Posts Tagged ‘Mary Seacole’

History Debunked Explores British Asian History in Opposition to Black History Month

October 24, 2022

My favourite internet historian, as some commenters have dubbed him, Simon Webb, has put up a couple of videos yesterday and today on the great, forgotten figures of British Asian history. These were men and women of real achievement, and he uses them to ask an important question: if Britain really was as racist as it has been claimed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, why did these men and women succeed, largely through their own merits? Why, therefore, is it only Blacks who have their own special history month, but not Asians, who seem content not to have one? These are actually good questions, and I think they show much about the difference in situation between Blacks and Asians.

He began yesterday with a video contrasting Mary Seacole, the restauranteur and entrepreneur, who is often claimed to be a Black counterpart of Florence Nightingale, with an Indian female doctor, Annie Wardlaw Jagganadham. This lady was born in 1864 in Adhra Pradesh, India and studied medicine at Madras. She came to Britain to study medicine at Edinburgh university, qualifying as a doctor in 1890. She then became house surgeon at the Edinburgh Hospital for Women and Children. Her brother was also a doctor, as were her nephews.

She was one of a number of other Indian medical students in this country in the 1890s including Gandhi, who qualified in 1891.

Today, Webb has put up another video on Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian Zoroastrian, who was elected MP in 1892. When taking office, he swore his oath not on the Bible, but on the Zoroastrian holy book, the Zend Avesta. In 1919 another Indian gent, Satyendra Prasanna Sindh, became a member of the British government and simultaneously the House of Lords, becoming the First Baron Sindh. Webb’s a man of the right, and he could have added to this list of Indian MPs Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist who stood as a Labour party candidate and was elected first Labour MP for Battersea North in 1922 and then Communist MP for the same constituency in 1924. But I suspect that would have been too much for his right-wing principles. But he made a video a few years ago about an Indian raja who became a Tory MP in the 19th century.

Whatever the political point Webb is trying to make, these are really interesting figures. Saklatvala and his White British comrade Newbold, were deeply concerned with imperialism and the oppression of the indigenous peoples, speaking about Ireland, India and Mesopotamia, as Iraq was known at the time.

As for the reason why Chinese and Asian Brits seem uninterested in having their own special history month, I suspect part of this might be because they are culturally more self-confident and economically more self-reliant than Blacks. China, India and Islam have a long history of cultural achievement and scientific invention. If you look through popular books on the history of scientific inventions, you see any number in the ancient and medieval worlds that were discovered or created by Chinese, Indians and Muslim mathematicians, doctors, engineers and scholars. And their descendants are well aware of them. This has found its way into jokes. One of the characters in the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, was an Indian father who shouted ‘India!’ at the mention of various inventions and discoveries, whether they were actually made by Indians or not. Then there was an episode of Lovejoy, in which the dodgy antiques trader was trying to procure an ancient Chinese piece of art for a Chinese Hong Kong banker. This businessman spoke only Chinese and was accompanied by his Chinese interpreter. The character was passionately proud about his country’s heritage of invention, announcing at every opportunity that something or other was a Chinese invention, even when it wasn’t. This eventually reached the point where his interpreter had to say to him, ‘Oh no, Mr. – I don’t think we invented motorcycles!’ These are clearly jokes laughing at Indian and Chinese pride, but I don’t recall anyone taking offence.

Both Chinese, Indians and other Asians have been victims of racism over here, and their countries conquered and exploited under imperialism, but it seems to me that they are confident enough in their own achievements that they don’t feel the need for an Asia history month. They also seem much more determined to raise their economic and social position through their own efforts, something the Black American conservative writer, Jason Riley, wishes Black Americans would do rather than concentrate on gaining political power.

Blacks are in a slightly different position. Those of West Indian descent are acutely aware that their ancestors were slaves while the Black community as a whole seems to know little about African history. African civilisations have suffered from the prejudice of White scholars. It’s depressing reading through the book Colour Prejudice, published in the late 1940s, and seeing so many western scholars declaring that Black Africans had made no innovations and their civilisations were worthless. Some of this doubtless was due to racism, but another problem may have been that many African cultures didn’t have a written literature and built with wood a highly perishable material in the Africa climate, and so archaeological evidence of these cultures were easily obscured over time. Also, a lot of Black history necessarily happened overseas and so isn’t taught in British history. Hence the arguments for Black History month to make Blacks aware that they also have a history of achievement in the hope of inspiring them to go and raise their social and economic position to the same level as Whites and mainstream society.

Indian born Communist MP for Battersea North Shapurji Saklatvala. From James Klugman, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Formation and Early Years, Vol. 1 1919-1924 (London: Lawrence & Wishart 1968).

Explaining Simon Webb: History, Race and the Manipulation of History

August 12, 2022

Several of the great commenters on this blog have questioned why I have put up so many pieces about Simon Webb. Gillyflowerblog in particular asked how anyone, who called himself a socialist, could follow Webb in some of his assertions. It’s a fair question, and deserves an answer. Webb is a Torygraph-reading man of the right. He is staunchly opposed to immigration and multiculturalism, which he regards as destroying traditional British culture. He believes that racial differences in IQ are real and based in genetics, citing scientific papers showing that Black people have more of the genetic markers for schizophrenia than Whites. I’ve no doubt that this is true, but schizophrenia is not intelligence. Furthermore, a greater biological inclination to schizophrenia does not necessarily rule out environmental factors. A mentally vulnerable person may remain psychologically well in the absence of emotional stresses that could drive them over the edge. If there are more Black people needing treatment for psychological problems, it may be because of the particular stresses faced by the Black community, such as poverty, greater unemployment, lower educational and career prospects, racism and the destruction of the Black family and the violent drug gangs operating in many Black communities.

