Posts Tagged ‘Richard Burton’

Historical Ignorance and Prejudice on Sadiq Khan’s Monuments Panel

February 12, 2021

Sadiq Khan has been at the centre of more controversy this week. The Tories hate him with a passion because he’s a Labour politico, and they can’t tolerate the idea, let alone the reality, of someone from the left being mayor of London. And so he has joined his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, the head of the GLC when Thatcher was in power, as the target of right-wing hate and venom. They also dislike him because he’s a Muslim, and so in the mayoral elections a few years ago we had the noisome spectacle of Tory candidate Zack Goldsmith implying that Khan was a radical Islamist cosying up to terrorist or terrorist sympathisers to bring down Britain. All rubbish, of course, but there are still people who firmly believe it.

Following the attacks on Colston’s statue in Bristol and the campaign to remove other statues of slavers and other British imperialists elsewhere in Britain, Khan has set up a panel to examine the question of doing the same in the capital, as well as renaming streets and other monuments with dubious historical connections. The panel has fifteen members, but it has already been denounced by its critics as a panel of activists. There have been articles in the Depress, Heil and Torygraph strongly criticising its composition and the selection of its members. The Torygraph’s article complained that it contained no historians, who could set these monuments into their proper contexts or any Conservatives. This is actually a fair point, because the actions of some of the panel’s members strongly indicates that those individuals have zero knowledge of the history of slavery.

One of Khan’s choices for membership of the panel is Toyin Agbetu, who managed to cause outrage in 2007 at a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Agbetu disrupted the service and tried to approach the queen, shouting that it was all a disgrace and You should be ashamed. We shouldn’t be here. This is an insult to us’. I think that he was outraged that the British were congratulating themselves were ending the slave trade when they should never have been involved in it in the first place.

Another appointee is Lynette Nabbossa, a business academic and head of an organisation to provide role models for young Blacks. She has claimed that White supremacy is rooted in British history. In October she wrote that the UK was the common denominator in atrocities across the world, and

‘No matter where you find examples of white supremacy, all roads lead back to my country of birth.

‘It was the UK’s racism that birthed slavery and colonialism. We say it is in the past but our schools, colleges, universities, streets, museums etc have never stopped honouring the enforcers of our oppression.’

These are statements of historical ignorance and racial prejudice which should cast severe doubt on the suitability of these individuals for membership of the panel. 

British imperialism was based on the notion that the White British were superior to the non-White nations they conquered and ruled over, and this country and its ally, America, have been responsible for propping up various horrific dictators and murderous despotic regimes around the world. But neither Agbetu nor Nabbossa seem to know or understand that slavery existed long before the British empire, and that White supremacy wasn’t just a British phenomenon. What about the Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch empires? Apartheid has its origin amongst the Afrikaners, who were Dutch colonists. Britain only gained Cape Colony, the founding settlement of what later became South Africa, in 1800, seizing it from the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Wars. And we were hardly responsible for atrocities in Africa committed by some of the newly independent African regimes, like Idi Amin’s Uganda, the Rwandan genocide or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

They also don’t seem to realise how near-universal slavery was as a global phenomenon. It was a part of many African societies before the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade. Muslim slavers transported Blacks slaves north to the Arab states of north Africa, while African and Arab traders exported slaves from east Africa across the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean to Arabia, India, and south east Asia. The first Black slaves in Europe were imported, not by White Christians, but by the Arab-Berber states of al-Andalus, Muslim Spain. And the campaign against slavery began in White, European culture. This has been stated repeatedly by western Conservatives and attacked and denounced by their opponents on the left. But it’s true. I haven’t been able to find evidence of any attempt by a non-western society to abolish slavery before the Europeans. The closest I found is a document in one of James Walvin’s books, a complaint from a Muslim Egyptian against the enslavement of the Black Sudanese. This was not an attack on slavery as a whole, however. The Egyptian objected to it in the case of the Sudanese because they were Muslims, and under sharia law Muslims are not supposed to enslave other Muslims. The author of the complaint does not object to the enslavement of non-Muslims.

Part of the rationale behind British imperialism was the campaign to stamp out slavery around the world, particularly in Africa. When Jacob Rees-Mogg made a speech in parliament claiming that BLM had shot itself in the foot and that people were now interested in the careers of imperialists like Gordon of Khartoum, he had a point. Gordon was sent to the Sudan by the Anglo-Egyptian authorities to put down the Mahdi’s rebellion. All very stereotypically imperialist. But the Mahdi wasn’t just rising up against infidel oppression. He and his followers were slavers and slaveowners. Slaving was an integral part of Arab Sudanese society and trade, and they were outraged when the British tried to stamp it out and protect the indigenous Black peoples.

Slavery was also part of the African societies further south, in what became Rhodesia and Malawi. The Kapolo slaves there, apart from other indignities, had to use broken tools when working and eat their food off the floor. And the explorer Richard Burton, writing in the 1840s, says in his book Wanderings in West Africa that the condition of the slaves on that part of the continent was so wretched and the enslaved people so starved that if Black Americans saw them, they’d give up all ideas of freedom and be glad of their lives in the west.

As for slavery being the product of White British racism, the opposite is true. According to scholars of western racism, such as Sir Alan Burns, the last British governor of Ghana and the author of Colour and Colour Prejudice, and books such as Race: The History of an Idea in the West, there was little racism in Europe before the 15th century. White racism and modern ideas of White racial supremacy arose after the establishment of the Atlantic slave trade to justify the enslavement of Black Africans. But this all seems lost on Agbetu and Nabbossa.

Now they are only two of Khan’s panel. There are 13 others, and it’s probably that the Tory press seized on them to make mischief. The others may well be more moderate and informed. I’ve certainly no objection to the inclusion of a Star Wars actor, who outraged Tory sensibilities by describing Boris Johnson as a ‘c***’. It’s not the word I would use, and it is obscene, but Johnson is a thoroughly nasty piece of work, as is the party he leads. I’d therefore say that, barring the language used to express it, it’s an accurate assessment of the vile buffoon. Tom Harwood, chief catamite at Guido Fawkes, has also been stirring with the claim that the panel was considering the removal of a 16th century statue of Queen Elizabeth. This is something he seems to have pulled out of his rear. The panel has not said anything about Good Queen Bess’s statue, and it’s just Harwood trying to cause trouble by lying. Which is standard Guido Fawkes’ practise.

But the inclusion of Agbetu and Nabbossa does cast severe doubt on the panel’s expertise as a whole and the suitability of its other members to make informed judgements on controversial historical monuments. But the ignorance and racial prejudice of the two also shows that we really need to have the global aspects of slavery taught. The deeds of the past should not be covered up, but they should be placed in context. It needs to be made very clear that slavery is a global phenomenon, that it was not invented by White Europeans preying on Black Africans and that it was also deeply ingrained in many African societies and practised by the Islamic states and empires as well as Hindu India. Such knowledge might be a shock to people like Agbetu, who seem to labour under the illusion that Africa was somehow free of it before the European invasions, but that is no reason why it should not be taught.

Otherwise you get bad history and the politically correct anti-White racism these two promote and demand.

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.