Sunday, December 31, 2017

Last Thoughts on Edward Colston

-- I have listened to you, Mr Smith, but I am none the wiser.
-- Possibly not, m'Lud. But you are, I hope, better informed?

On the 2nd December, the Daily Mail reported that Colston's Primary School, Bristol is going to change its name.

The Daily Mail explicitly frames the story in racial terms. It repeatedly uses the word “pressure” and insinuates that the name change has been forced on the school by unspecified outside forces:

The school...has been under pressure to drop the controversial name over claims it is offensive to ethnic minorities.


But after a consultation and debates, governors decided to cave into pressure and change the name of the school.

However another school in the city has refused to bow down to pressure from within the community.

The online article carries the headline English School Named After 17th Century Slave Change Becomes Latest to Change Its Name. I am afraid it is only too clear why it says "English School" rather than "Bristol School" or indeed "School". (The “latest” bit is also a little misleading: the Primary school is the first school to change its name, although a concert hall and a pub have already done so.)

Some 135 Daily Mail readers took to the keyboard to respond to this story. The responses provide a good insight into how the Colston Cult thinks.



13 of the comments engage in simple abuse, in many cases limiting themselves to single word:

Smg, Edinburgh
Joke and what's next


Talula, London
How utterly ridiculous!

Hermes, Southampton
Stuff and nonsense!


The thinking seems to be that it is self-evident that schools ought to be named after human traffickers (or that no establishment can ever change its name) and that anyone supporting a contrary position is therefore actually unhinged. The school governors were said to be: numpties, dumb, idiots, and loonies ; the decision was a joke, nonsense, outrageous and ridiculous. It will be remembered that “political correctness” is regarded as the opposite of “common sense”; and that the American Alt-right believe that liberals (i.e. anyone who is not a member of the American Alt-right) are literally insane.


23 of the comments attack the school for weakness.

Roy IoW
You mean, by the fragile fluffy-kins, dead set on having things their way, and scream 'hate speech' if you disagree with them.

Tony, Wimbledon

The new school emblem will be a white cross on a white background


Mowdiworp, Huddersfield

But is it the 'ethnic minorities' who are complaining or the mindless little 'snowflakes'?


The most common word used is pathetic (14 comments): indeed 3 comments consist of that single word and nothing else. Others use more creative language such as gutless, wimps, fluffy bunnies, fragile fluffykins, wet wipes and having no cojones. 10 comments specifically use the word snowflake, often in combination with other epithets: pathetic snowflakes, pathetic leftie snowflakes, pathetic SJW snowflakes. Three different commentators independently come up with the incredibly droll idea that the school might take the name Snowflake Primary, Snowflake Academy or Snowflake Appeasers Academy. 

The idea that the change of name is a sign of weakness seems to be falling into line with the editorial text: the people who run the school have bowed down or kowtowed to unspecified external forces who have demanded the change for equally unspecified reasons. 

The term snowflake seems initially to have been part of a backlash against some schools' and colleges' practice of  issuing "trigger warnings" before discussing possibly traumatic subjects like rape or child abuse, and of providing "safe spaces" where marginalized people could talk about their experiences without being shouted down. The very far right (who believe that there is no such thing as PTSD and that rape and abuse victims should just suck it up) saw this as an attack on freedom of speech. Professor Richard Dawkins famously felt that physical and emotional strength were essential to the study of mathematics or biology and that anyone who needed a safe space “should go home, hug their teddy and such their thumb until ready for university.” But the Colstonians do not seem to have anything this specific in mind. Snowflake is simply one more hate word meaning liberal or more specifically anyone we don’t like. But there does seem to an underlying connection between left wing political views and weakness and effeminacy in some of their minds.



No less that 30 of the comments were interested in the politics affiliation of the people who had made the decision. Some used quite creative language:

Alan in France
Another victory for the PC Stazi!


D Lareme, United States
Mao’s Red Guard is a live and well!