Genetic Basis for Racial IQ Differences Questionable, If Not Disproven

He also believes, almost needless to say, in the bell-curve nonsense, in which Blacks are genetically less intelligent than White, who are genetically not as bright as Asians. In fact Thomas Sowell, who talks favourably about the book, has demolished some of its arguments. There’s no difference in average intelligence between Whites and Asians. The tests that showed it used out of date and biased IQ tests, which skewed the results. However, Asians peoples like the Chinese and Japanese do perform above the level of Whites with the same IQ score. As for Blacks, the average Black IQ is 85, but this is the same or actually better than many White groups when they started IQ testing. Jews, who are now judged one of the most intelligent sections of society, also had the same IQ level, as did various peoples from southern and south-eastern Europe. Their IQs have risen, and so the unspoken implication is that there is no reason why Black IQs shouldn’t. Individual Blacks may score extremely highly. One example is a nine year old Black girl, who had an IQ of 160-80 on one set of tests, and something very close or above 200 on another. Black children raised with White families, such as the mixed race children of German civilians and Black American troopers in the army of occupation after the First World War, had the same IQs as Whites. There are cultural and environmental factors behind the lagging Black IQ, it seems, rather than genes. Although even if there is genetic cause, Black educational performance can still be raised simply by improving teaching methods.

Causes of Economic and Political Crises in African Countries after Independence

Webb has also published videos looking back to a year in the 60s when he claims everybody was talking about repatriation and discussing the decline of South Africa after the abolition of apartheid, and the collapse of Zimbabwe in starvation and dictatorship under Black majority rule. To be fair, this is part of a general trend in African nations after they gain independence. Sowell talks about this in Conquests and Cultures, showing that in all too many cases the economies of the newly independent colonies declines, sometimes catastrophically. This is because the indigenous Africans who take over don’t have the cultural capital and technical skill to run these countries. Sowell has also argued in various videos that the collapse of democracy in many of these nations and their descent into dictatorships is because they haven’t had time during the period of White rule to absorb properly the conqueror’s democratic institutions and traditions. This is probably true, but I’m not sure how much democracy there was in practice when these nations were under the rule of colonial governors. And Webb’s videos on South Africa and Zimbabwe look like nostalgia for White rule and the social order in these countries when Blacks were inferior and knew their place.

He appears also to be a small government Conservative, who says he wouldn’t vote for either Labour or the Conservatives, and laments their supposedly high-spending policies. He is sceptical of the rise of mental illness and the number of people claiming disability for it, presumably feeling, like so many of the right do, that these people should just pull themselves together. Until, of course, it happens to them or the people in their class. Then it’s different.

Webb and Black History

But Webb’s specific focus is on history and debunking what he considers to be historical falsehoods. These are, almost totally, those of Black history. But I do wonder if Webb wasn’t at one time an idealistic anti-racist. I think he’s said that at one time he may have had a Black girlfriend, and among his friends are a number of Black ladies, whom he’s helping home school their children. He’s put up pictures of himself surround by Black children, so I don’t believe he’s racist in his personal relationships. He’s also no anti-Semite, and has posted a number of videos attacking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories such as the lie that the Jews are responsible for mass non-White immigration in order to destroy the White race. One of his most recent videos examines the origins of anti-Semitism. He also defends Israel and its claim to Palestine. He is also not an opponent of Islam as a religion. Another video he posted has as its title the description of Christianity and Islam as two aspects of a single jewel. He states that when he was home schooling his daughter, he took her to various places of worship, including a mosque. All this drives the Nazis and anti-Semites who comment on his videos right up the wall as they call for him to join Patriotic Alternative. Or suggest that he must be Jewish himself, or promoting their propaganda.

As to whatever made him like he is now, I wonder if it was simply the pressure of living in one of the deprived, Black majority areas of London. He seems to know places like Haringey extremely well, talking about how murders were extremely common there at one time as well as the problems caused when one of the local police forces declared they weren’t going to arrest people for cannabis possession. This, he states, resulted in drug dealers running up to people’s cars and banging on the roofs to get attention. If this did happen, along with the other problems of crime and violence, then perhaps seeing the very worst aspects of parts of the Black community eroded all the youthful idealism and anti-racism.

He has published videos denying that some of the great African cultures should properly be regarded as civilisations, because they had no written language, philosophy or science. They are not monuments to Black achievement in his eyes, because very many of them were based on the culture of Arab colonists. And the various histories of Black inventions are riddled with lies and appropriate the scientific achievements of Whites.

Genuinely Great and Forgotten Figures of British Black History

He wasn’t always quite so focused on race. An early video simply discusses the reasons the British shelled their cities during the Second World War. Another video asks whether the Victorians really were all that racist, citing as an example an Indian rajah who became a Tory MP. This could easily be a legitimate part of the Black history activists wish to be taught in schools. Much of this is about rediscovering and reclaiming lost Black historical figures. The classic example is the nurse Mary Seacole, but others include the son of a British planter and a Caribbean slave, who had a glittering political career and ended up as the Lord Lieutenant of one of the Welsh counties. This gentleman was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme a few years ago, though I’m afraid I’ve since forgotten his name. But those interested might be able to find him by Googling.

The Great Civilisations of Black Africa

As for Black African civilisations, it’s true that many were culturally influenced from elsewhere. The ancient Sudanese, for example, took over much of ancient Egyptian culture, including the use of hieroglyphs. These people invaded the Land of the Nile several times to claim the throne as pharaohs, before eventually being overthrown in their turn and expelled. They built pyramid monuments for their dead, and were a literate culture. Unfortunately their language was not related to any that have survived today, and there is no Rosetta Stone giving their ancient texts in their language and those which are known, thus allowing the language to deciphered. Scholars are therefore in the frustrating situation of being able to read their inscriptions, but have no idea what they say. We’re faced with a similar situation regarding the ancient civilisation of Meroe, also in that part of Africa.

