Posts Tagged ‘Museums’

My Suggestions for this Issues the Lotus Eaters Should Tackle

August 18, 2022

Sargon and his chums in the Lotus Eaters have asked their readers to send them suggestions for what issues they should write articles about. I’ve therefore sent them three in the comments section. These aren’t suggestions about what they should do about their libertarianism, their frantic support of privatisation and free market capitalism when both are disastrously failing. Nor did I tell them what they could do about their support for Donald Trump, who may well be making a come-back bid to be president. They just wouldn’t publish them and I expect all I’d get would be a storm of anger and abuse from their supporters if they did. Instead I just sent them three suggestions regarding the skewed attitudes among anti-racist activists regarding the historiography of slavery, the failure to protest against the Pakistani grooming gangs and demands for autonomous communities by Islamic theocrats and Black activists. Here’s the comments I left:

‘I could present you with a list. I’d like it if you could tackle the way the historiography of slavery is being skewed. I’ve got the distinct impression that the anti-racist activists demanding reparations for slavery do not want it taught in schools or people made aware that slavery was universal and not invented by Whites; that it existed in Europe long before Europeans enslaved Africans; that Africans were also enslaving other Africans long before the transatlantic slave trade, and that some African states were not only complicit but did extremely well out of it. They also do not want to hear how the British government began improving conditions for slaves before abolition, nor how we attempted to abolish indigenous slavery in other parts of the British empire and around the world. They don’t want to know that Indians also enslaved Africans, or that the Arab slave trade resulted in the export of 14 million slaves from the continent. And above all, the really don’t want the Barbary pirates discussed. They have been erased from the narrative about slavery in the view of one academic author because they don’t fit with the idea that Whites enslaved Blacks, not the other way round. And the French postmodernists have a very racist view of them in which the pirates are ‘nationalists’ and their ‘white victims ‘imperialists’.’

‘Going further, the utter failure of the anti-racist left to protest against the Pakistani grooming gangs. Following Callum’s coverage of Unite’s and Stand Up To Racism’s protest against Tommy Robinson and his film about the rape of Telford, I wrote to Unite and SUTR complaining about their failure to protest against the gangs. I suggested that the organise a multicultural march against them, ’cause Whites have protested with Blacks on their campaigns against racism. No reply. I wrote to my local paper, the Bristol Post, suggesting this, and also to the Independent. No reply. I also wrote to Asher Craig, Bristol’s deputy elected mayor and head of equalities and children’s services. She’s a Black woman who said she wanted a museum of slavery in Bristol. No reply there either. This said very clearly to me that when it comes to racism, for the anti-racist left racism against Whites does not matter.’

‘And if you really want to be controversial, you could write a piece about colonialist attitudes among Muslims and Blacks. This exists. Anjem Chaudhury’s outfit in Belgium, Sharia4Belgium, wanted a separate Muslim territory in that country, governed by sharia law and with Arabic as the spoken language. The same demands were made over here in some of the literature published by the British Muslim publishers. A more recent argument I came across a couple of years ago explicitly ties it to the colonisation of America. The way the British encouraged other nations to settle in their colonies by allowing them to preserve their culture and laws, these Muslims argue that Muslims in the west should also be allowed to retain their laws under the protection of the British state. I’ve also seen Black British writers and politicos demand separate spaces for Blacks and autonomous communities.’

I know there are issues about people from the left dealing with right-wingers like Sargon and his crew. These are issues that I’d like the left to tackle. But they really don’t want to tackle them or see them discussed. And so, unfortunately, the only avenue is to take them up with the right and see if they will.

I’ll let you know if I get any replies.

Why Did British Public Opinion Turn Against the Empire?

August 10, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘On my wall the colours of the map are running

From Africa the winds they talk of changes of coming

In the islands where I grew up

Noting seems the same

It’s just the patterns that remain

An empty shell.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Email to Bristol Green Party about Their Slavery Reparations Motion on the Council

February 26, 2022

I’m still furious about the motion for the payment of reparations for slavery to Britain’s Black community which was passed last year almost unanimously by Bristol council. It was introduced by Cleo Lake, the then Green councillor for Cotham, a ward in the northern part of the city, and seconded by Asher Craig, the deputy leader of the council and head of equalities for the city. All the parties of the left supported – the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems. It was only opposed by the Conservatives, who said it was well meant. In many ways it was a continuation of the affirmative action programmes giving aid to Black communities. It was very definitely not, as the proposer stated, a hand-out to individuals but finding to Black organisations to create prosperous, self-sustaining Black communities.

