Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Kolston Kerfuffle Kontinues

There is a scheme to add an explanatory plaque to the statue of Edward Colston which stands in the center of Bristol. 

The current statue simply says that Colston was one of the "most virtuous and wise" sons of Bristol. The proposed text would read: 

"As a high official of the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston played an active role in the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans (including 12,000 children) of whom over 19,000 died en route to the Caribbean and America. Colston also invested in the Spanish slave trade and in slave-produced sugar. As Tory MP for Bristol (1710-1713), he defended the city’s ‘right’ to trade in enslaved Africans. Bristolians who did not subscribe to his religious and political beliefs were not permitted to benefit from his charities.”

Surely no-one could possibly have any objection to this wording?

This pathetic bid to mount a secondary revisionist plaque on Colston's Statue is historically-illiterate and a further stunt to try to reinvent Bristol's history

If it goes through, it will be a further slap-in-the-face for true Bristolians and our city's history delivered by ignorant, left-wing incomers

I have never been a believer in taking the law into one's own hands. However, if this partisan and nauseous plaque is approved, I can not find it in my heart to condemn anyone who damages or removes it.

Richard Eddy (Bristol Councilor)

I want to pull down and erase all mention of William the Conquer as he killed some English people at Hastings. 
andys rifles (via Mail Online) 

I take it these lefties also want Karl Marx gravestone and image removed too? 
Mark from Manchester, (via Mail Online)

Another example of someone from distant passed being judged by today's standards. Are these people thick or just mad?
Christian solider, (via Mail Online)

Why do those in authority always cave in to lefties instead of protecting our history
Time for revolution, (via Mail Online)


Mike Taylor said...

That is rather sad. I can, just about, understand why people object to renaming a landmark building. But why anyone would object to actual facts is a bit beyond me -- unless (and I don't really believe this) they are actually pro-slavery.

On judging people of the past by today's standard: I do sometimes feel that's a bit rough. I think we can all agree that extreme cases like censuring Mark Twain for using the N-word are silly; but closer to home, for example, I know an old man who will insist on referring to "coloured" rather than black people -- he's simply never been able to keep up as things have changed. I can't quite find it in my to condemn him (though I can and do correct him). Things do change, and not only terminology.

Andrew Rilstone said...

They are not pro-slavery, but they are racists: or at any rate nativists. The councilor's talk about changes being forced on true Bristolians by incomers, and the Daily Mail comments talking about "our" history makes that abundantly clear.

Your old friend was possibly brought up to think that "black" was a slur and "coloured" was the polite expression; he probably isn't racist, merely old fashioned. In the 1960s "negro" was the preferred term; at any rate, that's what Martin Luther King and Peter Seeger use. Manners and social norms do change according to who you are and where you are. Nude sunbathing is perfectly okay in Greece but a bit out of order in Weston Super Mayor.

Presumably, no-one thinks that whether or not you approve of slavery is merely a matter of manners and custom. The best that you can say is that slavery is a great evil, but that people in the olden days were too stupid to understand this, or too wicked to care. I am not suggesting that if I had lived at the time Colston had lived, I might not have been stupid and wicked as well. But the only inscription on the statue says that he was especially virtuous and wise.

Mike Taylor said...

Your old friend was possibly brought up to think that "black" was a slur and "coloured" was the polite expression.


JWH said...

Two questions, for those more knowledgeable than me:

1 - I don't know of any ancient writers who objected to slavery as an institution - were there? And if not, why not? Were they too stupid or too wicked?

2 - The plaque seems fine in general, although I didn't know Edward Colston played an active role in enslaving anyone - I thought he was a slave trader rather than someone who made people into slaves? If the latter is the correct understanding, then did he not have a passive rather than an active role in the enslavement?

Andrew Rilstone said...

The word "active" is there to forestall wateraboutery.

Colston was "actively" involved in the slave trade in so far as he heavily invested in, was a member of, and rose to be deputy governor of a company whose MAIN BUSINESS was buying and selling black people as livestock. The Colston Freemasonry are apt to claim a moral equivalence between actually making your living working for a company which buys and sells black people and living at a time when slavery exists. "Well, if you are going to tear down Colston's statue just because he was deputy governor of a company which had the monopoly on buying and selling black people, you must logically want to burn all copies of Jane Austen's books, since there is no evidence that she campaigned against the slave trade and sometimes put sugar, which was grown by slaves, in her tea."

As a matter of fact, Jane Austen is implicated in the slave trade -- all white people are -- but the distinction between "passive" involvement (sitting at home and doing nothing about it) and "active" involvement (helping to run companies which buy and sell black people) is not a very subtle one. Like, the distinction between "having been in the German army in the 1940s" (certainly very bad) and "Having actively pushed Jewish people into gas chambers" (do bad that you will be regarded as a war criminal for the rest of your life.)

Yes, as a matter of fact I have heard of Mike Godwin.

