Tag: history

The real black history? The government wants to ban it

When the enslaved African was put on a ship to be transported across the Atlantic, “that moment he became a revolutionary”, wrote the historian, campaigner and later prime minister of Trinidad, Eric Williams. He was complicating the familiar British story of abolition, in which black people who had somehow managed to get themselves enslaved were freed by the ‘Saints’ – educated white men of conscience.

a baseball player holding a bat on a field: Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

In reality, both slaves and other colonial subjects in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean fought for their rights and freedom in very difficult circumstances. Those rebellions and liberation movements, along with the work of white abolitionists and critics of empire, put pressure on Britain to ultimately concede emancipation and independence. If the official history is of Britannic rule, a still-hidden history tells of black (and Asian) resistance to that rule.

So, when speaking of black history, which is also British history, we need to ditch prejudicial and misleading phrases like “victim narratives”, recently used in the Department for Education’s statutory guidance to English schools. The present government deems accounts of oppression and exploitation “divisive” and “harmful”, along with discussions of alternatives to capitalism. Using phrases like “victimhood mentality” when describing ethnic minorities stokes an unhelpful culture war and delegitimises necessary accounts of racist and colonial dispossession.

a man standing on a baseball field: ‘In the postwar period, the colour bar in hotels and other public spaces was challenged by people like the famous cricketer Learie Constantine.’

© Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images
‘In the postwar period, the colour bar in hotels and other public spaces was challenged by people like the famous cricketer Learie Constantine.’

It is convenient for the powerful, of course, to demand that the spotlight be turned away from the harm they foster, whether through bigotry or predatory capitalism. Historical amnesia works in their favour.

In fact, black history contains few victim narratives, even if it tells us a great deal about victimisation and the infliction of suffering. The documents of colonial and racist barbarism are also documents of the power of protest. Black history is not just about slavery or colonialism, but in the context of Black Lives Matter and the contemporary struggle for racial and social justice, the history of black struggle teaches us something valuable about the relationship between resistance and change.

One familiar defensive response to discussions of racism today is to insist that Britain is one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Missing from that grand claim is the story of how all progress on race has been won through persistent protest and campaigning, by ethnic minorities and their allies.

Black people, both in Britain and in the colonial world, have not waited meekly for changes to take place. From the abolition of slavery to the removal of the colour bar, and from the moderate inclusion campaigns of the League of Coloured Peoples in the 1930s to more militant organising against police brutality in the 1970s, black people in Britain have defended their communities, mobilised and contributed to vital social and institutional change. As the historian Peter Fryer noted, across Britain and the British Empire black people

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Famous quilt celebrating Black history stolen, found and returned to the Oregon Historical Society

A famous quilt made in the 1970s to teach Black history and shown around the country during the 1976 United States Bicentennial celebration was stolen from the lobby of the Oregon Historical Society in Portland Sunday.

Police recovered the priceless quilt a few blocks from the museum, said museum executive Director Kerry Tymchuk. The theft occurred amid violent protests Sunday night in downtown Portland, several prominent statues were toppled and nearly a dozen windows were broken at the society’s pavilion lobby.

Tymchuk said the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Quilt is in one piece, but it was left out in the rain and some of the fabric colors have run.

The museum’s curatorial staff is drying it out, removing leaves and other debris, and mitigating the damage.

Vandalism to the museum building is estimated to cost about $25,000.

The historic quilt is no longer being displayed, but an online panel discussion scheduled on Thursday to discuss the quilt’s significance will be held. One of the speakers was to be the only surviving member of the quilting group, Sylvia Gates Carlisle.

The quilt was the idea of Carlisle’s mother, Jeanette Gates, an advocate for Black history to be taught in schools. Gates saw the Oregon quilt made for the Bicentennial and invited 14 other Black women in Portland to create squares for a quilt representing Black culture.

Each of the 30 blocks that form the king-size quilt depict a significant event, person or group in America’s Black history, starting in 1492 with Black Spanish explorer Pedro Alonso Niño piloting the Santa Maria in Columbus’s expedition to America, to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Mrs. Gates was determined that the Bicentennial exhibit include African-American heritage,” says quilt historian Mary Bywater Cross. “This sophisticated story quilt reflects 500 years of Black history not seen in textbooks.”