Johnboy, Lincoln
We are creating a land fit for mindless Corbynistas


However, the majority went with lefties (10), liberals (14), and loony left (3). No distinction is made between Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn and Pol Pot, or between Red China, East Germany and Bristol City Council: all are irreducibly "the left". However, the word Trot does not occur: it is only now used by members of the Labour Party to describe other members of the Labour Party. 

The British have generally used the word liberal to mean centrist or middle of the road: the Liberal Party is generally considered to be politically somewhere in between the Conservatives and the Labour Party. However the commentators without exception adopt the American usage and use Liberal and Left-Wing interchangeably.

TruffleSniffer, St.Helens,
Just shows how the liberal lefties entrenched in our education system are brainwashing our children.

Richard from Norwich manages a full house in his Slave Trader Bingo game:

Pathetic. Snowflake sandal footed lefties/liberals.

And of course, 10 commentators think that the name change is Political Correctness Gone Mad. Of these 4 use PC as a synonym for communist or left winger; 5 use it simply to mean “bad thing”.

Mustafa Leak, Sin City
History is slowly being sanitised, by the bleeding heart liberals and the commie loving PC brigade

Clearly, some kind of code is being used here: if the words are being used in any normal sense, it is impossible to derive any meaning from the statement whatsoever. ("Moderates who are too concerned about undeserving cases and people who worry too much about using inclusive language and therefore love people who want to distribute income more equally?") 

Only one appears to actually use words as if they meant something: 

Me, Bristol,
Pathetic. They had to change the original name of the new shopping centre in Bristol from Merchants Quarter (which in no way can be linked to slavery because a merchant is a person who sells things, not necessarily slaves) it was just the politically correct brigade reading into it too deeply. It’s now called Cabot’s Circus, probably to relate to all the clowns who wanted to change in the first place.

"One who attaches too much significance too someone else's choice of words" is a perfectly feasible definition of "political correctness", although what this would have to do with the proletariat controlling the means of production and wearing sandals I couldn't say. "Me" is, however, entirely mistaken:  the new Mall has only ever been called Cabot’s Circus although other names, including “Merchants Quarter” and “All Saints” were considered. It is far-fetched to say that the word “Merchant” could in no way be linked to slavery, since the proposed name was very specifically a reference to the Merchant Venturers.


Some of the other commentators attempt to present actual reasons for leaving the schools name as it is. None of them are particularly helpful. 

26 use some version of the “slippery slope” argument: "if we allow X, we will have to allow Y; since Y is obviously silly, we must not do X”. They never establish any particular link between X and Y. (“If we allow men to marry other men, it logically follows that we will have to also allow women to marry garden furniture...”)

Of these, 10 seemed to be under the impression that the school was being closed or demolished, rather than just re-branded:

Richard, Worcester:
Pull down Bristol, it was a leading slave trade port at one time

Glynn Churchill
Better start demolishing large parts of Bristol, then.

OstrogothRome, Newport
We’d better demolish almost every building, stately home, church, castle, palace, cathedral, in Britain dating from before as it was either built with slavery derived funds or with exploited labour

Others had more creative suggestions:
  • Should we not eradicate the name Victoria?
  • Perhaps we should ban everything Italian...
  • We need to stop teaching about Henry VIII.
  • It probably won’t be long before the hymn Amazing Grace is banned.
  • Are we going to drop all references to Jesus?
Again it is very hard to discern any coherent thread in these comments. Does anyone honestly think that Bristol is in danger of being pulled down; or that anyone was going to ban the name Jesus “because he was a convicted felon”? Does anyone actually think that there is a plan to "eradicate", "ban", "stop teaching about" or "drop all references to" Edward Colston, as oppose to simply stop naming public buildings after him? My best guess is that the writers think, or affect to think, that kidnapping black people is a harmless peccadillo that the PC snowflakes have dredged up as a pretext to remove Colston's name from the building. You could equally well have found similarly trivial black marks against any other historical figure. They are like the man who politely says “Look! I’ve got mud on my shoe, I suppose I will have to leave!” when his date spills wine down her dress – a round about way of saying “It’s okay, no-one minds.” Being a slave trader is not a very serious skeleton to have in ones closet.


