Posts Tagged ‘Paul Boateng’

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

June 9, 2020

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

Colston, Slavery and Charity

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

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

Bristol and the Slave Trade

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

Anti-racist Politics in Bristol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Separatism and the Name of the Malcolm X Centre

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

May 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Lies Exposed Again: Most Misogynist Abuse Comes from the Tories

September 6, 2017

Mike today put up a piece blowing away another lie that the Tories and their servants in the media have hawking: that the Left is full of misogynists, who harass and abuse women MPs. In fact Amnesty International have published a report showing that the opposite is true: most abuse comes from the right. And the female politico, who most often suffers it is Diane Abbott.

Who in the Left is honestly surprised by this? There are Conservative varieties of feminism, as you’d expect, but feminism, or women’s lib as it was known in the 1970s, is most often associated with the Left. And as the Austrian democratic socialist Marxist, Karl Kautsky argued, socialism is all about equality. This is why they champion the working class, and why left-wing governments, particularly Communist, have encouraged women to enter politics and the workplace, even if their countries’ traditional culture is very sexist, as it is in Russia and some of the countries of the former eastern bloc.

Conservatives, on the other hand, stress the importance of tradition, and despite having given Britain two female prime ministers, Maggie Thatcher and now Theresa May, this usually also means stressing and promoting traditional gender roles. Thus, while the right-wing broadsheets may earnestly discuss the issue of getting more women into the boardroom, and equal pay, the Daily Heil has been telling its female readers that stable families, and indeed western civilization as a whole, needs women to concentrate on staying at home to raise children, rather than both pursuing independent careers. The image the right projects of feminism is of angry misandrists, which has been a factor in why so many young women a few years ago rejected the term ‘feminism’, even when they had strong feelings about winning equality and rejecting sexism.

There’s also more than a little racism on the Tories’ side as well. The Tory right has always had links to Fascist right, including inviting members of central American death squads over to their annual dinners. A few days ago I put up a piece about Owen Jones’ video on YouTube, in which he commented on an odious conversation by the Tory youth movement, Activate, about gassing chavs and shooting peasants. This wasn’t the first time they had made Nazi comments and bullied the poor and underprivileged by a very long chalk. Jones discussed some prize examples of their foul behavior. This included the members of Oxford University Conservative society goose-stepping around like the real Nazis, singing songs about ‘Dashing through the Reich … killing lots of ****’, the last a very unpleasant terms for Jews. Their comrades north of the border ain’t no better either. This crew thought it would be jolly fun for one of them to dress up as a slave master, while another cringed before him as a slave. It wasn’t that long ago that the Tories in Scotland were known as the Unionist party, and their antics and Thatcher’s complete dismissal of the country was a large factor in the decision of so many Scots to vote for the SNP.

As for the Tory press, they’ve been consistently against coloured immigration since Windrush. And long before then, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries they were busy campaigning against allowing ‘aliens’ – that is, eastern European Jews, to enter this country as asylum seekers fleeing the pogroms in eastern Europe. This anti-immigration stance has frequently been blatantly racist. Private Eye, when covering the prosecution of the Scum yet again for racism by the Press Complaints Commission, as it then was, noted that the wretched paper had had 19 judgements against it previously for its racist content. I can remember how the Torygraph, Mail and Express back in the 1980s railed against ‘unassimilable’ immigrants and the way they were forming little ghettoes.

Racism became a major issue in that decade following the 1981/2 riots, and the publication of government reports that revealed a massive culture of institutional racism and Black deprivation in Britain. To the Tory press, however, the riots were all the fault of racist Blacks. While there have been Black and Asian politicians before, Diane Abbott was one of the group of very visible Black politicians and activists to achieve public office during the decade, along with Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant, the leader of Brent Council. They were all very vocal in their opposition to racism. Grant died the other year, and I think Boateng more or less vanished into the depths of Whitehall. There are a number of other Black politicos, like David Lammy, Chuka Umunna and Oona King, but Abbott is one of the longest-serving and most reviled. The Scum tried running a Communism scare against the Labour party in the 1987 election, by putting up a two-page spread with the photographs of Labour MPs and candidates, below which was a few brief quotes or comments showing how they were a threat to British society. Red Ken is supposed to have said that he wasn’t in favour of the British army, but wanted the workers to be armed so they could guard the factories. Under Abbott’s was a quote, ‘All Whites are racist.’

