The shameful treatment of the 'Windrush Generation' that has come to light in recent weeks has been commented on in this article entitled 'Prejudice and Injustice' by MJR trustee Dr Clifford Hill. In it he comments: "Our mistreatment of people from the Caribbean islands goes back at least 200 years to the days of slavery under British colonial rule. This legacy of slavery has never been finally expunged from our social attitudes and culture." Read the full article here.
Edward Colston died nearly 300 years ago but remains a controversial figure in his home city of Bristol. A generous benefactor to the city, Colston has been unquestioningly venerated for many years, but with little or no mention of the fact that the fortune he donated from was generated by his trading in slaves: a major factor in Bristol's growth as a city. Bristol Council is about to recognise this aspect of his past, but this article on the BBC website asks if it going far enough. The group 'Countering Colston' has long been campaigning for this reconsideration of Colston who has dozens of streets, buildings, institutions and memorials named after him.
Bristol poet laureate Miles Chambers sums up the legacy of enslavement in Bristol: "Some people don't get that black people still feel the full impact of slavery today. We can look at the descendants of the slaves and economically they are still worse off; psychologically they are still worse off; mentally they still feel collectively as inferior; more African-Caribbean males are disproportionately in prison and in the judicial system; they do worse at schools; economically are paid less and are working less.
"The pattern continues and even though many people say slavery is over, because of those legacies we still feel enslaved. A name change or statue move is not going to rectify racism or eradicate the slave mentality that still exists, but it will help to say to black people: 'You are equal to us, you are British, you are valuable and you mean as much to us as any other citizen.'"
Read the full article here.
The recent debate about whether Liverpool University should re-name its Gladstone building due to the former Prime Minister's support of colonial slavery raised some interesting comments, including this Guardian article by Michael Rosen. The number of buildings, roads, bridges, rivers etc named after historical figures with reputations at least partially forged in Britain's Colonial past is huge, to say nothing of the many statues. This is particularly the case in places like Liverpool and Bristol where the slave trade played a major role in their growth as cities. And just think of the number of 'Victorias' here and in former colonies around the world.
As Rosen points out, simply re-naming may not be the best thing to do. "Let’s never forget: these were crimes against humanity. Simply taking away their names might in a paradoxical way serve the forces of occlusion, quietly sifting away these leaders and perpetrators." He suggests an alternative would be "to rename buildings, but in situ under the heading “Formerly known as …”, giving us the chance to read about that person’s history and indeed the reasons for the renaming." Read the article here.
Some strong words in this Huffington Post article, but worth a read. Racism, and the legacy of slavery, affects all of us. Which means we all need to seek to understand how other people are feeling, and be brave enough to ask ourselves: 'Could I be wrong about this?' This is harder if you don't perceive there is a problem. As the writer says: 'White people are in a position of power in this country because of racism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them?' Read the article here...
This article in Premier Christianity magazine explores how the majority of UK churches are split on racial lines and asks: "Can we re-unite a segregated Church?" While there are a few notable exceptions, today's situation of most churches and Christian Festivals being mono- rather than multi-cultural is a legacy of racist attitudes going back 70 years.
"The tragedy of the Church’s racial divide is that much of it could have been avoided were it not for the racist attitudes that often prevailed in Britain and its churches in the mid-20th century. The first Windrush generation of Caribbean immigrants to the UK in the late 40s and 50s brought their Christian faith with them. But they failed to find a welcome in British churches, frequently being told that they were not welcome to attend. So, they began their own churches."
How much does the Church simply reflect wider society and how much does it demonstrate another, better way of relating to each other? If Martin Luther King's words “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” apply here too, it would seem that there is work to be done on justice and reconciliation among the people of God. Read the full article here.
A response to Ijeoma Oluo's article "White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves." by MJR's Nigel Pocock
This article seems to be an appeal to white Americans who have grown up in the southern US states to develop a self-understanding of their ‘interpretational reflexes’ of which they are blissfully unaware. While the author lists the pain which she has suffered as a Black woman writer, and this must, consciously or otherwise, be an attempt to evoke ‘empathy’ (imaginatively living in another’s shoes), it is not what she consciously appeals for. She clearly wants a level playing field, and sees the unconscious dominant white southern ideology as being the problem. She wants white southerners to come out of denial, and to face this ideology of white dominance.
Psychologists like Yale Professor of Psychology Paul Bloom (2016) agree with our author. His argument (not accepted by all) is that empathy is usually directed not towards another ‘out-group’ but towards an in-group or individual with whom we share as much in common as possible. For this reason, empathy can be highly dangerous. It can lead to gross over-reaction over the death of (say) one person, with a completely disproportionate response, even leading to mass killings and violence. Research shows that greater empathy is correlated to greater harshness of punishment towards people seen as threats (this of course cuts both ways, black vs. white, white vs. black, and feeds the process known as ‘co-radicalisation’). The dominant ideology of the plantocratic élite was justified through ‘pluralistic ignorance’, a psychological mechanism where people may have doubts, but dare not share these doubts, lest they undermine the status quo; they therefore reinforce the dominant ideology in language and actions, even while festering doubts may be there. This dominant ideology maintained the flow of capital, expropriation of land, the planting of cotton, and the growth of southern slavery, all in lockstep between the American South and the Liverpool and Lancashire cotton mills, with UK government support (anyone not convinced of this, should read Sven Beckert’s great work, Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism, which was recommended by Jim Walvin).
How can people address the huge suffering that this ‘lockstep’ caused, both to the Southern slaves, and the Lancashire mill workers? Bloom says that no-one can live with empathy, without burnout, even if this empathy is pro-social as regards an out-group. He recommends a rational compassion. Compassion is the projection outwards of loving thoughts (not inwards towards another’s suffering, which is empathy). Research studies shows that compassion leads to greater motivation to help, while empathy brings sadness and pain. Bloom acknowledges that (say) empathy drove and awakened the antislavery campaign, for example the Brooks motif), but that compassion is (psychosocially, for example Thomas Winterbottom’s medical work in Sierra Leone) a better way . . . Would this surprise our author? Probably not, for it seems that this is what she has in view.
What is the significance of this, for MJR, if Bloom is right? Films like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’, and the new version of ‘Roots’ might unavoidably focus too much on the violence and therefore the empathy aspect, rather than compassion. This suggests the need for a more subtle approach, rather than hitting people with the most painful images conceivable. How can love, especially agapē love, be encouraged? The New Testament has four words for ‘love’: agapē, eros, storgē, and philein, with the latter two being concerned with the in-group, eros with sexuality, and agapē with obedience to God, not empathy, per se. We are called to love others, even people very different, even enemies, because that was modelled by Jesus, and this is what God wants! ‘Compassion’, in this use, seems to be pretty much synonymous with agapē type love.
(Read Ijeoma Olou's article here.)
This powerful article by Ijeoma Oluo is titled: "White People: I Don’t Want You To Understand Me Better, I Want You To Understand Yourselves." Though a reflection on US society, its basic argument rings true for the UK as well: that the "dominant culture does not have to see itself to survive because culture will shift to fit its needs. This shift is cheaper and easier when you don’t look too closely at how it’s being accomplished..." Ignorance of their own culture and history on the part of white people is a requirement to ensure things continue as they are. Black people can see what white people cannot, namely: "how much of the legacy of slavery and brutality [is] still lodged deep in your bones."
If you can appreciate the passion behind the occasional strong language, have a read, and a good think. If you do, pray as well. We know that the legacy of slavery affects everyone, but maybe MJR needs to be widening its focus to include those who are further away from recognising this to be the case, and stand to lose by doing so. White people.
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