This brings us to the most common argument (no less than 33 occurrences): that the school is attempting to airbrush (3), rewrite (9), erase (4), sanitize (2), white wash, wipe out or trash something called history. Without exception, these comments appeared to think that the removal of Colston’s name from the school was part of a wider plot to remove all record of Colston from history, which is part of a still wider plot to deny that the slave trade happened at all. 

SensiblePerson, Oxfordshire
Please can someone tell me why these people are determined to make us forget about the slave trade and all the evil it stood for? To stop a repeat of these evils we need to know our past mistakes. This is madness.

10 comments specifically say that the school needs to be named after an enslaver so that children will know how bad slavery was, and at least 2 attempt to paraphrase George Santayana’s remark about forgetting or denying the past:

DefaultAB, Essex ,
If we look to erase history, we're doomed to repeat it. People need to know the origins of slave trading and WHY it ceased... not pretend like it never happened.

FormerPerson, Somewhere In The,
Those who deny history are condemned to repeat it

This seems an exceptionally strange reading of events: why would Commies wish to pretend that the slave trade didn’t happen – why would Lefties want to make the British Empire seem less evil than it in fact was? You can pretty much guarantee that if someone decided to put up a memorial to the 100,000 people Colston kidnapped these exact same letter writers would condemn it as Political Correctness Gone Mad. And if naming schools after criminals is a good way of avoiding the repetition of certain crimes, why are we not agitating for John Profumo Primary School or Jimmy Savile Academy – nay, for Myra Hindley Comprehensive or Peter Sutcliffe Grammar?

The best I can manage is that the Colstonians are attempting some kind of “gotcha!”: “Ha ha you say you are against slavery but if you change the name over the gate to the school no-one will know slavery ever happened and there will be more of it har har liberals are silly.” 

Some of the speakers simply think that “history” itself is somehow under attack, which they connect in a non-specific way with totalitarianism.

Tony, Bristol
This is how dictatorships start, by erasing history and brainwashing children.

Gardeb, United Kingdom,
History will soon cease to exist under the new regime.

Glynn, Churchill,
Didn't Pol Pot try to rewrite history?

There are about one hundred primary schools in Bristol: one is named after a human trafficker; one after an opponent of slavery; one after the first European to set foot on the American mainland; one after the founder of anthroposophy; one after a marine mammal; two after the Christian Messiah and a whopping twenty after Christian saints. (The rest are just named after the district or the street where they happen to be.) How do the kids at the ninety nine schools which aren’t named after slave traders find out about this stuff? By what mechanism does "not having the name of a human enslaver on your school uniform" morph into "being brainwashed"? And who on earth was Nicholas of Tolentine?

Eight commentators resort to moral relativism: slavery would be a bad thing now but it wasn’t a bad thing then, so it is okay to carry on celebrating and commemorating slavers

Ex pat, wellington,
The British Empire was built upon such practices that were perfectly acceptable at that time, why should we be ashamed of our past? The Greeks, Romans, Scandinavians and Spanish are rightfully proud of their ancestors who probably did far worse things........

And two or three seem prepared to say that the slave trade was a good thing, or at any rate, not a bad thing:

Farmer Giles, Truro,
Bristolians, be proud of your great city of seafaring history and don't let the lefties get their way!

RabD, Glasgow, United Kingdom,
We should never be ashamed of our past!

What never? Well, hardly ever. And what do you mean "we", kemosabe?

Finally a few resort to made up facts and “fake news”

Bob , Cheltenham,
Well it will always be known as Colstons school anyway and considering he set it up who cares.

No, he didn’t: it was founded in 1948 and happened to take his name.

Loosehead, Basingstoke
Since Colston paid for Colston Hall, no-one can use it and it has to be knocked down.

