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Thread: Looking at history with a modern lens

  1. #31
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    I'm finding the framing of this as - as in the title of this thread, as it happens - very interesting. A lot on the right have spent a lot of time over many years decrying "cultural relativism", but we're not really talking about that here. Who's being "relativist" about morality in the statue debate? Is it those who say slavery is always wrong, in the past, now, and forever, or is those saying we need to judge these figures by the standards of the time, and weigh up the positive against the negative?

    It's also very very frustrating that editing old sitcoms has been folded into this debate, because that's not what this was about last week! The statue of Colston came down because for years and years, locals - including local politicians like the mayor - had been stymied by Bristolian organisations and institutions which have a vested interested in the Colston "brand". It was a widely supported, grassroots (if you like), democratic revolt against an unacceptable honouring of a slave trader in the centre of a large city. Activists and academics who have for years been arguing that the UK has a troublesome relationship with its past are finally getting significant time to put their case on the airwaves and in the printed press, and other statues and monuments - which are specifically under discussion here because they are designed to honour historical figures, not educate us about what they did - are under review. People have been talking about what they were taught about the Empire in school, and there's even been the first serious discussions of reparations that I can remember in a long time. The fact that we're now having open, complex debates about the legacies of life-long racists - who nevertheless were also, as in the example of Churchill, passionate advocates for liberal democracy - is a fantastic thing, because through these debates being had, warts and all, we all benefit through learning and education. History is always more complex and nuance than a statue can convey.

    But what's happened over this week has been that this debate has been diverted into a different, parallel culvert, where the conservative and liberal culture warriors who make up most of the professional commentariat are more comfortable fighting back - because it's been the "centre ground" for debates about racism in public life in the UK in recent years. The BLM movement has nothing whatsoever to do with staking out the boundaries of acceptable comedy (what possible point is there in debating if blackface and the N word are acceptable?!), nor is it about "censorship" vs "free speech" or anything like that. It's about the ongoing deaths in police custody across the West of people of colour - and specifically and especially black people - as well as the ways in which the public sphere, from politicians to school curricula to debates on LBC, fails to acknowledge, respect, and address that as a reality and not just an unfortunate niche concern. As part of that, it necessarily demands that we ask ourselves what it is that we as a country decide is appropriate to not just memorialise - Auschwitz is an especially poor taste comparison to make here, because that is a memorial to those who died there, and a site of ongoing education about the dangers of fascism and anti-semitism - but also to celebrate in our works of public art.

  2. #32
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    Not intended as whataboutery but the racism from both sides of that time ought to be challenged - the Beveridge Report which laid the groundwork for the welfare state was outrageously racist. The advancement of (explicitly) the white man features prolifically. All too often at the moment we see cognitive gymnasts blurting "ew Tory scum" and airbrushing what they don't want to see and vice versa. It's easy to go after things you're already in disagreement with but if this is true and sincere introspection people will need to be prepared to be uncomfortable.

  3. #33
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    Indeed. Attlee, and then Churchill again as PM for a final time, both made horrendous decisions as they both tried to stop the Empire falling apart as well. There is no glory or winning side to be picked if this is viewed through a party political lens.

  4. #34
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    Don't view it through a political lens then, view it through a human one
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  5. #35
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    Well, I said "party" political. I don't think you can separate the personal and the political here.

    If you're a black person living in Bristol, for example, politics happened to your ancestors when they were enslaved and shipped across the Atlantic, and then politics continued through every day you had to walk through your city past a statue of the man who did that to them...

  6. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by proslo View Post
    I'm finding the framing of this as - as in the title of this thread, as it happens - very interesting. A lot on the right have spent a lot of time over many years decrying "cultural relativism", but we're not really talking about that here. Who's being "relativist" about morality in the statue debate? Is it those who say slavery is always wrong, in the past, now, and forever, or is those saying we need to judge these figures by the standards of the time, and weigh up the positive against the negative?

    It's also very very frustrating that editing old sitcoms has been folded into this debate, because that's not what this was about last week! The statue of Colston came down because for years and years, locals - including local politicians like the mayor - had been stymied by Bristolian organisations and institutions which have a vested interested in the Colston "brand". It was a widely supported, grassroots (if you like), democratic revolt against an unacceptable honouring of a slave trader in the centre of a large city. Activists and academics who have for years been arguing that the UK has a troublesome relationship with its past are finally getting significant time to put their case on the airwaves and in the printed press, and other statues and monuments - which are specifically under discussion here because they are designed to honour historical figures, not educate us about what they did - are under review. People have been talking about what they were taught about the Empire in school, and there's even been the first serious discussions of reparations that I can remember in a long time. The fact that we're now having open, complex debates about the legacies of life-long racists - who nevertheless were also, as in the example of Churchill, passionate advocates for liberal democracy - is a fantastic thing, because through these debates being had, warts and all, we all benefit through learning and education. History is always more complex and nuance than a statue can convey.