My problem with this is the connection to slavery. This is a more complicated issue than simply rich western Whites dragging Blacks off to oppression and forced labour in the plantations. Slavery existed in various forms in Africa long before the arrival of Whites in the continent. Black states, some of which had slave populations of 75 per cent, preyed on each other, and sold them to outsiders like the Arabs. They were also enslaved by the Turkish empire and Christian Abyssinia. From east Africa they could be exported overseas as far as India, where Bengal had been a major slave trading centre since the 14th century and Indonesia. At the same time, the Barbary pirates, Muslims from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, raided Europe from Spain and Italy to Britain, Ireland and Iceland, carrying off 1 – 2/12 million Whites. But this isn’t mentioned in school history and, although there are an increasing number of books about it, I doubt very many people are aware of it. In America and Europe the global nature of slavery is played down so that the focus is almost wholly on Black transatlantic slavery.

This is understandable as slavery is held to be the ultimate source for the continuing problems of the Black community – unemployment, drugs, crime, racism, poor academic performance and marginalisation and alienation from mainstream society. But the result has been a gross simplification of the historical reality. Critical Race Theory, which developed from Marxist legal scholarship in the 1970s, simplifies the racial situation in the west into oppressed Blacks versus privileged Whites. All Whites benefit from the dominant position in society, even if they despise racism. And all Blacks, regardless of socio-economic status, are oppressed. Lake and Craig’s proposal follows this logic by demanding such payments for all ‘Afrikans’, thus making White collectively responsible for slavery, even when it was others that were really responsible.

I’ve written to Lake and Craig about this, and got no reply. Last Sunday I sent an email to the Green party in Bristol about it. I got no reply to that either. I don’t think they’re capable of defending their position. Or just arrogant and ignoring me as one of the ‘little people’. Here’s the email.

‘Dear Sir,

I am writing to you now to express my grave concerns about last year’s motion in the city council, proposed by Cleo Lake, then your councillor for Cotham, and seconded by Labour deputy leader and head of equalities Asher Craig, to pay reparations for slavery. I have absolutely no objection to the practical form these reparations were to take, which was in fact to be funding to Black led organisations to create prosperous, sustainable Black communities. I am very much aware of the poverty and marginalisation experienced by the Bristol Black community, and do support initiatives to improve their conditions. And it is, of course, entirely natural and appropriate that this should be guided by the community itself. But I am very concerned about the way this funding was linked to the reparations movement and the decision that it should apply to all ‘Afrikans’. This showed, at best, a poor understanding of the history of African slavery. At worst it appears to be anti-White, separating Bristolians into good, virtuous, persecuted Blacks, and evil, persecutory Whites, who should feel guilty for the crimes of the ancestors, according to the principles of Afrocentric history and Critical Race Theory.

In fact Black Africans were enslaving other Black Africans long before the transatlantic slave trade, and continued to do so long after Britain had officially banned the slave trade and slavery itself. The proportion of slaves varied from state to state from around 30 per cent to as high 75 per cent. In west Africa the principal slaving nations were the Ashanti, Dahomey, Whydah and Badagri. In east Africa they included Abyssinia and the Yao, Marganja and Swahili peoples. These states became extremely rich through the trade in human suffering. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey, for example, raked in £300,000 per year. Black Africans were also enslaved by the Islamic states, such as the Turkish empire in north Africa and the Sultanate of Oman one the east coast. Black Africans were exported to the Middle East, India and south-east Asia. If reparations are to be paid to all ‘Afrikans’, then this means also paying them to the descendants of those who enslaved them and profited by selling them to Europeans and Americans.

There is also the additional problem in that many of these states were paid compensation and subsidies by the British government to support them economically after the loss of such a profitable trade. But I see no awareness of this in Lake’s motion. An additional problem is that some of these states have no remorse over their ancestors’ participation in the abominable trade. There are statues and streets named after Efroye Tinobue in Nigeria, a powerful female merchant who became a kingmaker in Nigerian politics in the 19th century. But she was also a slaver. There is a very strong debate in Nigeria and  Ghana about the role of the chiefs in the slave trade, and Liverpool’s museum of slavery was widely praised by some Nigerians for including their role. But there seems to be little knowledge or engagement with this fact. Nor do Lake and Craig show any awareness that White Bristolians were also among the Europeans enslaved by the Barbary pirates. In the 16th century five ships were taken from Bristol harbour, and in the 17th they briefly established a base on Lundy. But councillor Lake seemed unaware or unconcerned about this.