If Colston had indeed paid for Colston Hall, there would be no need to knock it down: it was burned to the ground in 1898 and 1945. But he had nothing to do with it. He started a school for white males who believed in the same religion as him in 1710; the street was named after the school and 160 years after he died, the hall was named after the street.

Matt, Hungerford,
As no doubt the school was built from slave trade money, perhaps it should be demolished, the site levelled & the children taught in cold drafty tents

No, it wasn’t. There slave trade had almost completely finished in 1948.

And a handful contain racist dog-whistles

A pensioner, Bristol,
When will this kowtowing to the incomers stop, I'm tired of this PC nonsense.

David Mop, London,
Can we chuck out of this country anyone whose ancestors SOLD the slaves to Colston?


The Colstonians are (I assume) sentient human beings who have made a conscious choice to type comments into their computer: so they must be sincerely concerned about what name Colston’s Primary School goes by. The e-mail comments, like the comments in the Evening Post, show a surprising consistency of language and outlook. A group of people – communists, snowflakes, liberals, or the PC Brigade – have exerted pressure to which the school governors have bowed down, kowtowed  or caved in; resulting in history being changed so that children will be brainwashed into thinking that the slave trade never occurred; which is the first move towards physically destroying large swathes of Bristol and the country at large. One Sea Eagles from the Isle of Mull is quite explicit that this is “Preparation for the take over of our country...” By whom he does not say.

It is impossible that they believe any of this. What is actually happening, right now, in the world, is that some people think that memorials to slave-traders ought to be taken down, and some people think its okay for them to be left up. I suppose it is possible that the reasons for leaving them up (“it was a long a time ago” “slavery was okay in those days” “he also gave money to charity”) are so obviously weak that the “leave them up” faction need to create complex fictions to justify their position. “Taking them down” is a Communist plot to destroy civilization because, for some on the Right, absolutely everything is a Communist plot to destroy civilization. 

But still -- why Colston? Why would anyone get so angry about one school, one pub and one concert venue that they need to make up fantasies about the end of civilization? Suppose the very worst happened and the Awful Statue were in fact moved, as in fact the equally awful statue of Brunel has already been moved. You might conceivably think that this was unnecessary. (Before the Great Kerfuffle, I broadly thought that moving the statue was unnecessary.) But why would you think it crazy and insane and a joke? Why would you create fantasies of pulling down Westminster Abbey and Communist Take Overs? What do the Colstonians really believe? What do they really believe that the rest of us believe?

Some people at the Daily Mail really believe in the Frankfurt Group and Cultural Marxism – they really believe that the media, academia, local government and …. well, everything but the Daily Mail, basically… is secretly controlled by Jewish Marxist Intellectuals. (This is not exegesis on my part, but something that they have stated explicitly in banner headlines.) If you believe in one conspiracy theory, you see conspiracy everywhere. It is obviously impossible that a group of school governors could ever decide to change a school’s name in good faith. It must be pressure from a nefarious vested interest – black people, Islams, experts. And all notorious vested interests ultimately lead to the Cultural Marxists. If the Daily Mail doesn't like it then it literally is part of a communist plot.

But the Colstonians themselves? I see only two options. 

One is simple racism. Black people forced the school to change its name. Black people moved into our town and forced us to let them work on our buses. Black people hold a festival in the summer. We have been forced to accept a black man as our Mayor and a black lady as our MP. So we want a great big statue, right in the middle of town, to remind these black people that they are not real Bristolians (born and bred! born and bred! alive alive oh!). There was a time when we bought and sold you like cattle and don’t you ever forget it. If communist and leftie is understood to mean black person or n***** lover then very many of the under the line comments start to make a frightening amount of sense. 

But the more benign possibility is this.