    But what's happened over this week has been that this debate has been diverted into a different, parallel culvert, where the conservative and liberal culture warriors who make up most of the professional commentariat are more comfortable fighting back - because it's been the "centre ground" for debates about racism in public life in the UK in recent years. The BLM movement has nothing whatsoever to do with staking out the boundaries of acceptable comedy (what possible point is there in debating if blackface and the N word are acceptable?!), nor is it about "censorship" vs "free speech" or anything like that. It's about the ongoing deaths in police custody across the West of people of colour - and specifically and especially black people - as well as the ways in which the public sphere, from politicians to school curricula to debates on LBC, fails to acknowledge, respect, and address that as a reality and not just an unfortunate niche concern. As part of that, it necessarily demands that we ask ourselves what it is that we as a country decide is appropriate to not just memorialise - Auschwitz is an especially poor taste comparison to make here, because that is a memorial to those who died there, and a site of ongoing education about the dangers of fascism and anti-semitism - but also to celebrate in our works of public art.
    You have worded it far better than I ever could have.

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    History is forever manipulated and always will be, the amount of historical events and people who aren’t exactly what you’d think of them.
    Pulling down statues of slave traders or those who’ve committed atrocious acts I’ve got no problem with. But I would say place them in museums and give each person a balanced explanation of who they were.
    Don’t erase history, accept its there and you can’t change it all you can do is learn from it.
    Also blaming and hating people from certain countries because of acts committed by the leaders of their country many generations before their birth plus the majority of people’s ancestors would have had zero influence on any decisions made at that time.
    Education is the key no one is born with racism, prejudice or the ability to stereotype. All are learnt from home life, media and your social surroundings.
    As a white male living in Britain I’ve never experienced racism so I can’t comprehend how it must feel or how it then makes you feel about the world around you.
    As said education from an early age is key.

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    We do have a lot to do in this country, but I do think we are easily one of the best countries when it comes to attitudes and equality.
    )

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    Sums it up quite well
    )

  10. #40
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    I'm in the middle of the documentary "The Australian Dream" which is about the racism AFL player Adam Goodes faced and there are certainly parralels with the UK today in how they don't really want to discuss the issue of racism and try to erase the history of Australia and how they treated the indigenous people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tredman View Post
    We do have a lot to do in this country, but I do think we are easily one of the best countries when it comes to attitudes and equality.
    Totally agree
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  12. #42
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    Treated? Believe me, the way the aborigines are treated now is still appalling and openly discriminatory.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jd1981 View Post
    History is forever manipulated and always will be, the amount of historical events and people who arenít exactly what youíd think of them.
    Pulling down statues of slave traders or those whoíve committed atrocious acts Iíve got no problem with. But I would say place them in museums and give each person a balanced explanation of who they were.
    Donít erase history, accept its there and you canít change it all you can do is learn from it.
    Also blaming and hating people from certain countries because of acts committed by the leaders of their country many generations before their birth plus the majority of peopleís ancestors would have had zero influence on any decisions made at that time.
    Education is the key no one is born with racism, prejudice or the ability to stereotype. All are learnt from home life, media and your social surroundings.
    As a white male living in Britain Iíve never experienced racism so I canít comprehend how it must feel or how it then makes you feel about the world around you.
    As said education from an early age is key.
    The irony of this being (this is what I think people are missing, not you specifically) that this country and its education system has done so much to erase the history of the British Empire and paint it in such a different light. The pulling down of those statues (which I agree with you on), has engaged people with the history around it far more than my school ever did for example.

  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paddingtonwolf View Post
    Treated? Believe me, the way the aborigines are treated now is still appalling and openly discriminatory.
    Poorly worded, sorry. I know there are still huge issues and it's awful. I meant how they colonised Australia. Not an area I am that well educated on so this documentary is a good one for me to watch.

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    No surprise that the fat twat in No 10 has come out to bat for Churchill today.
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    i'm against making idols out of mortals tbh and this whole situation is a good demonstration why, serving as a distraction from real everyday issues.

    if statues of historical persons are put up then they could be for a finite life and then removed to a museum regardless of who it was.

    the statue of the slaver going up (I know nothing about him btw) sounds like it was for dubious reasons. quite why it has remained in place is beyond reason.

    similarly it sounds like the reasons for potential removal of baden-powell are dubious given the society norms at the time. don't most people know him for the scout movement not as a champion of dodgy politics or for homophobia? maybe i don't know how much he may have championed certain things. but if he got sent to scout museum after 50 years max it would be less of an issue.

    reality is that if you put up a statue of someone who it turns out did have dodgy views or who was politically divisive or who was just a twat, it will always be a target to someone.
    it is not that I have no past. rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.