I realise that this comes from the belief that the transatlantic slave trade is the direct cause of the inequalities experienced by the contemporary Black community, but I fear that this the proposal has grotesquely simplified the historical reality. I am not sure how many Bristolians are aware that other nations were also involved in the slave trade, like the Spanish and Portuguese. It seems to me that the call for payment of reparations to all ‘Afrikans’ makes Bristol responsible for African enslavement carried out by other nations.

And I am very concerned about the racial politics involved the call. It seems to be strongly influenced by Afrocentrism, which holds that Whites are inferior, and intrinsically more cruel and exploitative than Blacks, and that slavery did not exist in Africa before the appearance of Europeans and Arabs. It also seems to partake of Critical Race Theory, which also considers that all Whites are privileged racists, even when they oppose racism. This has become very topical in recent weeks with the report that Brighton and Hove council, led by the Greens, has voted to include it in their school curriculum.

I very much regret that for these reasons I find Councillor Lake’s motion deeply flawed and simplifying history to a grotesque and racially divisive degree.

I know that the motion was proposed and passed a year or so ago. But I have written to both Councillors Lake and Craig about this, and so far not received a reply from them. And I believe this issues has not gone away but has increased with the debate over the teaching of British history and Critical Race Theory.

 would be very grateful, therefore, to hear your views and explanations in answer to my concerns. You may contact me at my email address —-

Yours faithfully’,

Grayson Perry, Futurism and the Democratisation of Art

December 13, 2021

One of the best programmes to have been on during the lockdown has been Grayson Perry’s Art Club on Channel 4, hosted by the Turner Prize-winning potter. He has attempted to encourage people across the country to get creating their own personal works of art. They have included ordinary Brits, as well as celebrities like Johnny Vegas and Boy George. At the end of the series, the works he selected for inclusion on his programme were exhibited in one of the country’s museums. Last year’s entry’s were displayed, I think, in Manchester. This year they’re being exhibited at the City Museum and Art Gallery here in Bristol. Accompanying the exhibition was an edition of his programme last Friday, in which he went behind the scenes to show the works being put up, as well as display the pieces that he had selected and talk to their creators. Those included came from all works of life. One was a volunteer at a food bank, who had painted one of the other women working there behind the counter. Another was a transvestite, who had painted himself in feminine make-up. Johnny Vegas had produced a highly stylised human figure representing Norman. This was a young lad he remembered from school, who always seemed hunched up in his coat as if he had already been defeated and given up on life. Vegas wished he could go back and encourage him to become more positive. One of the most amazing people was Becky Taylor, a young woman stricken with quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Paralysed and confined to a wheelchair, she nevertheless was able to speak and create through the same type of computer technology as Stephen Hawking. She was able to paint a portrait of Perry by moving her eyes across the computer screen. Their movements were captured by the software, which turned them into brushstrokes. The result was an astonishingly good likeness. Perry tried to do it for himself, but unsurprisingly only succeeded in making a mess.

It struck me that Perry’s programme in many respects was close to some of the ideals and demands made by the Italian Futurists. Not that the gentle, transvestite Perry had anything politically in common with the hypermasculine, nationalistic belligerence of the Futurists, who celebrated violence and declared war to be ‘sole hygiene of the world’, and whose survivors after World War I joined Mussolini’s Fascists. But Taylor’s art and the technology that enabled her to express her creativity would certainly have pleased them, as they celebrated the new industrial Italy. Marinetti, in his Founding and Manifesto of Futurism of 1909, had looked forward to ‘the coming union of man and machine’.

But Marinetti had also called for museums and exhibition spaces to be opened up to the public, to display the works of art that were being produced by ordinary Italians. He was impressed by the number of people, even in small villages, who were artistically inclined and dismayed by how they were frustrated and crushed. In his ‘Florentine Address’ of 1919, he remarked on ‘the proletariat of geniuses’, the frustrated intellectuals of contemporary Italy, calling for their encouragement and display. He said, or, more probably, declaimed

“I wish to fill another gap by turning now to the only proletariat that remains forgotten and oppressed: the vitally important proletariat of geniuses.

It is indisputable that our race surpasses all others in the large number of geniuses that it produces. Even the smallest Italian group, the smallest village, can claim seven or eight twenty-year olds, who are brimming over with creative fervor, youths of overweening ambition as revealed in volumes of unpublished verse and in eloquent outbursts in the public squares and at political rallies. Admittedly some (though they are few in number) are little more than foolish dreamers who will probably never attain true genius. But there is genius in their temperament, which is to say that, encouraged in the right manner, they might well contribute to the nation’s intellectual dynamism.

