Posts Tagged ‘Morant Bay Rebellion’

Vandal Attacks BBC Statue Because of Colston Verdict

January 12, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Slavery Exploitation and the Beeb’s ‘Long Song’

December 19, 2018

Okay, I haven’t been watching The Long Song, the Beeb’s historical drama set in the Caribbean during the dying days of slavery, which has been running on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm this week. It’s in three parts, the final of which is tonight. The series is based on Andrea Levy’s book of the same name, as is about a young slave girl, Kitty, who is taken away from her mother to become the personal servant of Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation owner. It’s not something I would usually watch, and the description by the I’s TV critic, Sean O’Grady, that it’s ‘like Downton Abbey with added racism and sadism’ seems about accurate.

But I did catch a brief glimpse of a clip from the show on breakfast TV this morning. This showed the planter telling the slaves that they could be evicted if they didn’t work hard enough, and that they would be paid wages, but there would be a little deduction for rent.

This seems to me to be entirely accurate historically. After the final abolition of slavery in 1838, the planters and the colonial and British governments became concerned that the slaves weren’t working hard enough, and that they would leave the plantations to occupy unused land in the interior. This would leave the plantations without the labour needed to work them and harvest their crops, the country would return to subsistence agriculture and the entire colony would be ruined. they therefore set about devising methods to force the former slaves to remain on the plantations and to work hard.

Now there was some truth to their fears. Some colonies – I think one of them was Jamaica – reported that the slaves stopped working for the two months after abolition. When they returned to work, they demanded wages which the plantation masters considered too high. They also made a point of working less hard than previously. It was reported that they considered working as hard as before to be selling their ‘free’, and that if they did so, they were unworthy of their newly gained liberty.

Some of the planters did threaten their slaves with eviction, and one female slave was thrown out of her plantation home with all her belongings. They also introduced the truck system from Britain, in which employees were paid in tokens, which could only be spent in the company shops. They also used a payment system called ‘tenancy-at-will’ to keep the slaves where they were. This combined the slaves’ wages with deductions for rent. But the rents were always higher than the wages. For examples, if they were paid 5 shillings per week in wages, then the rent would be eight shillings. It was an evil system that has rightly been compared to debt peonage in Latin America.

To stop the former slaves buying vacant crown land in British Guiana, now Guyana, the government raised the price of the plots for sale so that they were far above their ability to afford them.

Obviously the freed people of the Caribbean didn’t take this lightly, and there were Strikes, riots and protests against these and other forms of official oppression and exploitation for decades afterwards. There was also the continual fear that the colonial governments or the British would reintroduce slavery. One former slave said that the Queen, Victoria, had abolished slavery with a charter, and so could just as easily put it back again. And there were a series of rebellions by the former slaves, such as that at Morant Bay in Jamaica as a result. Given this, it is no surprise that there is a continuing resentment at their treatment by some people of West Indian heritage.

Lenny Henry, who plays one of the slaves in the series, has said in an interview that children need to be taught more about slavery. He’s right. Salman Rushdie once remarked that the British didn’t know much about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. Which is also true. This country is affected by events that occurred outside in the colonies, episodes which are known to the people of those countries but not to us, and so some of the post-imperial resentments left over are a surprise.

We do need to know more, and not the sanitized, patriotic version that Tories like Michael Gove want our kids indoctrinated with. It’s only then that we can understand some of the stresses in our multicultural society, and hopefully move beyond them.