Where to start?
I spent much of my career in antiracist education. We produced teaching materials which were going well in schools but were overtaken by the National Curriculum. We worked with children, especially in ‘all white’ areas, and with teachers, both longstanding practitioners, trainees and their trainers. We attended conferences and marches, and helped organise both. When I say ‘we’ I include colleagues and close friends from all ethnic minorities, ethnic majorities and political persuasions. All our work was, it would seem, for nothing. That, I think, sums up my own long term stance on the matter.
I could and should also mention that I am white, with all the privilege that includes, and that my best friend ever (met at uni) was black, of Caribbean origin. She died of cancer in 2005 and I was devastated. I valued her friendship and also her opinions on the world, including her views – personal, professional and political – on issues such as racism. Towards the end of her career she was the first black female professor of law in the University of the West Indies and on her retirement which was imminent, she hoped to work with UNHCR who were, I think, looking forward to her services. Sadly, that was not to be.
My last service to her was to act as her executor. One of her nieces, who inherited some money in her will, is a young black woman from Trinidad and is currently practising in medicine in New York. Slightly ironic, I suppose, in the way it connects me, at however much of a distance, with current events in both the pandemic and the protests. (I am not in touch with the young doctor, only with one of her aunts.)
When I was doing a postgraduate diploma in antiracist studies I wrote my thesis on literature in English (not in translation) by writers who were not from the obvious first world countries. Most of the work I considered was from authors in places like India, South Africa, The Caribbean, Bangladesh, etc. I argued that works like this should be included in the British school curriculum alongside our teaching materials on history and antiracism. My work was well received – and part of it was published in an educational magazine. Again, it would appear all the effort was wasted.
Not wasted for myself, of course. I read countless novels and poems that enriched my life, and helped inform me about the experience of people from other countries and cultures. And at the very least I am able to understand the current riots, arguments, etc. without having to do any further research.
Which is just as well, because all my notes including all references to sources went up in flames in our Portuguese fire. So no, I can’t recommend any specific books. Blame climate warming…
The protests are totally justified. Totally. No arguments. If there is state-condoned thuggery and violence, there will and should be protests. Even the violence of a tiny minority of protesters is explained by the way the protests were triggered. And of course the state will use that as a distraction from those same triggers. The protests elsewhere are heartening. There has been systemic racism and poor policing in countries such as UK, France and Australia. The current US riots, along with lockdown and the internet have brought about a world outpouring of rage which I can only applaud even whilst wishing it had happened decades earlier.
Toppling statues? I think they should have been toppled long ago and feel ashamed that in the twenty first century we feel able to glorify men who were involved in the slave trade. We would not welcome statues of Hitler, however much he did for things like German motorways. So yes, I think the statues should be removed if the person commemorated had a personal connection with slavery, and maybe if they didn’t, if ‘just’ their family (and their wealth) was involved the statues should either be taken to a museum or given a plaque or one of those display information boards. Yes, toppling a statue is a violent and ‘lawless’ act, but how would any of us feel and react if for example a present day murderer was honoured with a statue? Or someone like Jimmy Saville for his charitable work? And what do we think about people who broke Nazi laws? No, I am not comparing our governments to a Nazi regime, but there are points of similarity which cannot be ignored.
What can we do? All live matter, of course, but black lives are being treated as expendable in so many places. So our focus should be on those at present. In policing, in the effects of the pandemic, in education, and so on. There’s a useful petition you could sign: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/324092/signatures/new
You’ll have gathered that I have very ‘violent’ views on this. I am sad that my age and state of health stop me from participating in marches or any public protest. All I can do is write my blog and hope it gives either information or comfort to someone reading it.
As always, if you want to discuss the matter further I am here for comments or you can email me. I can probably dredge up a few titles and authors to talk about, but for now, scroll back in my blog to read in depth reviews of works on racism by modern Black British authors.
(The illustration is my current FB photo which is why it has a camera in the way…)
I can see and sympathise with how angry you are that good work has been ignored because it doesn’t fit in with the current privileged viewpoint. I had to explain to J why demonstrations are important despite the pandemic, and why pulling down statues is essential when every other means of removal has been tried – all without yelling ‘you don’t see because you are a white man’.
Husband says what I say, just about word for word. After living through all my courses and teaching he hadn’t much option after all!! He had replied to someone on his FB and used almost my wording though we hadn’t at that point compared notes.
Totally agree with this. All of it, including pulling down the statues, absolutely. Great work that you have done in your life. Ok, maybe you haven’t changed the whole of Britain, but I am sure you have managed to educate many young people to understand the race issue. Such education is very important. An issue like this takes a hell of a long time to get to change society. It is, unfortunately, a very slow process, and people like you, doing the work you have done, is a big part of it. xxxx
Thanks! Deep down, I know that, and I’m still in touch with a lot of the colleagues who also worked hard. Just – when you hear people saying there should be something in the curriculum about this, it hurts, you know? I feel the Tories trashed my life… But yes, at least I know, my friends know, some of my former pupils know. And you’re right that it can take a long time – a couple of generations isn’t really enough. Maybe, just maybe, the worldwide protests will lead to more information being out there. I hope so!
Thank you for your views, which I share entirely. Statues of ‘controversial’ people might as well be put in a museum or memorial site, but should not adorn squares, streets or monuments, nor should streets, institutions etc be named after these people. I think, aside from what happens to statues, what’s even more important is education, for the younger generations as well as adults, and teaching historical events with as little bias as possible. Too often many shameful aspects of otherwise renowned and admired civilizations or historical periods have been glossed over in school curricula, therefore paving the way for young adults to grow partially or totally ignorant of disgraceful aspects of their own country’s (or other countries’) history. What I mean is, ok with toppling statues of certain controversial people, but not in order to forget about them or what they did. Instead, this should be a constructive opportunity to delve more deeply and objectively into certain ‘uncomfortable’ truths and make sure that certain atrocities of the past are not repeated nor forgotten. Otherwise these ‘destructive’ actions in removing statues and the like might provoke an equally violent reaction from ultraconservative/neonazi and the like groups who would feel legitimized to defend “law and order” and perpetuate old discriminations and unjustice towards historically oppressed minorities.
Absolutely!! That’s what I spent my career, or a lot of it, trying to achieve. As for the far right, they had their march in London this weekend and even our right wing PM called them thugs and our right wing media asked what had happened to ‘tolerant Britain’. Perhaps they didn’t notice they’d been busy dismantling it for years!? The BLM people sensibly cancelled their march to prevent clashes.
Yes. Let’s hope so.