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    The statue first went up because of the philanthropic work Colston carried out in Bristol. Of course the money that philanthropic work was financed by came from slaving, but at the time that the statue was commissioned slavery would have been some years from abolition even in this country I suspect.
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    I tell a lie - it appears the statue was commissioned in 1895, and the Slavery Abolition Act was 1833. Bizarre.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deutsch Wolf View Post
    No surprise that the fat twat in No 10 has come out to bat for Churchill today.
    Its an absolute easy deflection though using Churchill. His is not the only statue being protected ahead of the planned weekend protests but give all the attention to that in media. Regardless of any racism etc from Churchill all people will care about is his standing as a War Time Leader. The majority of the country are then disgusted by the actions of the protests and even think the box put over his statue is the start of the process to remove it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paddingtonwolf View Post
    I tell a lie - it appears the statue was commissioned in 1895, and the Slavery Abolition Act was 1833. Bizarre.
    Not bizarre at all. Towards the end of the Victorian era it was clear that Britain's hegemony as the world's most powerful empire was under threat, and there was widespread anxiety that the end was inevitably coming soon - France, Russia, and Germany had been long-time rivals that had each managed to compete with the UK more and more consistently, but the US had by that point become the world's largest industrial economy as well. There was a huge amount of soul-searching among the political and cultural elite of the day about what made the country "great", and what could be learned from past examples of greatness in order to maintain greatness in the future. And the Victorians loved public philanthropy as one of those things they liked to venerate - this was before the evolution of the modern welfare state, and it became seen as a duty for the upper classes to bestow the lower ones with public works and buildings as an act of charity. Colston was an obvious choice for the city leaders of Bristol, using that perspective.

    It's kind of what always happens with statues of the famous and infamous. Some get put up immediately after a person dies, but a lot of them come along a lot later as future generations seek to venerate past icons as a way of reflecting their own values of the present, and what they wish to use to inspire themselves for the future. A nation's history is constantly being rewritten like this, both in history books and on the street - except monuments and statues are purely propagandistic. Ironically, the UK isn't used to actually experiencing this frequently at home, though, because it's never had a true political revolution (or revolutions). In Spain or France or Germany, or in places like Ireland and India which used to be British colonies, renaming streets and replacing/moving statues with the changing winds of history is not itself controversial - the debates are about what to replace the old with, not whether replacing the old is a thing that could and should be done at all, for the most part.

    Back in 2014, when the first wave of this happened in the US with the original wave of BLM protests, there was a wave of Confederate statue desecration. Most of those statues were put up around the same time as Colston's. It was a conscious attempt to rewrite history and create a sense of southern glory and pride, and to rehabilitate the reputations of generals and politicians who had fought to preserve slavery. They were paid for, commissioned, and designed by pressure groups set up by the elderly children and younger grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the Southern white elite class which had lost the Civil War - and a lot of them came down incredibly easily, because they were usually made on the cheap. If you watch videos of people toppling them, they tend not to fall over complete, but instead fold in the middle because often they're actually hollow.

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    Proslo I never realised you were such a statue expert, have you been hiding your light under a bushel up to now ?
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    Hah no - I just read up on this when topplings started happening a few years ago. Good article here, for example: https://qz.com/1054062/statues-of-co...-in-the-north/

  23. #53
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    https://twitter.com/NeeksQuamina/sta...802191360?s=20 yeah let's not pat ourselves on the back too much about being 'better' than other countries towards equality

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    Looking at history with a modern lens

    Quote Originally Posted by YoungWolf View Post
    https://twitter.com/NeeksQuamina/sta...802191360?s=20 yeah let's not pat ourselves on the back too much about being 'better' than other countries towards equality
    The point I made was relative. I traveled all over the place, we are not good by any stretch but we are a shit load better than most countries.
    )

  25. #55
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    Quote Originally Posted by tredman View Post
    The point I made was relative. I traveled all over the place, we are not good by any stretch but we are a shit load better than most countries.
    I know, but being better doesn't make it alright (I know you know that). I just don't think we should allow any complacency to creep in because of that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paddingtonwolf View Post
    I tell a lie - it appears the statue was commissioned in 1895, and the Slavery Abolition Act was 1833. Bizarre.
    yep, surprised me too. not like they wouldn’t know about him. I got no prob with statues like that getting trashed, law or no law. if you don’t want it trashed, take it down.
    it is not that I have no past. rather, it continually fragments on the terrible and vivid ephemera of now.

  27. #57
    Quote Originally Posted by YoungWolf View Post
    I'm in the middle of the documentary "The Australian Dream" which is about the racism AFL player Adam Goodes faced and there are certainly parralels with the UK today in how they don't really want to discuss the issue of racism and try to erase the history of Australia and how they treated the indigenous people.
    Australian laws gave the governments an extraordinary level of control over every aspect of Aboriginal people's lives, including their personal finances, where they lived, where they worked and how much they were paid.
    Cosy consensus makes for a boring forum.

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    My sister in law is a Queenslander. She chose a more expensive school for the kids as there wouldn’t be any “abos” there. I was fucking horrified. I like her but the attitude seems so prevalent and they genuinely can’t see anything wrong with their views. It’s a massive black mark for me about ever going to live there, which is a shame as there is a huge amount to love about the country.
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    So apart from massive racists and bugs that kill just by looking at you, its OK?

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    Lovely scenery. Full of killer everything, but lovely.
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    2. Low Hill at Christmas

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