I have said as clearly as I can, and as frequently as I can, that the argument is not really about Edward Colston. I am quite sure he was as nuanced an individual as any other. Surely the councilor made this as clear as it could possibly be: Colston's statue represents a Bristol which belongs only to "true Bristolians" (i.e white people); and the proposed intervention represents the acceptance of "incomers" (i.e black people).

The statue will remain a site of struggle unless and until it is removed to a museum. If nothing is done, then those of us who think of Bristol as a very nice city in the West of England with lots of different kinds of people living in it will continue to daub white paint over the statues face, write "slaver" across the plinth and hang knitted balls and chains round its feet. If the new inscription is added, then doubtless the people who have a weird idea of Bristol as a Caucasian ethno-state will daub it with swastikas. But I know which side I wish to align myself with.

Mike Taylor said...

Do you know, until I read your last comment, it hadn't even occurred to me that "true Bristolians" might be code for "white people". What a horrible thought.

Andrew Rilstone said...

I don't know if you saw the full article in the post, but the guy who thinks it would probably be okay to vandalize the plaque is the same one who pointedly displayed a gollywog in his office in Bristol town hall. So I don't think there is a great deal of doubt as to where he is coming from...

JWH said...

Putting the thing in a museum seems like a smart idea.

My quibble is that "active role in the enslavement..." implies to me he went on shore in Africa to put unsuspecting villagers in chains, the same way "active role in the killing of elephants" implies to me he was shooting them. I think "active role in the slave trade..." would be better (as would "active role in the ivory trade" in my example). I am not trying to exonerate the man, it just seems better to condemn him for precisely what he did, which was bad enough.

"As a matter of fact, Jane Austen is implicated in the slave trade -- all white people are -- but the distinction between "passive" involvement (sitting at home and doing nothing about it) and "active" involvement (helping to run companies which buy and sell black people) is not a very subtle one."

I have always thought this is a peculiar way of looking at it. If "all" white people are implicated in the slave trade by this standard, then "pretty much all" black people and "all" Arabs are implicated too and I don't really see how that helps much.

Andrew Rilstone said...

The Atlantic slave trade was a specific and systematic evil perpetrated by Europeans against Africans, and a much of the systematic racism in society grew out of it. I am richer than my Afro carribean nieghbours, less likely to be arrested, less likely to go to prison and likely to live longer because my ancestors treated their ancestors as property. Acknowedging this is a very small step in thd right direction.

Yes, there were other bad things in history as well, but “we shouldnt acknowledge that Colston was a slaver because the Irish potato blight” is one of the more bizarre arguments put forward by the Colston freemasonry.

JWH said...

But I have agreed with you that Colston should be acknowledged as a slaver and that slavery was/is a great evil.

What I demur from is the comment that "Jane Austen and all white people are implicated in the slave trade". For that to be true, then as far as I understand it, every African is also implicated in the slave trade too since (nearly) every African society co-operated with, traded with or used the traded goods from the slave trade. Every Arab would be implicated too.

Andrew Rilstone said...

But every African is not living, directly or indirectly, on the proceeds. I have a built in advantage over my black neigbhours very largely because of the historical fact of the slave trade, We, white people, are collectively possessed of the effect for which we did the murder. There exists such a thing as a gollywog doll for the councelor to amusingly display on his filing cabinet. He can go into a shop and buy one, and everyone knows what it means. There is no equivilent honkyghost doll for a black councilor to buy if he wants to poke fun at me. Why not? Beause white people wrote the kids’ books and white people run the toy companies. Why? Because until a hundred and fifty years ago, black people were legally the same as livestock. What can I do about it? Acknowledge it.

Not that I specially have a been in my bonnet about gollywogs. I had a golly when I was a kid, and a collection of marmalde figurines, and I quite liked the Black and White Minstrel show. And my parents were as right on guardian reading labohr voting CND badge wearing liberals as anyoen could be. Which is why I would rather be part of the solution than part of the problem.

JWH said...

I don't see how the fact of white slave traders riches being turned to more long-term economic effect than the riches of black slave traders could implicate all white people for all time, but not black people. For this to be true, the widespread lifting out of poverty of white populations in the late C19 then makes those people subsequently implicit in C17-18 enslavement. Not for me.

It also seems a large claim to say that your built-in advantage today is very largely because of the slave trade; I don't deny the built-in advantage, but being certain this was very largely because of the slave trade as opposed to (say) the industrial revolution is more than I would know - at any rate, the whole concept would seem to require more faith in the efficacy of "trickle-down economics" than I possess.

Racism is obviously very real, then and now, but the racism pretty clearly predates the slave trade: that is why trading in black slaves was acceptable in a way that trading in white slaves wasn't.

I very much agree about acknowledging that some black people were slaves for the profit of white people until 150-200 years ago in various parts of the world, including those run by Britain. I don't agree that this in turn implicates in slavery every white person who ever lived from c.1600-2018.