Friday, March 30, 2007

I watched a programme last night about the TV series "Roots". People talking about the effect it had on them and their peers at the time. I too remember watching and enjoying it, though to be honest it was well acted hokum. What I remember most was the reaction of the Americans to this piece of entertainment. "We never knew that!" "It's hard to believe that such terrible things happened in the land of the free", etc.
Well how could they not know? I knew about it as a kid living thousands of miles away. But, in last night's programme, British contributors of Afro-Caribbean origin, descendants of slaves, described how they had had their eyes opened by "Roots". They were recovering their lost history in watching this entertainment.
Maybe it was living in the birthplace of Wilberforce that gave me an advantage. The struggle to abolish slavery and its attendant evils was a story well known to Hull schoolchildren. We had Wilberforce House to visit, where we could gaze on the instruments and implements of subjugation and control. Alongside these manacles, shackles, hooks, barbs, etc., were illustrations of how they were applied. Semi-clothed captives and field workers were depicted writhing under the lash or dangling from trees secured by one limb or another. We had seen it all long before Alex Haley's work was filmed.
Later there was "The Holocaust". Today there is only one holocaust, THE Holocaust. If you asked anyone today the meaning of the word I reckon most would say that it was what Hitler did to the Jews. I imagine the latest edition of the OED will feature something of the sort as one definition of the word. And all because of one rather poor TV serial. Again the American reaction was "We knew nothing of this". How the hell did they miss it (the genocide not the TV show)?
While I wonder at people's ignorance, speculating whether it is wilful, I remember a similar gap in my own knowledge. I had never heard of the Amritsar massacre before it featured in the film "Gandhi". When the film came out, as I recall, a lot of Colonel Blimp types emerged from their deep armchairs to deny that the massacre ever took place, or to accuse Richard Attenborough of exaggeration. The exaggeration line was taken up by our monarch's consort, ever the diplomat, on a visit to Amritsar not long ago.
The annoying thing is that I'd read a great deal about India's history as a lad, my interest awakened by the photographs and souvenirs my father brought back from his stint in the 14th Army during World War II. I suppose Amritsar was not yet acknowledged in the history books, particularly those directed at the young.
And the moral of the story ... when we read history we should always ask what has been left out; just as when we listen to a politician, we listen to what (s)he is not saying, because what (s)he is saying is worthless.

The Office of Fair Trading is to investigate excessive bank charges. I anticipate another voluntary code from our business-friendly government.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"No matter how paranoid or conspiracy-minded you are, what the government is actually doing is worse than you imagine."
~~ J. Edgar Hoover [1895-1972]

A quote I lifted from Working Minds e-zine -

Sunday, March 25, 2007

I'm on the lookout for a Society for the Abolition of Anniversaries. I am heartily sick of this commemoration of the abolition of slavery, or more correctly, of British participation in the slave trade.
I know that, to some extent this is about black history, about admitting black people to their rightful place in the history of Britain, of the Empire, of the world. But look how we do it! We concentrate on the work of one white European. History as made by one person, complete distortion. This is history as told by Hollywood. History for the ignorant masses who must remain ignorant for fear that they might realise that, as a collective entity, they can change the course of history. No, we must wait for a great man to come along and strive on our behalf.
So the historians - in reality the hagiographers - set to work. Apparently Wilberforce's sons, in writing their father's biography, saw fit to blackguard the name and reputation of Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson, tireless worker for the emancipation of slaves, had to be belittled so that the Wilberforce star might shine more brightly. We may safely assume that Cobbet's verdict on the great man didn't feature in the hagiography; "... this swelled-up, greedy, and unprincipled puffer, who has been the deluder of Yorkshire for twenty years past." Wilberforce was MP for Yorkshire for most of his career, not for his native town of Hull, which position journalists continually claim for him. Radicals like Cobbet were angry at "... his alleged failure to acknowledge the extent of the deprivation and oppression suffered by the ‘free British labourers’ whose lot he had contrasted favourably with that of the slaves." (John Wolffe, DNB)
I have read in the past that W.W.'s philanthropy didn't extend to improving the condition of child factory workers, and that he opposed any moves toward reform in this area. I don't have a source for that so the charge must lay on the file for now.
Another casualty of the "Great Man" school of history and it's bulldozing methods is Olaudah Equiano. A black man who agitated for abolition does not fit well with the present discourse. Such people are supposed to wait patiently for their fair skinned saviour to ride in like the Lone Ranger. Black history has rescued Olaudah from the dust-covered archives , and brought him to the forefront of the abolitionist movement. Time to return to the shadow of the Great Man for a while, Olaudah. There you will be joined by the Quakers, the Sheffield cutlers, and the craftsmen and tradesmen of the London Corresponding Society, whose agitation for abolition finds no place in Hollywood-style history, or the potted, and gutted, version of history favoured by the media.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

What am I going to do to get James Mcavoy out of my life? I hesitate to turn on the telly for fear of seeing that smirking face. I can't open a newspaper without the trademark hangdog look peering out of the pages. I went in a bookshop the other day and there it was gazing out of the shelves. I feel I'm being medially stalked. What the devil is going on?
It's the Mcavoy media love-in at the moment. How long before he becomes a love rat? Then there's the "My Drink and Drugs Hell" story, to be followed by the nonentity's consignment to oblivion. But fear not, there'll be another one along in a minute.
Russell Brand, the Man-sized Testicle; Ben Fogle (Who? What? Why?). An old mate of mine had a simple explanation for these overexposed individuals; "Somebody's rooting her/him" was his verdict. Cynical perhaps, but in many cases one struggles to find a more credible explanation.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

This week a group of people, probably Christians, set off from Hull to march to London as an apology for slavery (abolished 1834). They were manacled and shackled and a couple of them were yoked together. A fine piece of long distance street theatre, but I for one can't see the point. The slavery they are "so sorry" for is history and I cannot see how anyone living today can feel any guilt for it. To my mind it all reeks of humbug, or exhibitionism.
The same week we can read the following in the Guardian -

"A woman from Latvia had her passport confiscated by a Hull agency that forced her to work 16-hour shifts at a Barnsley factory, sleeping between them in a car."

Present-day slavery is a different matter. Trying to do something about that involves treading on some very influential toes. So let's stick to the meaningless theatrical geatures.
Is the Hull agency still in business? I have not the slightest doubt that it is. Will it be identified by the media? No chance.
There is something symbolic about the slavery penitents walking away from Hull and its 21st century slavers.