Posts Tagged ‘‘The Pledge’’

Afua Hirsh Is Wrong: Racists Are of All Colours and Have Told Whites to Leave

June 12, 2020

As I’ve mentioned before, a few days ago Tory hack Nick Ferrari showed how racist he was in a spat with Afua Hirsh on Sky News’ The Pledge. They’d been talking about the anti-racist iconoclasm which began with the pulling down of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. Hirsh had made a point about the need to reevaluate British history. Ferrari then asked the inevitable question ‘If you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?’ Hirsh was naturally angry, and told him that it was a racist question that was only ever asked of Blacks. No-one, she said, had ever asked it of a White person.

I’ve very little sympathy with Ferrari. He’s a right-wing loudmouth whose been spouting Thatcherite bilge for years. He was a regular guest on Alan Titchmarsh’s afternoon chat show all those years ago, which is one of the reasons I stopped watching it. The other was the Tory bias of Titchmarsh himself. Other celebrity gardeners and programmes on gardening are available, like Monty Don, Gaye Search and Carol Klein on Gardener’s World on Fridays. Ferrari did a phone interview with Mike on his programme on LBC a couple of years ago about Mike’s suspension from the Labour party and the allegations in the press of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Mike is very definitely neither, and was very well able to show that he wasn’t. I think this may have disappointed Ferrari, who may well have decided to do the interview into the hopes that he could catch this leftie out and show that Mike was one of those goose-stepping with Adolf. If that was the case, he was sorely disappointed.

And the taunt ‘Go back to your own country!’ is one that has been used again and again to Black and Asian Britons, many of whom have been in this country for generations at least. The Vikings imported ‘Blamenn’ – Black men into Cumbria c. the 10th century. There were Black troopers amongst the Roman legionaries stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, and Blacks are known to have been resident in London in the 12th century. The insult hurts and has left many Blacks psychologically wounded.

For some people, though, the question’s a fair one. A few years ago one of the islamophobic channels on YouTube showed a Beeb interview with a British-Eritrean playwright and activist, Aiwati. I apologise if I’ve got that wrong, as the clip didn’t show how it was spelt. Aiwati stated very clearly that he only celebrated and promoted Eritrean culture and identity. He hated Britain, and said that it actually hurt him to be called British. And so the producer asked him why he didn’t leave. He replied with something about having a family and a life here, and there not being the same opportunities in Eritrea. He also blamed Britain for the state of that country. When the interviewer politely said that it was independent and Britain had done much for the country, he simply said that it all could have been better. Which is no doubt true – other Black activists have made the same argument for their nations. But the fact remains that Aiwati’s hatred of Britain is in conflict with his desire to remain here.

Hirsh is also wrong in that Whites have been told to leave by racists. Recent migrants from eastern Europe have also been told to go back to their own countries. This has mostly common from the gammonati, who all voted for Brexit and hail Johnson and Rees-Mogg as true British heroes. But not all. Several years ago I was told by a London friend that there was a report in one of the papers there about a group of youths, who were convicted of racially abusing a White eastern European lad on a bus. The gang included Blacks as well as Whites. And White Brits have also been assaulted and abused with the same taunt. I can’t remember where I saw it, but one of the right-wing blogs or YouTube channels had a photograph of graffiti on a wall in one of the northern or midland towns. It read ‘Whites go home’. And round about the turn of the century Whites exceeded Blacks and Asians as the victims of racist assaults. Reading the articles about it now, it seems that Blacks and Asians considered together still constituted the majority of victims, but Whites were the single largest group. There was also a racist assault on a White man in Bristol, which was reported on Points West. SARI, the organisation that helps the victims of racism, responded by stating that they were open to everyone. Many of the posts on the real islamophobic blogs – I’m not going to mention them – are stories about Muslims being bad neighbours. I remember reading one about a man, who was forced to leave his home because of deliberate noise and nuisance from someone who wanted his house for an elderly relative.

Back here in Bristol, I also overheardĀ  a snippet from a conversation between a young couple on the bus a few years ago. The young man was Black, and the woman White, and were talking about someone they knew in one of inner city districts. The lad said ‘He’s the only White boy in _, and the shit he gets. I don’t know why he doesn’t move.’

There is also racist friction and violence between ethnic minorities. Boy George mentioned this years ago in an interview with everyone’s favourite computer-generated video jockey, Max Headroom. For which Headroom called him ‘brave’. But it’s true. There were riots in Birmingham, I believe, a few years ago between Blacks and Asians. And I’ve heard it from people, who worked in one of Bristol’s inner city school that there were more and worse gang fights between two groups of Asians than between Blacks and Whites.

Racism is not simply about Whites using their power against Blacks. But very often it is simplified as such for political reasons. I’ve known Black activist groups decry the reportage of Black violence as ‘racist’. I’ve no doubt this comes from the way such reports have been used by the racist Tory press to work up hatred and hostility against them. A year or so ago an Asian activist tried to raise the issue of violence and racism between ethnic minorities with Diane Abbott. She refused to take up the issue, arguing that it would be exploited by the White establishment to continue discrimination against all ethnic minorities. She has a point. I don’t doubt that’s how it would be used. But it also means she’s dodged an uncomfortable issue.

Racism in Britain really is more complex than simply Whites hating and keeping Blacks and Asians down. But that is really the impression gained, and it means that the other forms of racism aren’t discussed and tackled.

But if we want to make Britain and genuinely anti-racist society, that is precisely what must happen.

