Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Where I'm Coming From

The world of my youth was deeply racist. (And sexist but we'll put that aside for the time being.) Almost everything I was taught, read or watched as a boy centred on the doings of violent white men- because a violent white man is the pinnacle of God's creation. If BAME people featured at all it was as savages- at the best "noble savages", at the worst cannibals. Frequently- as in the still popular Zulu- which is a kind of British western- they consisted of undifferentiated hordes- over whose mowing down by white men we were not expected to shed many tears.

(Brief shout out for my man Rudyard- who put an Indian boy at the heart of the Jungle Books- the only instance I can think of from my boyhood of a BAME person being presented as someone with whom one might wish to identify.)

The history I absorbed was mostly myth- and consisted of stories of British men beating foreigners- men like Drake and Clive and Rhodes. The Second World War cast a light- or shadow- backwards and forwards- confirming us in the notion that the British- who were always white- were eternally virtuous in their warfare and eternally victorious.

Until very recently slavery had no place in that narrative. It was something that happened "over there". We took credit for ending the north Atlantic slave trade- but coughed politely and changed the subject when it was suggested that we might also have started it. Colston- who is reckoned to have sent 84,000 people to the Americas- killing a high proportion of them in the process- was memorialised as a philanthropist; not a word about how he made his money.

As I grew to adulthood black people began appearing on the streets. We'd invited them in from Commonwealth countries because we were having difficulty running the country on our own. (This is the Windrush generation that Mrs May's government decided to kick around the houses.) They mainly took low status jobs- the kind the lockdown has taught us to value- in hospitals, transport, the mills. Inevitably they started appearing on TV and in the movies- at best as the sidekick of a violent white male or as the straight man (a noble savage) in a comedy about white racists. Ooh, that Alf Garnett, he's awful but you've got to love him.

Not infrequently the black man was played by a white man with paint on his face. I was in my late 20s before the BBC finally retired the Black and White Minstrel Show. Comics like David Walliams were still blacking up in the early years of the current century- and getting away with it because they were young and hip and what they were doing was ironic (whatever that was supposed to mean).

And all the time, black people were being discriminated against in housing and the job market- and shouted at on the street and disproportionally harassed and killed by the police- with most of it going unreported.

I watched all this- or avoided watching it- from the side-lines. I am white, middle-class, male. I wasn't on the receiving end of any of the bad stuff. The culture was made by people like me, foregrounded people like me, sucked up to people like me.

In the circumstances I don't think it's an over-reaction to knock over a few statues. They stand in the way of us learning the truth.

Recent Posts from This Journal

  • Blue Plaque

    Move inland from the white cliffs and the first village you come to is East Dean- which is pretty. Houses round here start at around…

  • Back To The Birling Gap

    Ailz was sick and then I was sick and the consequence was that I didn't leave the property for three weeks. Today we were both well enough to…

  • Leaves, Turfs, Wrens And Quadrupeds

    As soon as I entered the lower field a slight breeze ruffled the trees and the air was filled with falling leaves. It felt like a greeting.…

  • The Violins Of Autumn

    My mother sits in the room with the big TV. I wander in and out- and catch bits of the shows she's watching. I rarely- if ever- see a whole…

  • The Sound Of Bristles On Flagstones

    Me: I'm going to sweep the path. Ailz: What, again? Me: It carries on being autumnal. Leaves keep falling. Besides sweeping is exercise-…

  • Enter Little Nell

    I'm reading Dickens from start to finish and Ailz is accompanying me to the extent of tackling selected volumes as audio books. I'll go…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.