In that same small group or village it is easy to find seven or eight middle-aged men above whose heads hovers the melancholy halo of failed genius, a halo that accompanies them through their lives as petty clerks or professionals, in neighbourhood cafes, and with their families. Remnants of a genius that never found a propitious environment in which it might thrive, they were quickly laid low by economic and sentimental necessities.

I founded the Futurist artistic movement eleven years ago in order to brutally modernize the literary-artistic milieu, to deprive it of any authority and destroy its ruling gerontocracy, to debunk pedantic professors and critics, and to encourage the reckless outbursts of young genius. My aim was to create a fully oxygenated atmosphere, a healthy, encouraging, supportive atmosphere where all of Italy’s young geniuses might prosper. I sought to encourage all of them, to increase their pride, to clear a path for them, to swiftly reduce the proportion of failed and worn-out geniuses.

It is sometimes difficult to recognise, appreciate, and encourage young geniuses. In part this is because instead of viewing their homeland as a vast malleable mass to be molded spiritually, these youths regard it as an idiotic network of abuses of power, criminal rackets, corrupt authorities, and asinine rules. And, of course, they are right. Everywhere in our country, genius is undervalued, derided, imprisoned. Only mediocre opportunists and over-the-hill, one-time geniuses are celebrated and crowned….

Many other youths – dynamic, impetuous young men, intoxicated with spiritual heroism and revolutionary patriotism – have now swollen the Futurist ranks. But a great many others remain ignorant or depressed, stifled by the atmosphere of small ultrapasseist cities. Thanks to the vast wave of stormy soirees and demonstrations that swept up and down the Italian peninsula, Futurism came into contact with nearly everyone. But the nation’s political forces will have to undertake a more systematic campaign if we are to save, re-ignite, and tap the vast energies possessed by the proletariat of geniuses.

I propose the construction in every city of a number of buildings that bear a title like the following: Free Exhibition of Creative Genius. In these facilities:

  1. works of painting, sculpture, graphics, architectural drawings, machine drawings, and designs of inventions will be on display for a month at time;
  2. Musical works, small or large, for orchestra or piano, in any genre, form, or size will be performed.
  3. poems, prose, scientific writings of all kinds and lengths will be read, displayed, recited;
  4. all citizens will have the right to exhibit free of charge;
  5. works of any kind or any value, even if seemingly judged to be absurd, inane, crazy or immoral, will be displayed or read without a jury.

With these free and open exhibitions of creative genius, we Futurists wage war against an ever present danger: the danger of seeing the spirit shipwrecked on the ideological seas that swirl around the formulas of communism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

From: A Primer of Italian Fascism, ed. and introduced by Jeffrey T. Schnapp (University of Nebraska Press 2000) 271-3.

Some of this has been realised through recent initiatives to open up museums and art galleries to the public and aspiring artists, as well as the new opportunities for display that have come through the internet. I don’t quite share the Futurist’s artistic tastes – they were militant avant-garde artists who attacked traditional art and Italy’s artistic heritage. And there are obviously artistic, literary and scientific works that are too dangerous or immoral to be displayed or encouraged. But Marinetti had a point. Up and down Britain there are people, who have tried their hand at art or literature, and been discouraged because of lack of opportunity. They also deserve their chance. It’s great that programmes like Perry’s are there to encourage them.

But perhaps, to encourage the genius of ordinary people still further, we should build the exhibition halls he called for to show what talent is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

History Debunked on Tony Timpa, the Forgotten White Man Killed Like George Floyd

December 4, 2021

In this video from History Debunked, Simon Webb contrasts the outrage that followed the death of George Floyd, murdered by the police in America, with the case of Tony Timpa, a White man killed in similar circumstances in 2016. Timpa was schizophrenic and had been taking cocaine. He struggled with the cops when they came to arrest him. He was manhandled to the ground and one of the officers knelt on his neck, despite him telling them that they were killing him. In a further twist, one of the officers was Black. But this man’s death is forgotten. When George Floyd was killed, however, there were protests and riots across America and Britain followed by demands to change schools’ and universities’ curricula and change the content of museums. Webb states that they we all know that the police can get rough when it comes to restraint, but White people accept it when it happens to them. Blacks don’t. The 2011 riots were partly caused by the police shooting of Mark Duggan, a Black gangster. Webb states that there is a perception that the police in America and Britain treat Blacks as they did in the 1960s, such as the brutality inflicted on Black protesters. But this hasn’t been true for a long time. You are just as likely to see a Black cop as a White, especially in big cities. But the perception is that the police are still all bigoted and racist as in the classic Sidney Poitier film, In the Heat of the Night. But if this was true, we really would be back in the days of the Klan and real organised racial violence.