Many of the great civilisations of Africa were part of the Islamic world. These included Mali in West Africa, and the Swahili in what is now Tanzania. I think their written language was Arabic, in the same way that medieval European civilisations used Latin as the language of religion, government, philosophy, history and science. But that doesn’t detract from their achievements or the sophistication of these cultures. Medieval books from the library of Timbuktu’s madrassa shows that the scholars there were copying and studying scientific texts from the wider Muslim world. One Black historian presenting a programme on Black African civilisation showed such a book. This had a diagram, which she was told showed that Muslims in the region knew that the Earth went round the sun. That’s entirely possible. One of the ancient Greek scholars presented an alternative to the geocentric universe of Ptolemy, in which the Earth did revolve around the sun. But all the other planets still revolved around the Earth. In east Africa, the Amharic, Tigrinya and Tigre languages in Ethiopia are based on the south Arabian language introduced by settlers from that part of Arabia. But even if that part of modern Ethiopian culture isn’t indigenous to the continent, it still doesn’t detract from the achievements of Ethiopian civilisation.

All Civilisations Advance by Borrowing from Each Other

Back again to Thomas Sowell, who states very clearly that cultures across the world borrow from each other. Europeans, for example, adopted gunpowder and paper from China and the numbers system, wrongly called Arabic, from India. Europe was able to rise because of its geography. The east-west nature of the Eurasian landmass meant that inventions in one part of it, such as China or the Middle East, could easily pass to other parts. Thus Europe was able to benefit by adopting and improving on inventions produced by other peoples. Africa lagged behind because it was cut off from the rest of the world by oceans on three sides and the Sahara desert on the north. There were few navigable rivers, so that trade and communication was difficult, unlike in western Europe, where there were many so trade, and hence industrialisation and economic development was easier, along with the passage of ideas and culture. Africa also suffered from highly variable rainfall, which can make agriculture and sailing on the navigable rivers difficult. In some places the soil is unsuited to agriculture, thus making it suitable only as pasturage for nomadic peoples, who are able to move on to better, more fertile land after it becomes exhausted. And the disease environment makes it unsuitable for pack and draught animals, unlike Europe. Goods therefore have to be carried by porters, which is much more expensive than horse or river transport. This also limits the value of goods that may be transported. Because these high costs, only very valuable goods could thus be transported across land. Which probably explains why Africa’s exports tended to be gold, ivory and slaves. Africa was held back, not by any lack of intelligence by its people, but simply because of the isolation created by its physical environment, just as nations and countries elsewhere were similarly aided or held back in their social and economic development by the same geographical factors, even if they were on other continents.

Also, some of the cultures that did not have a written literature could nevertheless be extremely sophisticated. I read somewhere that in one of the African city states, members of it aristocracy would engage in a ceremony in which they would perform a ritual dance accompanied by music. At various intervals they were expected to stop, and point to one of the city’s 17 shrines. If they didn’t point accurately, it would bring disgrace. But Webb is right in that Europeans took some time before they recognised some of the states as civilisations, not just from cultural prejudice but because of the differences between African and European ideas of civilisation. For example, several of the cities Europeans believed were the capitals of these kingdoms weren’t centres of government in the European sense. They were religious centres, which might be abandoned for most of the year.

Falsehoods and Mythmaking in Black History

But if some of his history is wrong or questionable, I think he has a point with others. There are problems with the accuracy of part of Black history writing. This can be seen at some of its most extreme in Afrocentric literature. This can range from claims that are controversial, but which can nevertheless be defended, to racist fabrications. At its heart, Afrocentrism holds that ancient Egypt was a Black civilisation and that it laid the basis for subsequent western culture. It’s a fair question whether the Egyptians were Black. They certainly depicted the men as reddish brown in colour and the women as yellow, in contrast to Europeans, who were painted pink. Herodotus describes them as Black. As for their influence on European culture, Basil Davidson in one his books states that he took the view because this is what the Greeks and Romans believed. On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians also show Caucasian heritage and the Greeks seem to have taken much of their mathematical and scientific knowledge from the ancient near east, and particularly Phrygia in what is now Turkey. However, some Afrocentrists have gone on to argue that ancient Egypt also conquered the rest of Black Africa, where they were responsible for all its peoples’ cultural achievements, and that the original peoples of Britain, China and just about everywhere else were also Black, based on long discredited 19th century White writers.

And there are severe questions about other Black history writing. Webb put up a video last week criticising the claim that the phrase ‘the real McCoy’ was based on a 19th century Black engineer, citing Brewer’s History of Phrase and Fable. I’ve come across the same assertion in a book Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. This also claimed that the refrigerator was also a Black invention and that open heart surgery was invented by a Black doctor over here during the Second World War. This man performed an emergency operation on a man injured during the Blitz. Webb denies that he invented the operation, but states that he was the first to perform it in Britain. Which is still a proud achievement. Not as spectacular as inventing it, but still very impressive.