That was very much the image she had at the time. She’s supposed to be very keen on tackling racism, because she felt that her mother’s career was blocked because of her colour. This is actually quite likely. But it’s highly questionable that she’s anti-White. Many of the stories the press published about the supposed hard-left extremists in the Labour party at the time were either exaggerations or completely made up. Ken Livingstone, whom the Eye has frequently mocked under the nickname, Ken Leninspart, really did believe in worker’s control. But he was never a Marxist, and in fact worker’s control used to form only a small part of the subjects he discussed with the, um, ‘gentlemen’ of the press. Most of the time it was rather more mundane. But they played up the worker’s control, and attacked it, because it frightened their proprietors and editors, quite apart from the rest of the middle class. The veteran gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who was also beginning his career as a Labour politico, was another who was made to appear much more extreme than he was. At one point the papers published a story about him going on holiday to one of the great gay centres on the American west coast. Except that he hadn’t, and didn’t even know the place existed. They also did the same thing to Marc Almond. In his case, they didn’t think he looked sufficiently effeminate, and so retouched his photograph.

Given this long record of telling porky pies about radical politicians, you can’t be sure that Abbot made the above comment, or that it represents her views now. But as Sid James remarked to Tony Hancock in ‘The Scandal Magazine’, mud always sticks, boy. They’ve carried on portraying her as a threat to White history and culture. A few years ago, the Daily Mail ran a story about how the London borough she represents in parliament decided to replace the paintings in their civic offices. Down came the traditional portraits of the White guys, who had previously served on the council, and up came paintings of Black children.

The story was part of a larger article about her, and didn’t offer any details about this, nor the reasons for the decision. Without putting it in so many words, it was presented merely as Abbott’s coterie of angry Blacks removing Whites from the history of the borough. How this supposed racist anger compares with her appearing regularly alongside Michael Portillo on Andrew Neil’s The Daily Politics, where she appears perfectly calm and genial with her White presenters, as befits a grande dame of British politics, I really don’t know.

Nevertheless, she remains a Tory bete noir, and given the fact that there have always been members of the party, who can’t understand why a Black person could ever object to golliwogs, the Black and White Minstrels or why you can make derogatory comments about Black people’s supposed character defects as a race, or use the unpleasant terms previous generations used to insult them, and it becomes quite easy to see why she should be the target for so much abuse.

As for the supposed sexism in the Labour ranks, there was never much substance to that anyway. It was never more than an attempt by wealthy, entitled right-wing Labour female politicians to smear their male rivals. These women had nothing to offer ordinary working Brits, including women. While ordinary women are finding it difficult to pay the bills and feed their families, thanks to the ravages of neoliberalism, these female politicians simply offered more of the same. More cuts, more privatization, more precarity. But like Hillary Clinton, from whom they got the tactic, they wanted to present themselves as representing women in general, even if in fact they only represented rich, entitled women like themselves. And so just Clinton was outraged by the popularity of Bernie Sanders, these women were infuriated by Jeremy Corbyn. Clinton claimed that she had been vilified by the ‘Bernie Bros’, who didn’t actually exist. And so her counterparts in the Labour party over here decided to follow her, and lie about how they were the victims of savage misogyny from Corbyn and the Old Left.

The reality is the opposite. I don’t doubt that there is racism and sexism on the Left. But there’s far less of it than on the right. But the press are still liars for claiming otherwise.