It’s an interesting point. The Lotus Eaters went through the stats in one of their videos to show that Whites in both Britain and America were more likely to be killed by the police than Blacks, though I think they said that as a percentage of the population, the number of Blacks killed was likely to be higher because Blacks were disproportionately involved in violent crime. But some of the outrage behind Black Lives Matter comes from the apparently cavalier shooting of innocents, including children. Marc Duggan, the Black British gangster, had a gun in his car but wasn’t reaching for it when he was shot. His shooting was interpreted as a police execution, in which the cops acted as a death squad, rather than a real attempt at arrest. And behind Black Lives Matter is outrage at the still depressed, impoverished and disadvantaged state of Blacks in Britain and America. Thus it seems to me that the killing of Blacks by the police are seen as part and parcel of wider issues of racism in these societies. And certainly parts of the Black activist movement do see the police in terms of the 1960s. Sasha Johnson, before a group of Black gangsters shot her in the head, was caught on camera screaming that the police were like the KKK and that Blacks needed their own militia to defend them.

If there are problems with police brutality and excessive force, then the White victims need to be treated and remembered exactly the same as the Black. And while there is a history of racism in the police, this needs to be very carefully examined before racial activists like Johnson make excessive and grotesque claims equating the cops with the Klan. If that had been true, she’d have been lynched sometime in her career and her followers similarly rounded up and beaten, rather than allowed to appear in camera in paramilitary uniform.

********

I’ve also written the following books, which are available from Lulu.

The Global Campaign, Volume 1

Price: £12.00

Available at The Global Campaign Volume 1 (lulu.com)

The Global Campaign Volume 2

Price: £12.00

Available at Global Campaign Vol 2 (lulu.com)

For a Worker’s Chamber

Price: £4.50

Available at For A Worker’s Chamber (lulu.com)

Privatisation: Killing the NHS

Price: £5.25

Available at Privatisation: Killing the NHS (lulu.com)

Crimes of Empire

Price: £10.00

Available at Crimes of Empire (lulu.com)

No, Europeans Didn’t Introduce Ironworking to Africa during the Slave Trade

October 2, 2021

I have several times posted about and reposted some of the videos made by Simon Webb of the History Debunked channel. Those I’ve reposted are usually criticisms of Black Lives Matter or falsehoods repeated as truth in Black history. I’ve said that Webb should be taken with caution as he’s a Telegraph-reading Tory. Where he quotes historical and mainstream scientific texts, I think he’s correct. But occasionally he comes up with falsehoods of his own which show he needs checking. Yesterday he put up a video on the transatlantic slave trade and how it benefited west Africa. Now he’s right that the slave trade did bring some benefits to west Africa. The African states who supplied the European slave merchants, Dahomey and Whydah, for example, grew extremely rich. Duke Ephraim of Dahomey had an income of £300,000 a year, and the abominable trade plugged Africa into the wider global economy. According to mainstream academic historians, it introduced modern commercial methods into Africa and allowed capital accumulation.

But Webb seems instead to make a very curious claim. Noting that the Black African professionals people may meet tend to be Nigerian or west African, Webb says in this video that its because Europeans brought iron working and civilisation to Africa. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Webb claims, most buildings were made of mud. Bronze was used for decoration – I assume here he’s talking about the Benin bronzes, sculptured heads what were produced as shrines to the king’s spirit. But iron was unknown. This is bizarre, as it’s very much not the view of conventional historians and archaeologists.

I looked in Colin McEvedy’s The Penguin Atlas of African History (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1980) to see when sub-Saharan African entered the Iron Age. He notes on page 30 that iron-working communities emerged around Nok in what is now Nigeria c. 202 BC. Iron-working also existed in Nubia by AD 200. C. 200 AD is started reaching the rest of Africa as the Bantu peoples expanded east and south, pp. 34, 36. I don’t actually know why Webb should think that they only developed iron working with the slave trade. I think it perhaps comes from the fact that Europeans did trade iron bars for slaves. These were made into objects called manilas, shaped like bracelets. A few of them are on display in the slavery gallery in Bristol’s M Shed. Webb has said that metallurgical analysis has shown that some west African artefacts now at the centre of demands for repatriation, were ironically made using metals that could only have been introduced by European traders. I’ve no doubt this is true, but it doesn’t contradict the fact that Africans were perfectly capable of producing iron for themselves. It may just indicate that Africans were willing to import European iron because it may have been cheaper, better or more easily accessible than that domestically produced. Just a Britain now imports cars despite having a domestic car industry.

