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Everybody and their kitten has an opinion on what's going on right now. Why should I be any different? ☺
I get why people are out protesting. I really do.
But I don't think it's a good idea. No, not because I'm a white guy and I don't think anybody is really listening (though, as a white guy, I don't think the people that matter are listening).
No, it's because of this little thing known as COVID-19.
A few weeks ago, one was demonised if they dared to go out. Dared to open the front door without a face mask. Dared to put a toe beyond the threshold of their property without all the correct paperwork and a damn good excuse. Unless that person was called Mr. Cummings, but that's a different story.
Now? Haul your useless ass onto the street and cheer as some bit of old historical bollocks gets pushed over or smashed up.
The thing is, you see, humans are notoriously good at making divisions. Blacks, Asians, Jews, gingers, female... but a virus? Whatever your skin colour, religion, or gender, you're just another walking meatsack to infect. Viruses care about one thing only - spreading. And what better way to get a virus to spread than a bunch of people in close proximity.
This isn't to say that nobody should protest. There comes a point when enough is enough, and I think we might have reached that point. It's just a shame that it is happening in the middle of a global pandemic. Yes, the virus is still doing the rounds. People are still dying. Thanks to various degrees of lockdown implemented in many countries, the death count is lowering. But it's far from over. Some countries are only just starting to ease their restrictions fearful of a second wave. So what's everybody doing? Protesting. Together.
I worry that this might have... consequences. And I don't mean the good kind where a black dude can turn to a white cop for help or advice without worrying about getting shot at or pinned to the ground for enough time to choke the life out of them. A freedom from that is, I guess, a freedom worth fighting for. Even during a global pandemic. But, at what cost?
An ancient statue, erected by the Victorians in some sad glorification of their empire, was torn down and tossed into Bristol harbour. He might have been Big Man In Bristol, and he might have been a philanthropist, and he might have done a lot in and for Bristol. But the itty bitty little problem is that he was a bit of a bastard. That's British understatement, because he made his fortune as a slave trader. Thousands died as he was cashing in on shipping fellow human beings across the ocean. Oh, and it gets better, if the ship started to run low on rations, the woman and children (who wouldn't be of immediate use in the New World) were tossed overboard.
Like I said. A bit of a bastard.
Now, we know the people running government are right wing assholes. Boris Johnson, the current Prime Minister is trying to tell us that "black lives matter". This might have some credence coming from... well... pretty much anybody who isn't a Tory. Mr. Starmer? Mrs. Sturgeon? Hell, I suspect even sodding Corbyn could say that with some degree of sincerity.
But Boris? He has history of racism. Telling the Malaysian PM that Malaysian women only go to university "to find men to marry". Pointing out that the Queen loves the Commonwealth because of all the "flag-waving piccaninnies". His Telegraph piece about Tony Blair going to DR Congo is known for the "watermelon smiles" quote, but the entire line is... let me just repeat it, it speaks for itself: No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird.
There's more (including apparently trying to use the word "Nigerian" as an insult, but I don't quite follow what that was about). So when Johnson says "black lives matter", I think it's perhaps in the context of "we used to own you, you ungrateful git" than any actual sense of consideration of them as, you know, fellow human beings.
Because Johnson, like Rees-Mogg, was clearly given a very skewed education that seemingly emphasised the grandeur of The British Empire, without elaborating on the fact that this was all in the past, now people pretty much don't give a rat's arse about all the pink bits. For sure, the Empire was grand. It was the largest empire in human history that not only controlled the seas, but also - at its peak - about a quarter of the land area of the planet. I could tell you that was 13,700,000 square miles, but really, when it's that large it's just "a big number".
As would be expected, the natives frequently revolted. And the Empire? Right up there with the Romans and Nazis in horrific ways of crushing dissent. Shall we talk about the Mau Mau Uprising? How about the British happily shipping grain out of India to everybody else along with heavy policies of taxation (so people found it hard to buy food) while the country was beset with numerous famines? The problems kicked off in the 1870s and arguably weren't much better seventy years later when Winston Churchill was moved to say "Famine or no famine, Indians will breed like rabbits". As you can imagine, he wasn't big on doing anything about said famine.
The British Empire's answer to the Irish Potato Famine? Assign a man with a psychotic hatred of Irish people to be the one directing their policy. It should probably come as no surprise that Charles Trevelyan decided that the famine was an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population". A few years later, exports of food from Ireland rocketed, while the population died of starvation. Hmmm, where have we heard that before? Oh, yes, the proceeding paragraph.
General Roberts and Ventersburg, during the Boer War. Basically took everything of use they could find, burned the place to the ground, cut off the town, and sent women and children to concentration camps. In response to this, the British Empire decorated him. Twice.
Speaking of which, while the British didn't invent the concentration camp, as is sometimes said (it was the Spanish in Cuba), they did significantly change the rules of warfare by waging war on a civilian population rather than the enemy army. Many displaced civilians were rounded up because the British decided the best way to deal with the Boers was to use scorched earth techniques. An estimated 30,000 Boers died in the camps. 20,000 of them children.
There were also camps for Africans, who weren't even involved, merely caught in the middle. Tick off another 20,000 deaths, for much the same reasons as the Boers. And Lord Kitchener on the scene? He was more involved in finding ways to keep details of the atrocities away from the British public than, you know, finding ways to not have so many people dying.
