Darcus’s dungeon, and other places where the sun doesn’t shine too brightly.
The maxim, that those who don’t learn from history are forced to relive it, is generally ascribed to George Satayana. He said, in volume 1 of Reason in Society:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
In that same text, he also said:
Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.
So where, Malcolm asks, does that leave Darcus Howe, given the freedom of the Urban Life column in the New Statesman? Howe’s essential points (in his own words) are:
- The impact of the injustices of slavery is still palpable today among the black descendants of slaves.
- For the first time in its history, Africa experienced murder and plunder on an industrial scale. The white man had arrived in his pomp.
- The Caribbean islands were at once transformed into a sea of sugar-cane fields where black people experienced unspeakable brutality.
- … we, the people of the Caribbean, … defeated slavery … slaves launched guerrilla warfare, culminating in defeat for the Spanish, French and British, and the declaration of independence by Haiti.
- Blair’s apology is not worth the paper it is written on if this liberation movement is not recognised as the central force that drove slavery out of the Caribbean.
Let’s address each point in turn. What, in , is the significance of the word “black”? Is “black” alienation somehow more acute than that of any other ethnic group? It’s barely a year since Howe went out on a limb, and got a slapping from Joan Rivers, by
- pronouncing that America is one of the most savagely racial places in the world, and
- suggesting that Rivers had a problem with the word “black”:
Howe: The use of the term black offends you.
Rivers: The use of the term black offends me? Where the hell are you coming from? You have got such a chip on your shoulder. How dare you say that to me.
The essential problem here is that Howe and other Afro-Caribbeans have bought into the (mainly US) concept that slavery is racial, white on black. This is only true of the “Deep South” of North America, between 1619 (when John Rolfe—Mr Pocahontas—brought “twenty nigars” to the Jamestown colony) and Emancipation. Oh, and by the way, 1619 is just seven years after the first recorded sale of Irish slaves to farm tobacco up the Amazon.
As for the rhodomontade about  murder and plunder on an industrial scale, contradiction might start with the first chapter of the Book of Exodus.
The general estimate seems to be that 11 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic (the majority to South America): that—like the Holocaust—is based on efficient auditing by the perpetrators of the atrocity. But what about the Arab slave trade, which predated and postdates the transatlantic trade? Ralph Austen (at the University of Chicago) did the heavy-lifting that the Arab route trafficked as many as 19 million. Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau of the University of Lorient goes with that as a global figure. The Belgian Paul Bairoch would raise that number to 25 million. Again, Howe is exposed as being exclusively Americo-centric in his argument. Nor can one accept the notion that the great African empires (from Khalif Omar in the early 7th century, via the Soninkes of the Ghana Empire, Mansa Musa of Mali, to Benin and Kongo) were all based on sweetness and light.
 and  are flim-flams (and, no, Malcolm does not lightly skim over the sufferings involved). Thirty-odd years ago, Richard Dunn established that:
- the English factors and slave-masters in the Caribbean islands were, essentially, renegades. He notes that the most notable Englishman in the Caribbean was Sir Henry Morgan “which is rather like having Al Capone as the most famous American of the twentieth century” (page xxiii);
- the sugar islands were “disastrous social failures” (page 340);
- the essential conflict was a Marxian one—power and class, rather than race:
The stark dichotomy between the all-powerful sugar magnate and his abject army of black bondsmen was the ultimate expression in seventeenth-century English society of man’s strenuous search for wealth in an era of primitive productive techniques (page 341)
Let’s recognise that this thread of argument can be traced back to Anthony Trollope in 1859. But the great mistake that Howe makes is that the Maroons of Jamaica, or Toussaint and Dessalines in Haiti “prove” that the Afro-Caribbeans somehow liberated themselves. In fact:
- the Maroons survived mainly by collaboration (and the 1807 abolition of slavery can be, perhaps should be interpreted as restoring English law to a rogue colony); and
- Haiti merely exchanged one despotism (of the French) for another (the affranchi)—while paying reparations to France for another century.