 

When You Pull Down Statues, Make Sure They’re of the Right People

June 10, 2020

Since Colston’s statue was pulled over and lobbed in the docks in Bristol on Sunday, others have called for the removal of similar statues and monuments to those connected to the slave trade. Down in Devon there have been calls for a statue of the Elizabethan explorer Francis Drake to be removed. At Oxford University demands have started up again for the removal of the university’s statue to the 19th century imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. And on Sky News’ The Pledge, Afua Hirsh managed to get LBC’s Nick Ferrari in a right tizzy for suggesting that not only should Rhodes’ statue be taken down, but also Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill.

I can’t defend Rhodes. He seems to me to be have been a thoroughly ruthless character, who was intent only on grabbing as much land for himself and Britain on any pretext whatsoever. I might be wrong, but I’ve got a horrible suspicion he was one of the people behind the Anglo-South African or Boer War during which tens or hundreds of thousands of Afrikaner women and children died in concentration camps. He was also instrumental in the creation of Rhodesia’s colour bar.

Nelson and Churchill are going to be much more controversial. Most people only know of Nelson for his victory at Trafalgar during the Napoleonic War. This was to stop the French imperial domination of Europe, and Napoleonic forces had also invaded Egypt. I think most Brits will therefore take an attack on Nelson as an attack on a key figure, who kept Britain and Europe free. Yes, he’s a symbol of British imperial strength, but I doubt many people associate him with the oppression of Blacks and Asians. It’s going to look like a spiteful attack on Britain, rather than a gesture of Black liberation.

Ditto Hirsh’s other target, Winston Churchill. I’m absolutely no fan of Churchill myself. He was an authoritarian aristocrat, whose real reason for opposing Hitler was that he saw Nazi Germany as a threat to British interests in the North Sea, not because he was an opponent of Fascism. He sent troops in to shoot striking miners in Wales, and was all for calling them in during the General Strike. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative prime minister at the time, wanted him kept well out of the way to avoid exacerbating the situation. As for Ireland, back in the 1990s there was an interesting little programme on BBC 2, The Living Dead, which was about the way Churchill’s heroic view of British history in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples had influenced subsequent politics. One of the key offenders here was one Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who had been strongly influenced by the great war leader herself, and tried to invoke his memory at nearly every opportunity. The programme interviewed a former member of the Irish republican paramilitary group, the INLA. He said that it was easier to recruit members under Thatcher than under Ted Heath because of Thatcher’s celebration of Churchill. For Irish nationalists, Churchill was the monster, who sent in the Black and Tans. His sequestration of grain from the Bengal peasants during the War resulted in an horrific famine which killed something like 2-4 million people. This is comparable to the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis, and some senior British army officers saw it as exactly that. Churchill, however, declared it was all their fault for ‘pullulating’, or having too many children.

That is not, however, why Churchill is celebrated over here. He’s lauded because he, Roosevelt and Stalin together overthrew the Nazis and their allies. The War swept away Fascist Italy, and the other Fascist or Fascist-aligned regimes in Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Romania. It liberated Greece and Albania. Stalin was no angel either. He killed at least 30 million Soviet citizens during the purges and deported whole nations and ethnic groups to Siberia. Instead of letting the eastern European countries decide their future for themselves, he imposed a ruthless autocratic Communist dictatorship. I think Churchill would have liked those nations to have been free to decide for themselves. Back in the ’90s there was a radio series on Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta, the conference that would decide the post-War European order. It was called The Eagle and the Small Birds, from a quote from Churchill ‘The eagle should let the small birds sing, and care not wherefore they sang’. A Nazi victory would have been the stuff of nightmares, and I don’t know how many millions Hitler would have murdered had he been successful. What the Nazis did to the Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians was horrific enough as it is.

Churchill isn’t the saint or the great molten idol the Tories claim he is by any stretch of the imagination, but he is one of the reasons why Hirsh and Black activists like her are able to make their criticisms of traditional British history and its heroes. If Hitler had won, or his mate Oswald Mosley had seized power in some kind of coup over here, Hirsh and her allies would not have been tolerated. The Nazis’ eugenics programme included not only the murder of the disabled, but also the sterilisation of the mixed race children of White German women and Black American soldiers from the post-First World War army of occupation. Mosley himself would have made Britain an apartheid state, with citizenship granted only to those who conformed to aryan British culture, if not physiology. The War and the horrors of the Nazi and Fascist regimes made eugenics and racism and anti-Semitism far less acceptable than they were before. I am very much aware how institutionally racist Britain is and has been. But it’s much better than what would have existed had Churchill been defeated.

But most of all, I’m concerned that the zeal for smashing statues and monuments may destroy those to abolitionists. Nearly 20 years ago, when I was doing voluntary work in the Empire and Commonwealth Museum here in Bristol, one of the books that found its way into the slavery archive and library was a little bit of local history by the Liverpudlian writer, Fritz Spiegel. Spiegel prides himself on being a ‘Dicky Sam’, the Liverpudlian equivalent of a ‘real Cockney sparrow’. The book was on the fascinating history of the abolition movement in that great city. If I remember rightly, it included not only White abolitionists, but also some of the Black people who also populated the city. It wasn’t just a piece of local history for its own sake, though. In his introduction, Spiegel explained that he moved to right it because, in their zeal to destroy monuments to the city’s slavers, some people had also vandalized those of innocent merchants and abolitionists.

I’m afraid there might be a danger of something similar happening in the current zeal for smashing statues commemorating Black oppression and slavery. There are good reasons for removing monuments like Colston’s. But let’s not confuse those with slavery’s opponents.