Mary Seacole – No Nurse, But Pioneering Black Female Entrepreneur

And then there’s the matter of Mary Seacole. For many Blacks, she was a pioneer of modern nursing equal to Florence Nightingale. To her detractors, she was a businesswoman who went to the Crimea to open a hotel for the British officers. She may have done a bit of nursing on the side, but that wasn’t the real purpose of her time there. Webb sides with the latter view, citing her autobiography. And again, I think he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that Seacole should be written off as a lost Black historical heroine. Even if she wasn’t a nurse, she’s still important as an entrepreneur. For Black Conservatives like Sowell, what Blacks need is not state handouts, but to develop the entrepreneurial skills to enable them to allow them to rise economically and socially, as other ethnic groups like the Jews, Chinese, and Japanese have also done. You don’t have to be a Conservative opponent of state aid and the welfare state to adopt such a view. The motion put before Bristol city council the other year by the Labour deputy mayor Asher Craig and Green party councillor Cleo Lake for the payment of reparations for slavery wanted such monies to be given to Black organisations to develop self-reliant and sustainable prosperous Black communities. Which entails encouraging and supporting Black entrepreneurs in those communities.

Invented and Exaggerated History A Response to Continued Racism and Exclusion

In many ways I’m not surprised that various Black writers have made exaggerated claims for Black civilisations and Black inventiveness. They aren’t alone in appropriating great figures from other ethnic groups. Mussolini, for example, claimed that Shakespeare was Italian. Well, some of the Bard’s plays, like Two Gentlemen of Verona and Romeo and Juliet are set in Italy, but I think this may partly reflect the dominance of Italian renaissance culture. Some of the claims about historic Black communities in Britain, which present them as far larger and more numerous than they probably were, seem to me to be an attempt to assert their right to live in this country in the face of still being regarded as somehow foreign and not really belonging. I’ve met Black people, who do feel like that. They were ordinary people with White friends, and not angry radicals. And the promotion of Black cultures and civilisations as sophisticated and advanced seems to me to be partly a reaction to the previous generations of historians and academics, who dismissed them completely. It makes depressing reading going through the book Colour and Colour Prejudice by the last governor of Ghana and seeing one scholar after another make this assertion.

Black Commenters also Against Memorialisation of Violent Thugs as Victims

I also think Webb has a very serious point when he questions some of the assertions and memorialisation of Black persecution. For example, David Olasuga and Reni Edo Lodge were present at a ceremony a few years ago, where a memorial was laid at the docks in memory of Philip Wootton, who was a victim of lynching in the 1919 race riots. Except it seems from contemporary newspaper accounts that Wootton was a violent thug involved in fighting between a group of West Indian, Swedish and Russian sailors. During this a policeman was stabbed several times and there was an attempt to garrotte him. The West Indian gang shot several times at the police after fleeing back to their lodgings. Wootton attempted to escape out the backdoor, but was spotted and pursued by an angry mob towards the docks, where he slipped and fell in. This is very different from the victims of other lynchings, like young men who were killed for having a White girlfriend, or who spoke insolently to a White man.

For some Blacks, violent thugs like Wootton should definitely not be defended or promoted by the Black community. One of the Black American YouTubers got very angry and tearful about the BLM protests last week against the shooting of Tekle Sundberg. Sundberg had had some kind of episode and started shooting through his apartment wall, trying to kill a young mother and her two children. Fortunately the woman and kids were able to flee. The cops turned up and after a six hour stand-off, shot him dead. His adoptive White mother tearfully claimed that it was a racist shooting, as White perps would have had longer to comply. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter turned up and started a protest to the justifiable fury of Sundberg’s intended victim. The Black YouTuber commenting on this angrily denounced BLM for celebrating criminals like Sundberg. This, he believed, was why everyone else looked down on Blacks.

Checking Reni Edo Lodge about Medical Experimentation on Blacks

As for Reni Edo Lodge, Webb stated that in one of her books she claims that Blacks in Britain were experimented upon and denied medical treatment. This is a serious claim and deserves to be investigated. It did happen in America. I’ve seen YouTube posts about the horrendous experimentation on pregnant Black women by a particular 19th century surgeon. In the ’90s there was outrage when government files released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the American state had been conducting nuclear experiments on the poor and people of colour with neither their knowledge or consent. In the same decade, the American conspiracy journal, Steamshovel Press, carried an article by one man, who stated that he found Black Americans more likely to believe that AIDS was a germ warfare experiment escaped from Fort Dettrick because of the Tuskegee experiment. This was a nasty medical experiment in which a group of Black sharecroppers were infected with syphilis and denied treatment in order to investigate the disease’s spread. In return their funerals were paid for and their families looked after.

I am not aware that any similar experiments were done over here, apart from the nuclear tests on British servicemen, which wasn’t, I believe, racial. If such experiments didn’t happen, then Lodge is writing fake history. Dangerous fake history – it’s addressed to an audience that already keenly feels that British Blacks have been victimised and persecuted, and such claims only exacerbate such feelings. As if the terrible conditions in many Black communities aren’t bad enough already without inventing even more abuse and discrimination. That’s why I wrote to Lodge’s agent last week requesting Lodge to state where she got these claims from. If she can support them with government documents or properly researched secondary literature, well and good. I’ll support her claims. But if she can’t, then she’s manufacturing false history and in doing so actually making race relations worse.

Conclusion

This is why I’m interested in some of Webb’s videos. History is important, which is why there is so much interest now in Black history. It’s an attempt to recover forgotten Black politicians, nobles, writers and inventors in order to provide role models for contemporary Blacks, in the hope that this will inspire them to do better at school, and in the outside world.

But this has to be good, truthful history, whoever writes it. Otherwise, even if it’s being written with the best of intentions, it’s just propaganda. And that’s wrong, whether done by Whites, Blacks or whoever.