Cross sees a direct link between Portland’s Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Quilt made 44 years ago and recent storied quilts that address gun violence, racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement, such as the exhibit “Gone but Never Forgotten: Remembering Those Lost to Police Brutality” at the Textile Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

On Oct. 15, textile consultant Sheridan Collins will lead an online discussion about Portland’s quilt with historian Carmen Thompson and Cross.

The free event, conducted over Zoom from noon to 1 p.m., is part of Portland Textile Month, a series of events in October organized by Caleb Sayan of Portland’s Textile Hive.

Sayan said he has a sense of guilt requesting that the Oregon Historical Society display the quilt in the lobby for the month.

“It’s not the worse-case scenario, but it’s troubling to have something damaged,” said Sayan.

The quilt, an applique style that uses stitchery, is part of the permanent collection at the Oregon Historical Society.

“Quilts are visual records that tell stories,” says Cross. “Mrs. Gates wrote that she wanted the Afro-American Heritage Bicentennial Quilt to focus on the issues that unite African-Americans: Religious heritage, struggle against oppression and the strength

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What Trump could learn from French history

Let me explain: I was born and raised in Paris, France and on the eve of the 2016 US presidential election, I relocated with my family to the southern state of Georgia for CNN International.

We were still unpacking our suitcases on election night, when the polls sent then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton home and Republican nominee Donald Trump to the White House. And I had barely gotten behind the anchor desk by the time Trump spoke of “American carnage” in his inaugural address, setting the tone for his presidency.

In the years that followed, I had a front row seat as Trump took a wrecking ball to presidential norms. As I watched the endless presidential transgressions, unrelenting media coverage, and bitterness on both sides of the political divide, it started to feel… familiar.

It reminded me of France a decade earlier, where then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy had reveled in incensing liberals, dominating the headlines, and borrowing from the lexicon of the far-right.

To say the norms of presidential behavior were broken during his first term would be an understatement. Highlights of Sarkozy’s colorful conduct as president include him telling a hostile bystander, “get lost, asshole!” and egging a heckling fisherman to “come down and say it!” His post-election holiday on the private yacht of a French billionaire — a no-no in French politics — was never quite forgiven. And his controversial push to strip French nationality from foreign-born citizens who committed grave crimes never made it past parliament.

Of course, he is not Trump. Sarkozy is a conservative career politician who knew the affairs of state inside out. He didn’t make a habit of insulting political opponents, promote conspiracy theories, or alienate France’s closest allies. And he was chummy with US Democrats: In 2008, he embraced Barack Obama, then a senator vying for the Democratic nomination, in Paris; in 2016, he favored Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Sarkozy even tried to pump the brakes midway through his presidency. Following a rout in regional elections and a waning popularity, he softened his tone — to “presidentialize himself” as the French press described it. More in control, less erratic, less confrontational. “We need authenticity, not histrionics. I must be minimalist,” Sarkozy told French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche, a year before his reelection bid.

But it was too late. And this is where the parallels matter most: After Sarkozy’s million-miles-an-hour presidency, France — like America now — was running on fumes. The country was exhausted. For many voters, the passions unleashed, the acrimony, the national soul-searching hadn’t been sustainable.

And Sarkozy’s raucous re-election campaign, like Trump’s today, did nothing to suggest a second term might offer something different. When your brand is firebrand, it’s hard to slow down. On all his signature issues, Sarkozy leaned in: Naked appeals to the far-right, a pledge to halve the flow of immigration because there were “too many foreigners in our country,” attacks on the media and diatribes against vague “intermediary bodies” impeding his government’s

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Michigan’s history of self-styled militia groups has long vexed law enforcement

According to court papers, Null was part of a group that called itself the Wolverine Watchmen, and they engaged in regular firearms training and discussed a variety of potential attacks on law enforcement, the state capital complex, and the governor.

Leaf — who knew Null to be the founder of a different group called the Michigan Liberty Militia — said he was generally supportive of self-styled militias, which he said often grow in numbers when people feel their rights are threatened. He sought to distinguish what such groups do from the allegations against Null and the others.

“There’s your militia duties, and if they did what they’re accused of doing, those are not militia duties,” said the sheriff, adding he was shocked by the charges. “I did not see this coming. Had I caught wind they were even talking about this, I would have stopped it immediately.”