HIs claim that Africans also built in mud is also questionable. They certainly did in west and other parts of Africa, so that it’s largely true. The city of Whydah was built of wood, and the Dahomeyans certainly used mud brick to build their towns. But the Islamic states of the Sahara, including Nubia, built in stone. And the Swahili were using coral blocks to construct their cities from the 9th century onwards, roughly as the same time when the ancestors of the Shona built the fortress of Zimbabwe.

This seems to come from Webb’s view that Africa didn’t produce any real civilisations. This was very much the view of 19th and early 20th century historians. On the other hand, one commander of the West African Squadron, Captain Denman, testified to parliament that the mass murder of slaves by one of the African cultures was remarkable, given that the people there had made such progress in the arts of civilisation. Which shows that at that time in the 19th century, not all Europeans thought Africans were uncivilised savages.

I think its undoubtedly true that Europeans introduced modern science and technology to Africa during colonialism, even if this was to exploit the countries and their peoples. They also benefited from the introduction of modern education and literacy, when it was available. If Nigerians are more prevalent among Black African professionals in Britain, it may well be due to a number of factors that have little to do with the slave trade. It may simply be that Nigeria is a richer country than many other African nations, and so has a larger middle class able to afford an education. It also possesses its own university, though I don’t know if it has a medical faculty. It is certainly more populous than some African countries, with a population of about 100 million. It may also have stronger ties with the west and particularly Britain, so that it’s people go here rather than to France or Portugal, the other African colonial powers.

It is therefore far more likely to be due to the education, science and technology introduced to Nigeria and west Africa during colonialism, and the enduring ties with Britain forged during this period, that have led so many west Africans to migrate here rather than the slave trade. Which certainly did not, in any case, usher in the Iron Age in Africa.

Erich Ohser, the German Comics Creator Who Defied the Nazis

August 27, 2021

I’ve been flicking through Paul Gravett’s Comics Art (Newhaven: Yale University Press 2013), a history of comics and graphic novels. This views comics as a distinct art form, the way it can promote and challenge stereotypes and the status quo, and the new trends in comics storytelling as it expanded into the digital realm and the emergence of comics that have been specifically designed for museums and art installations. It’s a global history, which not only tells the story of American and European comics, but also covers Japanese comics and those created by members of minorities, such as women, gays and Black and Asian ethnic minorities. Many of the comics discussed are by people, who are unknown to contemporary audience. One of these was Erich Ohser, a Jewish comics creator in Germany, whose family-oriented strip was massively popular from the mid-1930s until the Nazis tried to co-opt it in the 1940s. Gravett writes

On a much more optimistic note, another much-loved German cartoonist in this genre was Erich Ohser who as ‘e.o. plauen’ began in 1934 drawing in crisp brushstrokes his endearing single page vignettes between a father and a son, based on his relationship with his own son. Their first compilation sold 90,000 copies. The Nazis tried to co-opt Ohser’s comics for propaganda purposes, though the Jewish artist refused to incorporate anti-Jewish messages. Arrested by the Gestapo on trumped-up defamation charges and facing deportation to a concentration camp, Ohser took his own life in 1944.

It says much about Ohser’s popularity that the Nazis wanted to co-opt him rather than simply close him down, as they did with other Jewish professionals and businesses. And I have nothing but admiration for him for refusing to collaborate with them to the point where his defiance led to his arrest and tragic end. Lesser men would have given in and gone along with the Nazis’ demands, as so many others did.

Edward Colston’s Statue Needs to Be in a Museum to Educate People About Slavery

May 31, 2021

Last week, the BBC local news for the Bristol area, Points West, reported that the statue of Edward Colston had been put on display in the M Shed, one of the city’s many museums. The statue was famously pulled down last summer by Black Lives Matter protesters and thrown in the docks. It’s being put on display, along with an old tyre that was also hauled out of the docks with it and a plaque. The M Shed is asking the Bristolian public what their views about its display are.

