Posts Tagged ‘Paul Stephenson’

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.

 

 

 

Going Underground Interview with Momentums Jackie Walker on the Anti-Semitism Allegations

May 21, 2016

I was sent this very interesting clip from RT’s Going Underground by Michelle, who included it as a comment on my piece ‘A Very British Coup against the Left’ on the anti-Semitism allegations against various members of the Labour party. In it, Madam Walker describes the context of her comments, and her own family history as a Black woman, whose father was Jewish, and whose partner is also Jewish. This makes the accusation even more vile and grotesque than it was already known to be.

Madam Walker was accused of anti-Semitism, because she described the enslavement of Black Africans during the transatlantic slave trade as a ‘holocaust’. She explains here that she did so in a private conversation on Facebook between two friends, one of whom was Jewish, the other not. They were talking about the movement to boycott goods produced in the Occupied West Bank. One of Walker’s friends stated that they shouldn’t boycott Israel, because of the debt they owed the Jews. Walker states that she asked, ‘What debt?’ as up till then they had been talking about monetary debts. Her friend replied, ‘the Holocaust’. Walker then went on to mention the holocausts experienced by other peoples, such as Black Africans during the Slave Trade, native Americans in the conquest of the New World, and the genocide of Aboriginal Australians.

The accusations of anti-Semitism were made by a group calling itself the Israel Advocacy Movement. It was they, who dug up what was basically a private conversation made in February. They have said that they will do anything and everything to protect Israel’s interests.

She also says that she does not believe that the Labour party is profoundly anti-Semitic, and believes that it has a good record when it comes to challenging racism. The interviewer, Afshid Rattansi then mentions the accusation by the Chief Rabbi that Labour is permeated with anti-Semitism.

Rattansi also asks her about the observation made by the Palestinian ambassador, when he was previously on the programme, about why Jeremy Corbyn, one of the loudest voices for the Palestinians at the UN, has suddenly gone quiet about the issue now he is head of the Labour party. Walker states she cannot answer that, as she is not so important that Corbyn has discussed this issue with her. Nor did she want to comment about one of the other cases, in which a Labour party member had been accused of anti-Semitism.

Rattansi observed to her that these accusations all sounded very McCarthyite. She agreed, and it was particularly true that her mother had been one of the victims of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities. Her mother was a Black Civil Rights activist, and her father was a Russian Jew. They had met on a march organised by Martin Luther King. Because of her activities against segregation, Walker’s mother was hauled before McCarthy’s kangaroo court and asked the notorious question, ‘Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?’ Walker’s mother was then deported.

Not only is Walker Jewish, but so is her partner. When asked by Rattansi about the problems this must have placed on her family, she states that she doesn’t know quite what has happened, as they haven’t heard from her partner’s family since these allegations are made. This obviously must be a matter of distress and concern to Walker and her partner.

Here’s the video:

There are a number of observations to be made about the allegations in the light of this interview. Firstly, a woman, who is half-Jewish, and whose partner is Jewish is hardly likely to be an anti-Semite. This in itself is grotesque. It’s even more so when you consider that her Jewish father was Russian, and just how severely oppressed they were. Just before the tsar was overthrown there was the notorious Bielis case, in which the tsar was trying to get a Jew prosecuted under the Blood Libel that he had murdered a Christian child to use their blood to make the matzoh bread eaten during Passover. It’s a vile myth, which has caused hundreds of pogroms and violence against the Jews since it first appeared during the Middle Ages. In the 1890s many Russian and eastern European Jews fled to the West because of the terrible pogroms launched against them in the Russian Empire from racist organisations such as the Black Hundreds. As a Russian Jew, it’s highly likely that Walker’s father, his parents or grandparents, had experienced such horrors.

