals.

4. Furthermore, one could not use the rapid transit system because its procurer was the electric trolley, which was invented by another black man, Albert R. Robinson.

5. Even if there were streets on which cars and a rapid transit system could operate, they were cluttered with paper because an African American, Charles Brooks, invented the street sweeper.

6. There were few if any newspapers, magazines and books because John Love invented the pencil sharpener, William Purveys invented the fountain pen, and Lee Barrage invented the Type Writing Machine and W. A. Love invented the Advanced Printing Press. They were all, you guessed it, Black.

7. Even if Americans could write their letters, articles and books, they would not have been transported by mail because William Barry invented the Postmarking and Canceling Machine, William Purveys invented the Hand Stamp and Philip Downing invented the Letter Drop.

8. The lawns were brown and wilted because Joseph Smith invented the Lawn Sprinkler and John Burr the Lawn Mower.

9. When they entered their homes, they found them to be poorly ventilated and poorly heated. You see, Frederick Jones invented the Air Conditioner and Alice Parker the Heating Furnace. Their homes were also dim. But of course, Lewis Later invented the Electric Lamp, Michael Harvey invented the lantern and Granville T. Woods invented the Automatic Cut off Switch. Their homes were also filthy because Thomas W. Steward invented the Mop and Lloyd P. Ray the Dust Pan.

10. Their children met them at the door-barefooted, shabby, motley and unkempt. But what could one expect? Jan E. Matzelinger invented the Shoe Lasting Machine, Walter Sammons invented the Comb, Sarah Boone invented the Ironing Board and George T. Samon invented the Clothes Dryer.

11. Finally, they were resigned to at least have dinner amidst all of this turmoil. But here again, the food had spoiled because another Black Man, John Standard invented the refrigerator.

Now, isn’t that something? What would this country be like without the contributions of Blacks, as African-Americans?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “by the time we leave for work, Americans have depended on the inventions from the minds of Blacks.” Black history includes more than just slavery, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois.

Further information can be found in the book, Black Heroes of Science and Invention.

Without wishing to detract from the genius of the men and women mentioned here, I think that many of the inventions discussed were probably the result of successive developments by many people, rather like the process described by James Burke in his ’70s science programme, Connections, where he challenged the common idea that one single person had been responsible for a particular invention. The combs is a case in point. You can find combs through out history going all the way back to the Iron Age in Europe, if not before. But this shows how deeply Black people were involved in the creation of modern America and the inventions that sustain it.