I think it needs to go on display along with an explanatory plaque. I don’t think the statue will be particularly missed from its plinth on the city centre. It’s naturally been controversial for decades, and there have been campaign to have it pulled down since the 1990s. But it needs to be retained and displayed because of the uncomfortable facts about the slave trade and those who dealt in it.

If Colston was only a slaver out for his own profit, then there would or should be no objection to the tearing down of his statue. But he was more complex than that. He gave most of his money away to charity, so that there have been schools founded on his bequests. I remember my old secondary school celebrating Colston Day each year, in which a few selected pupils got to attend a special service and receive a free bun. This was very definitely not a racist school. We had regular sermons against racism and the colour bar in school assemblies and the regular church services at Christmas and the beginning of term. Mike told me of one incident where the headmaster gave one boy a roasting for calling one of the Black lads a ‘N***er’. The school building was already crumbling, and the headmaster was so loud telling the lad off that bits actually flaked off.

One of the problems with slavery, and indeed much history, its that the morals of the past are very different from our own. This was first noted by the 18th century Italian historian and philosopher, Vico, and then by Nietzsche and his ‘transvaluation of values’. It’s extremely difficult for us to understand how otherwise good and decent people could perpetrate the most terrible atrocities, like slavery. But they did, and this needs to be recognised and understood. If nothing else, it helps to explain why it took William Wilberforce and the abolitionists so long to have it banned, and why decent people respected and defended Colston and his statue. History needs to be understood on its own terms, even when its controversial. Especially when its controversial.

We falsify it and create new dangers if we try to present it simply so as to fit modern morals.

The Satanic Rites of Glossop Tories

May 29, 2021

Ho ho! We suspected as much! People as evil as Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVile have to be in league with the forces of darkness. Now there’s the proof that at least one local Conservative club has had truck with the Evil One. ‘Cause archaeologists dug up the occult image they were using, as well as the remains of candlewax, chicken bones and other paraphernalia from their diabolical ceremonies.

A friend of mine helps run a psychic research society. Unlike the ghost hunters you see on TV, who every week seem to encounter real, unquiet spirits and run around screaming that they’re possessed, his organisation is very serious about investigating the paranormal scientifically. Quite a few of them have backgrounds in the medicine and the sciences. There is a very sizable academic literature on parapsychology and the proper investigation of paranormal events, including the proper scientific protocols to rule out misperception, fraud and false results. The paranormal is now regarded by very many people as something as a joke, but it was taken very seriously at one time. The founders of the British Society for Psychical Research included some of the most prominent politicians, academics and scientists of the 19th century.

As they’re unable to meet in person due to lockdown restriction, my friend’s been arranging a series of Zoom talks about the paranormal. He asked me if I’d like to give one. I agreed, and chose the archaeology of magic as the talk’s topic. There’s been a revival of interest in the history of magic and witchcraft by historians since the 1960s. This was pioneered in the 1960s and ’70s by French historians, who wanted to investigate the ‘mentalites’ – the mental worldview – of previous ages. Interest in witchcraft and the witch craze of the 16th and 17th is immense, because of the parallels between them and the persecution of minorities by the horrific totalitarianisms of the 20th century – Nazism, Fascism and Stalinist Communism – as well as parallels to the Cold War and ‘reds under the bed’. They’re also investigated because of what they say about these centuries attitudes towards women. Feminists are thus particularly interested, including activists who believe that the witches weren’t servants of Satan, but female adherents of an ancient mother goddess cult. Historians are also interested in witchcraft because it marks the transition from the enchanted world of the Middle Ages, when the universe was occupied by angels, demons, fairies and magicians, to secular modernity and the rationalism of the 18th century. And finally there’s the modern occult revival, which began in the 19th century, which has been particularly investigated by Dr Ronald Hutton of Bristol University.

Archaeologists have been rather late to the party. I think this is partly because archaeologist tended to identify anything with a vaguely supernatural use as ‘ritual’, rather than religious. There was an attitude that archaeologists could not reconstruct the religious ideas of past societies from their material remains, although in the case of temples and shrines, that’s clearly not the case. But it can be difficult without textual information. Also, many archaeologists didn’t want the sensationalism that came with the words ‘magic’ and ‘supernatural’. The first major book on the subject was Ralph Merrifield’s The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. The kinds of items and remains investigated by archaeologists as magic include human and animal remains buried under houses, possibly as foundation sacrifices, charms and amulets, curse tablets, witch posts – carved posts in houses to stop witches or the walking dead entering – witch dolls and bottles, as well as items of clothing like shoes also left behind walls in houses. One of the books I’ve been using is The Materiality of Magic, edited by Ceri Houlbrook and Natalie Armitage (Oxbow: 2015). This is a collection of papers on archaeology and magic that came out of an interdisciplinary course run by the University of Manchester.