The Amritsar Massacre. Yup. We're back in India. But it's not a surprise given the things the Empire got up to in the ending days of Raj. India basically fell apart, and the Empire, suffering from the losses of the Second World War, were more or less unable to do anything much about it. So the plan was to create a wonderous and noble exit stategy. Because of the problems between the Muslims and the Hindu (a lot of sectarian violence), they had the great idea of breaking the country into two parts. A part for the Muslims (what we now call Pakistan), and a part for the Hindu. Oh, yeah, and it'll be done and dusted in 40 days. Accordingly, the Empire, the official rulers of India at the time, were more obsessed with destroying records and paperwork of what the Raj government got up to than dealing with one of the largest displacements in history, and the massacres that happened as the two sides met in the middle. And, I don't know whether it was an omission or what, but the status of Kashmir was left in dispute in the hastly redrawn map, a dispute that is still ongoing.
As for the slaves? Hundreds of ships carried around many thousands of slaves per year to the new world. London held the monopoly when the Royal African Company was chartered in 1672, and the charter was amended in 1698 to allow smaller ports (namely Bristol and Liverpool) to participate. The British Empire pretty much abolished the slave trade in 1807, and abolished slavery itself in the empire in the 1830s. However, we're still looking at over a hundred years of slave trading. Do the maths. It made some people ridiculously wealthy. It established the Bank of England.
I say all this to point out that the Empire was not a great and benevolent overlord. People were crushed, for either daring to rebel, for not doing what they were told, or sometimes for simply being in the way. This is a pattern that repeats through history. From the Romans to the Nazis, invading forces that consider your country to be theirs do not consider you to be their equal. Or much of anything at all, beyond an exendable workforce.
So remember this the next time somebody glorifies the British Empire. It became what it was at the expense of a good many lives. A good many native lives that made white man rich.
Colston is an important figure in Bristol's history, so he should be honoured. However he should be honoured correctly. Hoike him back out of the water and install him in the town centre. Yup, right in the middle of the shopping precinct where everybody walks past.
And surround him with some statues of suffering and dying slaves.
Because if he is going to be honoured, he needs to be honoured correctly. As the murderous git that got rich trading on the lives of Africans.
But, of course, this won't happen. Because we're good at worshipping heroes with a very skewed narrative where all the great bits are emphasised and the nasty bits airbrushed out (like a lot of The British Empire). So maybe the destruction of Colston's statue is helping that skewed narrative? If the statue is out of sight, it's out of mind. Rather like the history underpinning it.
Desecration of history and national heritage
The view put forward by the government. Of course, being the sorts of people that they are, they would say that.
The thing is, toppling statues is nothing unusual. Many an oppressed people topple the statues of their oppressors. We in the West cheered when those statues of Saddam Hussein were pulled down and smashed.
So maybe rather than thinking about tearing down statues of racist bastards as being an affront to British history, it would be better to think of it as being an active part of British history. The Americans tossed tea into Boston Harbour. Colston was tossed into Bristol Harbour. Small symbolic acts that can be a catalyst for more important things.
More important things? Yeah, did you see all those angry black people tearing down the statue of the white slate trader? Oh, no, of course you didn't. Because the people that did it were all sorts. Attacking something that stood as a defiant middle finger to Africans since Victorian times, and always yet another excuse not to do anything about it. Well, the legal methods didn't work, so stirred on by the movement following what is going on in America, people of all colours took it upon themselves to topple the statue.
And all I can say about that is either install him in the city centre and face up to the reality of this oh-so-important history, or leave him the hell down there.
That goes for all the rest of the statues. If you're going to erect something honouring a historical figure, be certain that you are honouring the truth and not a carefully curated version of what you want the history to be.
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|Rob, 11th June 2020, 02:39|
This is what I like about reading your blog, Rick. I learn all sorts of things that had passed me by. Yes, I knew we ruled most of the planet at one time, but had never actually considered "how" we managed that..
|Rick, 18th June 2020, 14:35|
It appears that Dominic Raab thinks that "taking a knee" is some sort of reference to Game of Thrones.
|J.G.Harston, 19th June 2020, 18:58|
Amongst all this what's being forgotten or deliberately airbrushed out of history is that Britain spent 100 years spending a quarter of the tax take and one sixth of the navy budget on the West Africa Squadren, patrolling the Atlantic, intercepting slavers and freeing slaves.
This was legally state sponsored piracy, and put the Westphalian Settlement at risk, and large numbers of the sailors died of tropical diseases.
After initially taking the freed slaves back to their home ports it was found that the African slave traders just recaptured them and resold them. So, we ended up taking them to the West Indies, giving them free land and British citizenship.
Yet, clearly, nothing that happened after 1800 exists.
|David Pilling, 25th June 2020, 15:56|
When I was born, the British Empire was over. The UK was bust, borrowing money from the IMF and having to run its economy as they dictated. I never heard anyone say anything good about the Empire. People who were conscripted and sent to fight in distant lands and then saw they had fought for nothing, did not think it was a good idea. I never met anyone who thought the Empire was anything other than long gone, never to return.
Yet the Empire rumbles on and has done my whole life.
(Felicity? Marte? Find out!)
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Last read at 15:30 on 2021/07/30.
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