History Debunked on the Comparative Lack of Interest in British Asian History

December 17, 2021

This is a related video to the one I put up from Simon Webb’s History Debunked this afternoon, which discussed how the Beeb had race-swapped the characters in their adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days. Phileas Fogg’s servant, Passepartout, is now Black, but the leading lady, who is Indian in the book, is now White. ‘Cause you can’t have two non-White leads apparently. Or Blacks must be given preference over Asians when it comes to casting non-White roles. In this video Webb discusses the case of Hsien Fan Sun, a Chinese gent who worked as a librarian at the court of James II. If Sun had been Black, then knowledge of him would have been promoted as it has been about Mary Seacole and John Blank, the Black trumpeter at the Tudor court. But he isn’t, because he’s Chinese. It’s another example of how, to Webb, diversity means primarily Black people. Which left me wondering why this should be so.

Racism to and Enslavement of Asian Indentured Workers

Asians have suffered their share of western racism and enslavement. During the infamous ‘coolie trade’, Asian workers from India and China were recruited as indentured labourers to work on plantations in the Caribbean, Fiji and elsewhere to replace the Black slaves, who had been emancipated. They worked in horrendous conditions, which in many cases were worse than those endured by the Black slaves. The system was widely denounced by Indian nationalists and humanitarians, including the Anglican Church and leading politicos, as ‘A New System of Slavery’. Which is the title of an excellent book on it by Hugh Tinker, published by one of the Indian presses. There were riots against the coolie trade in India and China, and the British authorities were also keen to stamp out the enslavement of Asians. The Indian police raided warehouses where Indians were being forcibly confined after they had been kidnapped, or tricked into signing indenture papers. It was such a scandal that the government issued a series of regulations demanding that Asian labourers should have access to an interpreter and understand the terms and conditions of the contract, that there should be a minimum level of acceptable living conditions aboard ships, children should be with women rather than left with the men, and a minimum number of women should emigrate with the male workers. There should also be opportunities for correspondence home and the remittance of money. I think the Britiish government first discussed the recruitment of the Chinese in particular in 1816 or so. They wanted replacements for the Black slaves, and the Chinese were decided upon because they were hardworking and less likely to complain or rebel. The prejudice against Chinese workers continued into the 20th century, when the early Labour party at one meeting denounced the government’s ‘Chinese slavery’ and put up a picture of a Chinese man. There were anti-Chinese riots in 1909, although this was caused by British firms sacking their White employees and replacing them with Chinese during an industrial dispute.

The Asian Presence in British and European History

There isn’t a total lack of interest in the Asian presence in British history. The book Under the Imperial Carpet, whose editors were Asian, also discussed Asian British history. Before the present set of ethnic minority MPs were elected in the ’70s and ’80s, Britain had BAME MPs. Webb put up a video about an Indian rajah, who became a Conservative MP in the 19th century. Other Asians became Liberal and even Communist MPs later in the early 20th. I’m not entirely surprised by the presence of Sun at James II’s court. This was the age when Europe was expanding, not just across the Atlantic, but also into Asia. The Jesuits were establishing missions in China, and scientific and technical knowledge flowed back and forth. I think the Chinese were impressed by European clockmaking, while Europeans were impressed by the Chinese skill at making automatons. By the following century upper class Europeans were consuming tea, Chinese porcelain, decorating their homes with wallpaper and furniture with Chinese art and motifs. Chinese literature was also being translated into European languages. The great religious sceptic, David Hume, read at least one Chinese novel. What impressed him was not how different it was, but how it was comprehensible, given the difference between Chinese and European culture.

Asian Stars on British Television

There are and have been Asian actors and presenters on British TV. I’ve mentioned Anita Rani, Meera Syal, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Adil Ray in my previous post. But before them there was David Yip way back in the ’70s, who starred as The Chinese Detective. Dino Shafeek and Andy Ho appeared as the Indian and Burmese staff in the comedy It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. The classical Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar gained widespread popularity among the Hippy crowd through his friendship with Beatle George Harrison. He’s said since that this wasn’t altogether beneficial, as you should approach classical Indian music with the same attitude you approach western classical music, rather than listen to it like pop. And were any number of western groups taking over oriental instruments, like sitars, and rhythms. This in turn led to the rise of World Music, a genre that encompasses music and its performers from across continents, and which includes both traditional and more modern forms.

And there is an interest in recovering an Asian, as well as Black British past. The Black rights and history organisation with whom I briefly corresponded when I was working at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum was the Black and Asian Studies Association. Researchers on Islam in Britain, when I was studying the religion at College in the 1980s, were particularly interested in the discovery of tombs with inscription in Arabic dating from the 17th century in Yorkshire. A more recent programme on the Barbary Pirates on Radio 4 in the early part of this century suggested instead that they may have been the graves of indigenous White Brits, who had been captured by the north African pirates and forcibly converted to Islam before either escaping or being ransomed. And a year or so ago there was a programme on Radio 3 about the Muslim servant of one of the ministers responsible for carrying through the Reformation over here. There have also been history books written about ‘The Muslim Discovery of Europe’. With the rise of capitalism, the stock exchange and the nascent consumer culture in the 18th century came popular ballads celebrating how people of all races and creeds, Jew, Christian and Turk, were all united in the peaceful work of making money. I don’t think there’s any shortage of material. My great-grandfather was a docker, and I can remember my grandmother telling me about the lascar and Chinese sailors that came into Bristol docks. But in general Webb is right: as a rule diversity means Blacks rather than Asians. Why is this?

Blacks More Determined than Asians to Be A Part of Mainstream British Culture?

I think some of it may be that Blacks have a greater determination to be a conspicuous part of western culture than Asians. Blacks have certainly formed a large part of the British and American entertainment industries since White youth started tuning into Jazz in the 1920s. There were Black screen actors, although quite often the roles they were given were demeaning before Sidney Poitier revolutionised the portrayal of Blacks on screen, paving the way for contemporary Black leading men. But then, so did Bruce Lee and stars of Chinese martial arts cinema like Jackie Chan and Jet Li. And some of us still remember the TV adaptations of the Chinese classics The Water Margin and Monkey, the latter based on Wu Cheng-en’s epic novel.