Her comment linking the Holocaust against the Jews with other genocides, including Black slavery, and the extermination of the First Nations of the Americas and Australia, is entirely reasonable. W.E.B. Dubois, the pioneering Black civil rights leader, was the first to make the connection between slavery and the Holocaust after he had gone to Ghana after World War II. it was part of his campaign to begin reparations and call attention to the historic injustices visited on Western Blacks. Paul Stephenson, a Black civil rights leader in Bristol, made the same comment twenty years ago when interviewed by Philippa Gregory about the statue of Edward Colston, a former slaver, on the city centre on local television in Bristol.

It is also part of accepted academic debate into what constitutes ‘genocide’. I can remember going to a seminar on this by someone, who had researched this issue when I was a postgraduate student at Bristol University. They made the same point that there have been other genocides in the past, including a notorious massacre of the Irish by the invading English in the 16th century, that was still intensely controversial in the Emerald Isle two centuries later in the 18th. Other genocides mentioned included those of the Native Americans. The brutal treatment of Aboriginal Aussies does count as a Holocaust, as they were deliberately exterminated as vermin by the invading Europeans. it’s estimated that the Aboriginal population of the continent before the British arrived was 200,000. After the conquest it was half that, 100,000.

Also, mainstream Jewish organisations also accept that the extermination of other ethnic groups are also similar to the Holocaust. They also feel that as Jews their history also obliges them to protect other ethnic groups that are the victims of racial violence. For example, Bernie Farber, the head of the main Canadian Jewish organisation, launched a ‘Shabbat for Darfur’, or religious day of fasting to call attention and to protest against the genocide in Darfur when that was an issue a decade ago.

And there were those on the Zionist and general Right, who hated Farber for it. He was particularly attacked on the website Five Feet of Fury, run by Kathy Shaidle, a former journalist. Shaidle herself I don’t think was Jewish, at least not by religion. She was, however, militantly Zionist, and quoted and supported the various radical Jewish organisations, that argued that Jews should stop looking outward to reach other to other threatened racial groups. Instead, they should concentrate on defending themselves and their own interests. And this was constructed as mainly against Arabs and Islam.

As for the Chief Rabbi, depending on who that is, I don’t have a whole lot of time for them in this regard. I thought the comment about Labour being riddled with anti-Semitism came from Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who I always thought was a Lib Dem. If so, she has her own political bias. If it was Jonathan Sacks, he had his own problems about bigoted comments. A few years ago Jonathan Sacks, the Orthodox Chief Rabbi, got into trouble as he described Reform Jews as ‘enemies of the faith’ – highly partisan and sectarian language, which frightened many people.

Madam Walker’s case shows that this isn’t about anti-Semitism. In fact, I think Walker was partly accused because she said in her conversation that she didn’t think that anti-Semitism was the real issue in racism, but the treatment of Blacks. Ken Livingstone shares the same sentiments, despite the fact that he has also very publicly condemned anti-Semitism in his book, Livingstone’s Labour. This just seems to be a nasty, extremely cynical attempt by the Israel Lobby to smear any opponents of the Israeli’s treatment of the Palestinians. Especially as, during her private Facebook conversation, one of Walker’s friends argued that there were only Palestinians in Israel as refugees during the Arab-Israeli War. Which seems to me to be another piece of Zionist mendacity. Golda Meir started that one in the 1940s when she denied that there were any indigenous Palestinians before Israel was settled.

This isn’t about genuinely defending Jews from real anti-Semites. This is about defending Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in a grotesque distortion of history.

The Anti-Semitism Allegations: A Very British Coup Against the Left

May 18, 2016

I was sent this clip from RT’s Going Underground by one of the great commenters on this blog. In this piece, the anchor Arshid Rattansi talks to Max Blumenthal about highly politicised nature of the anti-Semitism allegations. Blumenthal argues that they are being made to defend Israel from criticism, particularly after the Gaza conflict, and shows that those accused also include religious Jews, and those of Jewish descent, whose anti-racist beliefs and pride in their heritage should not be questioned.