Now, all of the previous might be seen as a contradiction of Malcolm’s thrust of yesterday. Well, no. After Howe’s hysteria, it was refreshing to see a far more balanced and pragmatic approach in today’s Economist. Two cogent little pieces, A nation at ease with bits of itself and Snow White and the seven isms, discuss the context and future of equality-affirmation (i.e. anti-discrimination) in Britain. The first article is based on last week’s conference to mark the 1976 Race Relations Act, and the second on the forthcoming Commission for Equality and Human Rights [CEHR]. To Malcolm the diagnosis and the prognosis, in both articles taken together, seem remarkably sensible. Try these as examples:
- Although Afro-Caribbeans still suffer from more than their share of problems, such as high rates of criminality, low achievement by black boys at school and family breakdown, they differ little from the problems suffered by poor whites.
- The rise of aggressive Islamic fundamentalism and its accompanying threat of home-grown terrorism has changed [the public’s perception of the Asian-British community] … Race and immigration are regarded as the most important issues facing the country today … race is not the problem so much as the cultural and religious separateness of many Asians. As well as separatist Muslims, new Sikh and Hindu organisations are emerging and the quality of leadership among these emerging groups is at best patchy.
- “We cannot start [the CEHR] from creating a hierarchy of hurts.” So says Trevor Phillips.
That last bullet sounds somewhat similar to Malcolm’s point of yesterday. So, Malcolm welcomes the notion of bringing equality-affirmation under a single umbrella organisation. Of course, the vested interests who have enjoyed the status of singularity are affronted (and, in many cases, it amounts to little more than vanity or—as Malcolm’s mother would say—”having their noses put out of joint”).
As for the need for a CEHR, one might look no further than the poisonous full-page advertisement in the Times, last Tuesday, promoted by a group of religious nutcases calling themselves a “Coherent and Cohesive Voice”. The advertisement was based on half-truths and untruths and gross misrepresentations. As inevitably as night following day, the Daily Mail weighed in to
welcome a head-on clash between church and state over new laws on homosexual rights
and deplore that
Ten years of Tony Blair’s politically correct government have left a huge moral void in the life of the nation. How gratifying that the churches are at last determined to fill it.
It was refreshing to see this group exposed by Thinking Anglicans, by blowing the gaff that this advertisement stems from the homophobic campaign of black pastors. This homophobia is a root cause of the on-going war (and, let’s confess it, more-than-in-part a war on racial lines) between die-hard Evangelicals and liberal High Anglicans.
- The Murdoch press, who chose to print such filth (unlike, say, Google who turned down such lucre), has a track record. Let’s remember the disgraceful hounding of Labour ministers (the “gay mafia” allegedly ruling Britain) in 1998, in which Matthew Parris was woefully complicit. We now know, too, that The News of the World was tapping into Simon Hughes’ phone.
- It was good to see the succinct reply by Meg Munn in Thursday’s Times Letters, along with effective rebuttals by gay journos and the Quakers.
- The character of “Jenna Jacobs” in the second series of The West Wing (see the episode The Midterms) is derived from the writer and broadcaster, Laure Schlessinger. Schlessinger maintained that gays and lesbians are “biological errors”. President Bartlet famous response will also do for Malcolm for the “Coherent and Cohesive Voice”:
I don't say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr. President. The Bible does.
Yes, it does. Leviticus.
Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I'm
interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7.
She's a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, and always clears the table when it was
her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another?
My Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, insists on working on the Sabbath, Exodus 35:2, clearly says
he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police?
Here's one that's really important, 'cause we've got a lot of sports fans in this town.
Touching the skin of a dead pig makes us unclean, Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves,
can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point?
Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother, John, for planting
different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing
garments made from two different threads?
- Now reread the second of Satayana’s dictums, from the start of this blog.