One of these papers, by A.J.N.W. Prag, ‘The Little Mannie with his Daddy’s Horns’, recounts how Manchester museum acquired a devil figure – so they thought – in the 1970s. The museum was running an exhibition of Celtic heads, and the cleaner at the local Tory club in Hollingworth had discovered one when she was cleaning the cellar. The museum experts came down, examined it, and found the remains left from the last time it was used. Which was apparently in 1916 to benefit the troops at the front. The museum quickly arranged to purchase it from her, partly because they were afraid that Satanists, especially American, would get wind of it. However, after they acquired it, their staff suffered a series of accidents. People who hadn’t had a car accident in their life suddenly scratched both sides of their vehicles, one worker cut his head open and then managed to lock the keys in the car of the colleague who took him to hospital. Eventually it got to the point where no-one really wanted to touch, until one of the women took to soothing it physically. But there was a further surprise when they were about to put it on display. A visiting expert on Africa told them that it wasn’t actually Celtic, but African. Specifically, it was a nomoli figure from the Mende people of Sierra Leone. This raises the question how such an exotic item found its way to a Tory club near Glossop. The paper speculates that it may have been brought to Manchester by one of the Jesuits involved in the exorcism of the possessed nuns at the 17th century French convent, which formed the basis for the Aldous Huxley book, The Devils of Loudoun, and the Ken Russell movie, The Devils, with Oliver Reed. It’s possible that the image, brought to the convent by a missionary clergyman, may have been at the heart of the accusations of witchcraft.

The idea of the local Tories practising their Satanic rites sounds like something from Last of the Summer Wine. Back in the 1980s there was an episode in which Sid and his wife at the local cafe were catering for a Masonic-style secret society, the Bullocks. As Foggy and Clegg are talking about it downstairs with Sid and Ivy, Compo comes down from their upstairs room where they’re holding their secret ceremony. He calls them a load of pansies, or something similar. When asked, they’re all there stamping their feet like hooves and holding their fingers in front of their heads like horns, chanting ‘Who’s a pretty bullock then, moo, moo? Who’s a pretty bullock then, you, you.’ Later Clegg and Compo embarrass Foggy by stealing their banner and running across one of the hills with it, so it proclaims to all and sundry, ‘Bullocks’.

Is this the kind of thing that’s going on in Tory clubs up and down England, we wonder? I find the whole thing peculiar and funny, and it inspired me to make this painting of Thatcher as the Satanic figure, Baphomet. If you can’t quite make out the text, it’s supposed to read ‘The Satanic Rites of Thatcher’. Hope you enjoy it and don’t have nightmares.

Video of Trevithick’s Steam Carriage in Bristol

March 14, 2021

I’ve an interest in the real, Victorian technology that really does resemble the ideas and inventions in Steampunk Science Fiction. This is the SF genre that, following Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other early writers, tries to imagine what it would have been like had the Victorians had cars, aircraft, robots, spaceships, computers and time travel. And at certain points the Victorians came very close to creating those worlds. Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine, set in the Victorian computer age, was a piece of speculation about what kind of society would have emerged, if William Babbage’s pioneering computer, the Difference Engine of the title, had been built. And also if the 1820s Tory government had fallen to be replaced the rule of Lord Byron. The 19th century was a hugely inventive age, as scientists and engineers explored new possibilities and discoveries. George Cayley in Britain successfully invented a glider, in France Giffard created a dirigible airship, flying it around the Eiffel Tower. And from the very beginning of the century scientists and inventors attempted to develop the first ancestors of the modern car, run on coal and steam, of course.

One of these was a steam carriage designed by the Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, in 1801. This was built, but wasn’t successful. This did not stop other engineers attempting to perfect such vehicles, and steam cars continued to be developed and built well into the 20th century. The most famous of these was the American Stanley Steamer of 1901.

I found this short video on Johnofbristol’s channel on YouTube. It shows a replica of Trevithick’s vehicle being driven around Bristol docks. From the cranes and the building over the other side of the river, it looks like it was shot outside Bristol’s M Shed museum. This was formerly the site of the city’s Industrial Museum, and still contains among its exhibits some fascinating pieces from the city’s industrial past. These include the aircraft and vehicles produced by Bristol’s aerospace and transport companies.