Max Blumenthal describes himself in the clip as ‘an anti-Zionist’ Jew. He’s the author, according to a pop-up text in the show, of Life and Loathing in the Greater Israel. He says he was struck by the strong similarity between the accusations of anti-Semitism, directed at Jeremy Corbyn and the plot of the book, A Very British Coup, by the former Labour MP, Chris Mullens. In Mullens’ book, a former steelworker, Harry Perkins, becomes the British Prime Minister, and embarks on a very left-wing, Marxist programme, nationalising industry and setting up anti-nuclear zones. Perkins is very popular, and to topple him from power, the British establishment, the press and the right-wing of the Labour party, aided by the security agencies, manufacture quotes smearing him as an anti-Semite.

Blumenthal states that this is what is being done to Jeremy Corbyn, including groups within the Labour party that are close to the Zionist lobby. These are the Blairites in the Progress party-within-the-party and Labour Friends of Israel. Corbyn himself has said nothing anti-Semitic and has attended a meeting of the Labour Friends of Israel. On the other hand, he has embraced much of the programme of the BDS campaign – Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement, which seeks to persuade firms and consumers from dealing with firms or purchasing goods made in the occupied West Bank. He has also opened his office to anti-Zionist Jews, including Blumenthal himself. Blumenthal also makes the point that this started two years ago in 2014 when Ed Milliband, who was also Jewish, criticised the Israeli attack on Gaza. Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador, who has joined in these allegations, was previously one of the spokesmen for Likud regime defending Israel’s actions during the attack. The definition of anti-Semitism used to justify these actions is highly partisan and politicised. It is not the definition used by some Jewish journalists and philosophers, which is that it is hatred of ‘Jews simply as Jews’, but hatred of the state of Israel. Regev even falsely accused Corbyn’s spokesman, Seaumas Milne in an interview, of saying that he wanted Israel’s destruction, before having to take that back 35 minutes later.

Some of those accused of anti-Semitism include Jews, and people of Jewish descent, whose character should be beyond reproach. In Britain, these include Jacqui Walker. Walker is a black woman of Jewish heritage, who is an anti-racist activist. She was suspended on these charges for a tweet she made saying that slavery was the Black equivalent of the Holocaust. Rattansi states that this isn’t anti-Semitic, just a very strong statement condemning slavery. In America, Bernie Sanders, also Jewish, has been attacked for being anti-Semitic for being critical about Israel. He was also forced to sack his ‘Jewish Outreach Officer’, Simone Zimmerman. Zimmerman is a very religious Jew, who is active in her community. But she also committed the heinous sin of objecting to Israel. Blumenthal states that Sanders and Corbyn have had some contact, but that criticism of Israel is far more muted in America, because AIPAC, the Zionist lobby in America is much more powerful than BICOM, its British equivalent. Blumenthal mentions an awkward moment during an interview Bernie Sanders gave to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Sanders’ raised the point that Comcast, the parent company, was owned by someone, who donated to AIPAC, and that one of its leading journalists, Wolf Blitzer, was also a leading journo and researcher for the lobbyists, and that therefore the show would not broadcast any material critical of Israel. Blumenthal makes the point, however, that there is a grassroots movement in the Democrats away from supporting Israel. This is largely from younger people, who are more secular, and because the country has become much more diverse.

The show has a caveat at the end, stating that they tried to get into contact with Comcast, who made the statement that they do not interfere in the editorial contents of their shows.

Here’s the interview:

CounterPunch have also published a series of articles about the anti-Semitism allegations, pointing out that these are all about the Zionist lobby trying to protect its own interests and Israel against what are perfectly legitimate criticisms. Blumenthal mentions that some of the allegations were made against people, who have criticised the Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu. There’s nothing anti-Semitic about this. I can remember going to a science talk given by a British scientist, who was a staunch supporter of multiculturalism and who had clearly worked in Israel. He had nothing but contempt for the man, whom he described as ‘That b*stard Netanyahu’. There was no condemnation of Israel qua Israel, and certainly no condemnation of the Jewish people. Just a fair comment about the brutal thug governing the country.