I wonder if some of it may be that some Asian cultures are more inward looking, and likely to look more toward their homelands and its culture for their roots and identity than Britain. Please note: I am certainly not suggesting that they are somehow less British than the rest of us. But I can remember coming across an academic, ethnographic study British Asians entitled The Myth of Return. This probably took its title from the initial conviction among many Asian immigrants that they were coming here only to make enough money so that they could afford to retire back to their home countries in comfort. This aspiration certainly wasn’t confined to them. Many Black West Indians also shared it, as did the Irish correspondent to the Groan whose letter began, ‘Sir, I am an Irishman, who came to Britain to make enough money to go back to Ireland again.’ In the ’70s there was a difference in integration between Muslim and Christian Pakistanis. Both groups were equally Pakistani in their culture at home, but the Christians were far more integrated into wider British culture. For example, their children mixed at school with the White children. By contrast ethnographers found that the Muslims took their children straight to school and straight back, and really didn’t allow them to share the same afterschool activities as their White classmates. This might explain why there were Islamist segregationists, who wanted there to be self-governing Muslim enclaves in Britain and Belgium, with Arabic as the official language, governed by shariah law. I hasten to add that things are rather different now. There was a Big Iftar around the country, a giant feast marking the end of Ramadan, celebrated by the Muslim community, who also invited their non-Muslim neighbours to partake. And polls have shown that only five percent of British Muslims want shariah law. But I think the Asian community may be more likely to get their entertainment from their ancestral countries through the Internet, satellite TV and video and DVD.

Asians More Culturally Confident?

I also wonder if part of the answer is that Asians, and specifically Indians and Chinese, may be more culturally confident than western Blacks. India and China were highly advanced, literate civilisations with histories going back millennia. A glance through books on the history of inventions and mathematics shows any number of works and innovations by Arab, Persian, Indian and Chinese scholars. The first instance of plastic surgery, for example, comes from 8-9th century India, when one of the leading surgeons repaired the nose of a Indian princes. Muslim mathematicians and scientists studied astronomy, alchemy, medicine. And the Chinese had printing – though not with movable type, that was definitely Gutenberg’s invention – gunpowder, rockets, paper money and toilet paper, to name but a few. Sometimes this cultural confidence has formed the basis for humour. One of the characters on Goodness, Gracious Me – or was it the Kumars at No. 42? was a father, who was excessively proud of his home country’s achievements. He shouted out ‘India!’ every time various inventions were mentioned. I also remember one episode of Lovejoy in which the dodgy antique dealer was in negotiations with a Hong Kong businessman. This man was also conscious of how his country had led the world in science and invention for centuries, to the point where he believed the Chinese had more or less invented everything. At one point this is too much for his interpreter, who says to him, ‘Oh no, Mr -, I don’t think we invented motorcycles’.

Black African Cultures Less Well-Known and Admired

This is in contrast to Africa, whose great civilisations and monuments are less appreciated. Ancient Egypt has been claimed as Black civilisation by the Afro-Centrists, but this is controversial and they could well be wrong. Nubia and Meroe in what is now the Sudan died out centuries ago. Christian Nubia was conquered by the Muslims. It’s predecessors in the Sudan unfortunately spoke languages that are now extinct. The Nubians took over the culture and alphabet of the Ancient Egyptians. Frustratingly, we can read their inscriptions but have no idea what they mean until the appearance of a Rosetta Stone that will give us the key to translating them. Abyssinia was a literate, Christian empire while the Kiswahili were also an advanced Islamic civilisation. As was Mali and other states in northwest Africa. But I think these have been seen as the exceptions rather than the rule. Although many of the civilisations of north and Saharan Africa were capable of building large structures, like house and mosques from mud brick, I suspect the popular image of Africa remains that of mud huts. And until the introduction of Islam and Christianity on the continent, many of these peoples were illiterate. The result has been that the attitude of many western scholars towards African civilisation was wholly negative. The book Colour and Colour Prejudice, by the last British governor of Ghana, has page after page of quotes from various western scholars, almost all of whom declare that African culture is worthless and that the continent’s people have discovered nothing. Obvious this has been and is being challenged by Black activists and scholars.

Blacks and Affirmative Action

Much of the promotion of Blacks as a specific group has come from concern at the poor conditions of the Black community in America and Britain. Other groups have also suffered racism. I can remember one of my uncles telling me with disgust about the horrible ‘jokes’ the other White workers played on an Indian comrade. As a rule, I think Blacks are at the bottom of the racial hierarchy when it comes to academic performance and employment. Above them, but still disadvantaged, are Muslims. Indians are about the same level as Whites, or just below, while Chinese actually outperform us. Black history as a specific subject in schools is being promoted as the solution to the problems of the Black community. If Black people were aware of their achievements and presence in American and British history, then they would develop the self-respect and confidence to perform better at school, and challenge the racism that still sees them as outsiders and foreigners. Unfortunately, this has led to Black activists claiming the credit for Blacks for scientific achievements that came from others. I think the entertainment industry is part of this drive for Black empowerment too. I have a feeling that some of roles created for Black performers are intended to provide positive images of Blacks as just as urbane and middle class as everyone else. Or proper, respectable working class. I’ve no doubt its done to challenge the negative racist stereotypes Whites may hold, while at the same time hold up positive role models to the Black community. To show that Black people also live in families with fathers, where the parents are respectable, upstanding citizens who work to support their children and give them the best life they can. I’m not aware that family breakdown is the same issue in Asian communities as it is amongst Blacks and the White poor, so some of the issues that have led to a specific emphasis on Blacks in diversity may simply not be as pressing. It thus seems to me that, in general, Asians may be so much more confident in their culture that they don’t see the same urgency in establishing and insisting on their historic presence in Europe.

