Black Lives Matter

I think I should share my views on #BlackLivesMatter. Like many people my age (the wrong side of 60) I was about to say “All Lives Matter”, but was glad that I didn’t – as that rather misses the point.

As a young boy, I was brought up in a predominantly white environment. I remember my parents discussing Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. They thought he was correct. They weren’t the only ones, 75% of the population shared his view!

However I also remember my dad (who was in the army, out in Africa, during World War Two) speaking very highly of African (and Indian) people who were there serving alongside him.

The more I learn about our history, the more I learn how we’ve used and abused other people. I recently watched Michael Portillo’s Empire Journey. In every episode, I found that I was embarrassed about the UK’s part in world history.

In South Africa, Britain exploited native people. We used the native black population to labour in the highly dangerous South African gold mines. We stole land from the country’s indigenous people, and created barbaric wars and divided the country along racial lines.

In Jamaica, there was the horrible triangular trade, with slaves being shipped from Africa to work sugar plantations. The money, and the sugar (ironically helping us to become obese) came back to Britain. we’d then sell brandy, and guns to Africa to buy more slaves…

In case you think this was a minor bit of history, this site tells us at least 12 million Africans were taken to the Americas as slaves between 1532 and 1832 and at least a third of them in British ships.

I simply can’t imagine how I’d fell, if they were my ancestors… Many of the Stately homes that I’ve enjoyed visiting over the years, were built from the profits from this obnoxious human trafficking…

So whilst I felt uneasy about law and disorder aspects, when Edward Colston’s statue spectacularly ended up in Bristol Harbour, I now think that this was a pivotal moment. I’ve enjoyed visiting Bristol, like many ports it’s the home of a fantastic multi-cultural community. But the point is, even though I may well have walked past Colston’s statue, or numerous other places bearing his name, I’d no idea about his horrible history.

I’ve also enjoyed visiting Edinburgh. However, you can’t really miss the statue of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville. He used his influence to delay the abolition of slave trade a further 15 years. The move forced around 630,000 slaves to wait more than a decade for their freedom. There’s numerous reminders about Henry Dundas, throughout Edinburgh. I find his history so embarrassing, that I’d like to forget it – but don’t think that I should..

As a youth, I used to go to Moss Side in Manchester, to buy cheap jeans. It was a real multi cultural community (not without its problems), but I was always amazed how pleasant, and cheerful, the Afro Caribbeans that served me were.

More recently I visited Soho House in Birmingham. As I walked though the nearby streets I got the impression that everyone was looking at me. I suspect that that was because I was the only white person, on that occasion, in that part of Birmingham. To be honest, I did feel a little uncomfortable – but then it made me consider how uncomfortable immigrants must have felt who ended up here (through our Commonwealth obligations etc.). They helped make our Empire great, but when they came here were faced with prejudice and abuse.

My grandfather had a corner shop (see here). It was long hours and hard work. Today, most of our population regard that sort of work beneath them. However they’re happy to visit corner shops (frequently run by immigrants) when they’ve run out of that “essential” ingredient late on a Sunday night, or forgotten to buy a battery for a toy on Christmas Day…

Recently, in the press, there’s been a lot of stories about how people, who just happen to be black, are disproportionately stopped by the police. I’m afraid that, ignoring racism in the police, that it’s a sad fact of life that deprived inner city youths are more likely to have committed a crime. But, the far more important point is, why should this be the case? I don’t believe that babies are born naughty. However, if I’d been raised in a deprived background – where I was worried where the next meal was coming from, and faced prejudice on a daily basis, I may well have turned to crime.

I believe that we have to own up to our past, and deal with the problems we face today, by tackling the route causes.

And I’m more than happy to say Black Lives Matter.