Leaf said he occasionally ran into Null at Second Amendment rallies in the state, and was introduced to his brother, Michael, who was also charged Thursday. The sheriff said William Null “seemed to be a very concerned, straight-shooting guy.” During the Flint water crisis, Leaf said Null told him he drove to Flint to pass out water bottles alongside those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. He said Null’s group also met with Black Lives Matter supporters at a Grand Rapids protest and “were chasing out the agitators so they could have a peaceful protest.”

Since the arrests, Leaf has faced criticism not just for his past public support of Null and his compatriots but also for his suggestion, first made in an interview with a local Fox reporter, that the defendants might have been trying to make a citizen’s arrest of the governor.

“The point is that, were they going to arrest her, which they legally can, they can legally make a felony arrest . . . It was just trying to make a point of why we cannot jump to conclusions,” he said, adding later, “If there was ever a regret, that would be the statement, because it does not communicate well.”

Michigan’s history of groups like the Wolverine Watchmen has long vexed law enforcement officials.

In the more than two decades that Andrew Arena worked as an FBI agent in Michigan before retiring from the Bureau in 2012, “the 64 million dollar question,” he said, “was always: Why Michigan?

“We had representatives of every known right-wing, white supremacist, anti-government group out there. And why Michigan, we just could never tell,” said Arena, who now teaches at Western Michigan University’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School. “But obviously you got to deal with it.”

Michigan was one of the early strongholds of what was called “the militia movement,” which arose in the 1990s, and has typically manifested as paramilitary groups — often with no more than 10 or 12 members — that oppose the U.S. government, and believe it is actively involved in a conspiracy to seize Americans’ guns and enslave

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The beauty politic: South Africa’s long and complicated history with skin lighteners

  • South Africa remains the only country in the world to prohibit all cosmetic claims to skin bleaching, lightening or whitening. And we have a blend of Black Consciousness and science to thank for it.
  • But regulation hasn’t totally snuffed out demand for dangerous creams containing toxic chemicals.
  • Read this book extract from Lynn M. Thomas’s ‘Beneath the Surface: A transnational history of skin lighteners’

At a 1969 Durban marketing conference, one presenter, Mr A. Tiley, expressed an abiding optimism in South Africa’s skin lightener trade.

Tiley explained that another business consultant, a recent immigrant — likely from the United States — had offered a “misguided” prediction: political independence in Africa and the Black Power movement with its affirmation that “Black is Beautiful” signalled the trade’s long-term demise.

The country’s market was too strong and too distant from those political movements to feel their effect, Tiley insisted. Mockingly, Tiley asked whether Black Power activists could really change “purchasing pattern in the Republic of South Africa?” 

Tiley answered his own question by arguing that skin lighteners carried a “sex[ual]” rather than “political connotation”. 

Today, the sales of skin lighteners extend across Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The market for these products is expected to total US$12.3-billion (R211-billion) by 2027, according to industry research published earlier this year. This demand is despite the toxicities of many creams and antiracist activists’ condemnation of them.

Like other potentially dangerous beauty practices, skin lightening pits the promise of bodily enhancement against the threat of physical harm. 

In the 1960s, Tiley was right that desires to “look attractive and sexy” spurred skin lightener sales. What he missed was how those desires had long been shaped by cultural and political ties that crisscrossed the Atlantic, and by racial and gender inequalities. 

And over the course of the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa, as resistance to apartheid grew, Tiley’s questions would appear more naive than the newcomer’s prediction.

In the words of Khanyi Mbau: ‘Beauty is all a choice we have … [depending on] the size of the wallet’ 

About the same time that Tiley attended the Durban conference, students at the nonwhite medical school across town founded the South African Student Organisation (Saso). Saso leader Steve Biko and others were influenced by Black Power activists as well as,  for instance, African nationalism, Marxism and Frantz Fanon. 

Black Consciousness activists reworked transnational influences to craft a political ideology that addressed life under apartheid by imagining new ways of being under a barrage of images and messages that equated power and beauty with lightness and whiteness. 

Activists embraced the philosophy “Black is Beautiful,” which had begun to circulate in popular media and was often a direct retort to the pervasive presence of skin lighteners. 

Meanwhile, Michael G Whisson and William Weil, in a 1971 book, described how many people, regardless of skin colour, still believed that “light skins were better than dark skins”. This belief, they explained, had

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