Blacks More Vociferous and Forceful in Attacking Racism

I also think it may also come from Blacks complaining the most forcefully about racism. One of the key events in the introduction of positive discrimination in Britain were the 1980s/81 race riots, where Black communities in Bristol, Brixton in London and Toxteth erupted in rioting. It led to various official reports, which recommended affirmative action programmes to give greater opportunities to Blacks, as was being done at the same time in America. There have been protests in the Asian community, and interethnic violence between Asians and Whites, along with Asian anti-racist activism. But I don’t recall the Asians rioting in the same way Black Brits did. And the protests held by Britain’s Muslims seem to be about specifically Islamic issues, like the publication of the Satanic Verses, the Charlie Hebdo cartoons and general Islamophobia, rather than issues like employment or education although those have also been present. As a result, I think it’s probably true that Asians are less represented than Blacks in moves for ethnic diversity, although it should be stressed that they aren’t completely absent.

But these are just my ideas based on my own impressions. I may be wrong, and there may be other factors involved. I’d be interested to know what others think about it.

As an example of a TV series with an Asian leading man, here’s the titles to the Chinese Detective, starring David Yip, which I found on Robert Telfer’s channel on YouTube. Since then we’ve had Luther, starring the awesome Idris Elba as a Black detective. I like Elba – I think he’s a great actor, who could easily play Bond. I haven’t watched Luther, however, as the crimes he investigates all seem too grim and ‘orrible, like the serial killers tracked by Linda La Plante’s heroines. But perhaps it might be time once again for an Asian detective.

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.

History Debunked Demolishes The Black Curriculum

September 9, 2020

This is another fascinating and well-argued video by Simon Webb of History Debunked. This time he takes aim at The Black Curriculum, the group behind the demands that the teaching of Black History should not just be for a month, but all through the year.

Black History Not Inclusive, Solely for Black Minority

Webb starts his video by stating that, demographically, only three per cent of this country’s population are African or Caribbean. This is a problem for those groups desperate to show that Blacks have made a major contribution to British society. There are other, larger ethnic groups. Indians comprise 8 per cent, and we could also reasonably ask why there also shouldn’t be an Asian history month, or Chinese, Polish or Irish. But the demand is specifically for history that concentrates exclusively on Blacks. He returns to the same point at the end of the video.

The Black Curriculum

He then moves on to Black Curriculum group themselves, who have been favourably mentioned by the Beeb, the Groaniad and other newspapers. Their website, to which he provides a link, contains template letters for people to use to send to government ministers. They also produce educational videos which they distribute free. One of these is about Mary Seacole, the Afro-Caribbean who supposedly nursed British squaddies during the Crimean War, and whom Black activists have claimed was a rival to Florence Nightingale. Webb describes it with the Russian term disinformazia, which means deceitful propaganda. He wonders whether this is a bit a harsh, as they might actually believe it. The Black Curriculum also runs workshops for schools and want to have their video widely adopted. He then proceeds to demolish their video on Seacole.

Lies and Bad History in Seacole Video

It starts by claiming that she came to England to nurse British soldiers because she’d heard that conditions were so bad. Not true. She came to England, leaving her restaurant in Panama, because she’d invested in mines in Grenada, and wanted to know why her shares weren’t doing well. She felt they should have been sold on the British stock exchange. It goes on to claim that she applied to be a nurse, but her application was refused. Wrong again. Those applying to be nurses had to send a written application accompanied by references. She didn’t do that, but lobbied one or two people but never made a formal application. It also claims that she opened a hotel for sick and wounded officers. But it was simply a bar and restaurant. There was no accommodation there at all. He backs this up with a contemporary picture of the ‘hospital’, which shows exactly that it wasn’t one.

He notes that there are other problems with the video, but says that these will do for now, though he might say more in a later video about it and The Black Curriculum. He offers two explanations why they made a video as terrible as this. The first is that they knew nothing about Mary Seacole, and hadn’t read her autobiography. The other possibility is that whoever made the video knew the facts, and set out deliberately to deceive adults and children, which is quite malicious. Someone like that – either ignorant or malicious – should definitely not be in charge of what is taught in the curriculum.

Important Mainstream Subjects that Might Have to Be Dropped to Make Room for the Black Curriculum

Webb also wonders how the issues demanded by the Black Curriculum could be fitted into the present curriculum, as it is packed as it is. There is already enough struggle fitting the present material in. He looks at some of the material the Black Curriculum is already putting forward, and what important subjects in history might have to be dumped to make room for it. This, Webb suggests, might be the Magna Carta, or the Bill of Rights, or perhaps the Holocaust. He then looks at the modules The Black Curriculum suggest on their website. This is material aimed at 7-8 year olds, in other words, kids at Key Stage 2. It’s a time when children are learning basic literacy, arithmetic, science, art and PE. It’s very intensive and there’s a lot of work there. Well, reading and writing might have to be cut back to make room for ‘Collectivism and Solidarity’. A few maths lessons could be dropped in favour of ‘Cultural Resistance’ and ‘Food Inequality’. Science is obviously not as important to children as ‘Activism’, ‘Colonialism’ or ‘Systemic Racism’. He describes this proposed curriculum as ‘largely agitprop’. It’s political propaganda.

He then sums up the problems of the Black Curriculum. There are three.