As for the extension of the definition of anti-Semitism from its accepted meaning ‘hatred of Jewish as Jews’ to ‘hatred of the state of Israel’, this also won’t wash. Those on the left, who object to Israel, do so because they see it as a White, colonialist settler state, like apartheid South Africa, or indeed the USA. They do not object to it, because its people are Jews.

Moreover, the accepted definition of anti-Semitism, as hatred of Jews simply because of their ethnicity, is that of the person, who first invented the term, Julius Marr. Marr was the founder and leader of one of 19th century Germany’s leading anti-Jewish groups, the League of Anti-Semites. Marr coined the term to describe hatred of Jews based on their racial heritage, rather than their religion. Again, his definition doesn’t have anything to do with the state of Israel. The only way an anti-Semitism allegation against someone based on their opposition to Israel would be correct by that definition, would be if their objection to it was purely or mainly because Israelis were Jewish. This doesn’t appear to be the case in most of these allegations, if any.

As for the suspension of Jacqui Walker for commenting that ‘Slavery was Black people’s Holocaust’, it’s extreme and highly emotive, but it’s one that has certainly been said before. I think it was first made by the highly respected civil rights pioneer, W.E.B. DuBois, after he became a citizen of Ghana after the War. He compared the treatment of Blacks under slavery to the atrocities against the Jews by the Third Reich. In 1994 Bristol’s involvement in the slave trade came under the spotlight once again with the TV adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s A Respectable Trade, and the exhibition of the same name at the City Museum. One particular point of controversy is the statue to Edward Colson on the city centre. Many Black Bristolians wish to see the statue removed. Colson was a wealth patron, who donated generously to charity for the people of Bristol. It was with money donated by him that Colston girls’ school was set up, which still continues today. He made his money from the slave trade, however, and that’s the reason why his statue is so controversial. Gregory presented a feature on Bristol’s legacy from the slave trade during which she interviewed Paul Stephenson, a Black civil rights activist in the city. Stephenson, obviously, had nothing but hatred and contempt for Colson, saying that he was responsible for ‘a holocaust in Africa’. As far as I know, no allegations were made of anti-Semitism against Stephenson for his remarks.

And their people’s experience of persecution and exile from their ancestral homeland through slavery and its aftermath has led some Black writers to identify with the Jewish people. Also back in the 1990s the Black British writer, Caryl Philips, that the historical experiences of Blacks and Jews in this fashion were so close, that sometimes he believed he was Jewish. This caused a little controversy, with Hilary Mantel, the Jewish author of Wolf Hall, writing in reply that Phillips shouldn’t be so daft, as the Jewish experience was unique to Jews. Phillips might be mistaken about the identity of Black and Jewish historical suffering, but he was not anti-Semitic. Far from it.

However, underlying these accusations is a renewed feeling of insecurity amongst Britain’s Jews. There have been reports that anti-Semitic attacks have gone up, especially after the Israeli attack on Gaza. A few years ago there were a couple of festivals celebrating the Jewish contribution to British culture. There was a festival of Jewish literature, which was a general festival of books by Jews. Non-Jews were welcome to come, and the writers speaking at this event included, I believe Howard Jacobson and Hilary Mantel. There was also a festival of Jewish comedy, which was featured on the One Show. It was also covered on Radio 4. The blurb for the radio programme about it stated that one of the reasons it was being staged was because Jews were facing competition as comedians from other ethnic groups. There has thus been some insecurity amongst British Jews about their place in Britain, partly caused by the growth of other ethnic groups in Britain’s changing diverse society. The allegations of anti-Semitism made by the Zionist lobby against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party reflect and draw on this insecurity. Of course, attacking Jews because of the actions of the Israelis is wrong, and should be condemned as anti-Semitic. But this does not make condemnation of Israel for its actions and treatment of the Palestinians anti-Semitic.