If you are very old and very stupid, then change, change of any kind, is threatening to you. It is a very small jump from feeling nostalgic for the Epilogue and the Potters Wheel to feeling that the Bolshevic Broadcasting Corporation took those things away to spite you personally because they hate you. I do not think that the Colstonians care about Colston or about slavery. I don’t think they think  there is a communist plot to destroy civilization. I think that they would be equally up in arms if the Daily Mail had told them that the Old Red Lion was going to become The Lionhead Bar. One of the Bristol Evening Post Colstonians literally claimed that the use of parsley in salads was part of a European plot to destroy civilization. Colston is this week’s symbol. But what we are actually raging about is the dying of the light.

See also: Brexit. 


6 comments:

JWH said...

Great post Andrew, thanks for writing.

It seems absurd that this is the ground chosen for this kind of fight or debate. I can appreciate that the issues around statues might be different, the issues around institutions that the person in question founded or financed might be different. But this?

Mark Schaal said...

I wonder if it is reasonable to draw a connection between "movie/TV stories don't have to make sense, they just need to express an emotion" and "political/newspaper comments don't have to make sense, they just need to express and emotion".


On my optimistic days I believe that this is merely the internet amplifying the most bigoted 0.1% of the population and I have no troubling believing that the worst 1 in 1000 people is quite an asshat. On my pessimistic days I note that 10-20% of my country are hardcore Trump supporters and I still haven't come to terms with what it means that 1 in 5 people have a thought process and belief system that is alien to me. I whisper "tribalism is a heck of a drug" to myself and try to be self-critical enough to guard against that, but I don't feel that is sufficient.

Warren JB said...

They may be wrong, but I don't know if I'm comfortable with... is 'dehumanising' too strong of a term? It's the gist of this comment anyway, and I feel it's a significant part of the problem of political alignments. If one side's squawking about snowflakes and lefties and commies, the other side's going on about asshats and the 'very old and very stupid', at the very least. (I could go on about how I hear it's bad to label people, and rightly so, but I've yet to find someone who doesn't do it. Tribalism is indeed a heck of a drug, Mark.) It all contributes to that feeling of being told 'you don't think as we do so we'll roll right over you' by the barbarians at the gate - whichever barbarians those happen to be.

I think the latter part of your blog post here is the closest to the truth that I've seen, Andrew: fear of change, and a lot of frustration to go with it. But I dunno. I'm not saying my own viewpoint is superior, because I have trouble knowing what it is. (It's not 'well maybe those people have a point in keeping Colston's name up', I hasten to add.) I think it's just that I want all the shrieking and namecalling to stop, or at least quiet down a bit.

Mark Schaal said...

Words describe things, or in other words, label things. If we aren't allowed to use words to describe people because it is dehumanising to describe people, then I don't see how to have communication.

I understand that some people if you describe an action of theirs as, pick a term - sexist, will have the response "you said a negative thing about me therefore I will deny it and reject your viewpoints". However other people will have the response "I didn't see that, let me examine my behavior and decide whether it is something I think I should change". Warren, I personally try to respond to your namecalling of me as dehumanising in the second way and I do not think of you as a barbarian at the gate because of it. I do think your view of the world as having the "one side" and "the other side" is extremely reductive and I totally disagree with it, but again my disagreement with you does not make me think of you as a barbarian at the gate.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Mea Cuplpa. I ought not to have type "very old and very stupid". I intended to say something like:

"It is perfectly natural for an older person to regret it when things changes. A wise old person accepts that change is the way of the world and always has been. But some old people are not so wise: they think that the natural order of things, all the bus stops would have stayed in the same places, all the shops would have carried on selling the same brands, and all the theater names would have stayed the same. Once you think this, it is a very small step to thinking that someone in particular rerouted the buses and invented a new kind of coffee specifically to annoy you personally. The most stupid of all think they have identified this person, and think that if they could only catch up with him then everything would stop changing once and for all."

Gavin Burrows said...

"And who on earth was Nicholas of Tolentine?"

And why did he renounce the Jedi order?

I would rather believe in the more benign possibility as well, but the use of contemporary internet buzzwords such as "SJW" or "snowflake" don't really match the notion of old fuddy-duddies who got stuck several decades back.