  1. It’s concerned mainly with Black people. If it was geared to broaden the cultural understanding of the average child he might be in favour of it. He states that he homeschooled his daughter, and as result they visited various different cultures. These included a Black evangelical church, a mosque, synagogue, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara. If the proposed syllabus included these as well, he might be in favour of it. But it is not.
  2. It seems prepared by the ignorant or malicious. And that’s an insurmountable object to adopting material of this kind.
  3. And if you’re considering cutting material from the national curriculum, then as many groups as possible should be consulted. Like Indians and Bengalis, Chinese, the Jewish community, which has a long history in this country. If you want to broaden the cultural horizons of British children, which is a noble enough enterprise, it shouldn’t be restricted to just three per cent of the population. It needs to be much broader entirely.

Here’s the video.

Now it’s clear that Webb is a man of the right, but I think he makes valid points, and his remark about trying to broaden children’s horizon is both fair and shows he’s not a racist.

I admit I found myself reacting against the demand to have Black African civilisations taught as part of the national curriculum. It undoubtedly would benefit Black children, or at least, those of African descent. David Garmston interviewed several Black schoolchildren about it in an item in the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West. One of them was an African lad, Suhaim, who said he had had very low self-esteem and felt suicidal. But this was raising his spirits. You can’t want anyone, of whatever race or culture, to suffer like that. I’ve been interested in African history and its civilisations since studying the continent as part of the ‘A’ level Geography course, at which I got spectacularly bad marks. It’s a fascinating continent, and I encourage anyone to learn about it. But I think I objected to the proposal because it seems that what should be a voluntary pleasure and a joy was being foisted on British schoolchildren for the benefit of foreigners or a minority of people, who find it unable to assimilate and identify with the host culture. I know how unpleasant this sounds, but this is how I feel. I also think that activism like this creates more division, by presenting Blacks as an ‘other’ with a completely different history and culture, who need to be treated specially and differently from Whites and other ethnic groups.

Black people have contributed to British, American and European civilisation and not just through slavery and the riches they produced for planters and industrialists. But until the late 19th century, the continent of Africa was effectively closed to westerners through a mixture of the tropical diseases around the malaria-infested swamps of the coast and strong African states that kept European traders confined to ghettos. Hence Europe and Africa have little shared history until the European conquests of the 1870s, except in some areas like the slave forts of the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, founded in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. Liberia was also founded as such a colony, but by the Americans.

Webb’s description of the overall syllabus proposed by The Black Curriculum as disinformazia and agitprop is also fair. It looks like propaganda and political indoctrination, and that’s dangerous. I realise that I should agree with its hidden curriculum of anti-colonial resistance, solidarity and exposure of food inequality, but I really can’t. I believe that teachers have to be balanced and objective as far as possible. This is what is demanded by law. I don’t want children indoctrinated with Tory rubbish about how Britain never did anything wrong and the British Empire was wonderful. Far from it. Topics like those recommended by the Black Curriculum are fine for universities, which should be centres of debate where students are exposed to different views. But it’s not suitable for schools. Our mother was a teacher in a junior school here in Bristol She states that teachers are required to keep their personal opinions out of what they teach their students. If this in unavoidable, such as if a child asks them what they personally believe, then they have to reply that it is just their personal belief, not objective fact.

The Black Curriculum, therefore, certainly does seem to be peddling mendacious pseudo-history and should not be allowed near schools. But I fear there will be so much pressure from well-meaning activists to include them, that they will have their way.

Bust of Black Victorian Heroine Mary Seacole to Go to Auction

July 25, 2020

Interesting little snippet on Black British history and heritage in today’s I, for Saturday, 25th July 2020. A bust of Mary Seacole, a Victorian heroine who independently went to nurse the squaddies during the Crimean War, is due to go to auction. The I’s article reports

A bust of a heroine of the Crimean War who was voted the greatest black Briton is to go under the hammer. Mary Seacole, who rivalled Florence Nightingale for her feats in the war, was the daughter of a Scottish soldier and Jamaican mother and born in 1805. A terracotta half bust will be sold on 30th July. It is estimated to fetch between £700 and £1,000.

She’s now all but forgotten, except in the Black community but the crowds that greeted her at one point were as large as for Florence Nightingale. There have been programmes about her. Radio 4 did one a few years ago, and I think last year there was a TV programme about the campaign by a group of nurses, both Black and White, to have a bust of her erected in her honour. The programme was shown as part of a series on Black British history.

She’s not without some controversy, however. Some historians state that she didn’t primarily go to Crimea to nurse – that was incidental – but to open a hotel, which she did. Even so, she is a highly significant figure in Black British history and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with this story and any subsequent attempts to restore her to her former prominence.

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.

ITV Programme on Black Victorian Heroine Mary Seacole

October 18, 2016

mary-seacole-pic

ITV tonight are broadcasting a documentary about Mary Seacole, one of the Victorian heroines you don’t hear about. The blurb in the Radio Times for the documentary runs

In the Shadow of Mary Seacole

The contribution of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican nurse of Scottish and African descent, to caring for wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War has been increasingly acknowledged over recent years. Actor David Harewood embarks on a highly personal journey of discovery as he follows the creation of a statue of the woman who has always been a heroine to him.

The programme’s on at 10.40 today, 18th October 2016.

Seacole was as big a heroine in her time as the nurse everyone’s heard of, Florence Nightingale. There were mass petitions and crowds gathered to see her honoured, and it’s a very sore point with many Black activists that she has been so comprehensively forgotten. They see it as being due to racism, while I think that part of it may also be due to Nightingale having been the better self-publicist.

Regardless of this issue, she is one of Black Britain’s greatest heroines, and indeed one of this country’s greatest irrespective of colour, and it’s only right that her story should also be brought back to public memory and respect.