Saturday, 13 June 2020

BLM Protests: Is Starmer Misjudging this Moment in History?

A man sat, staring at the severed hand and foot of his five year old child. The poor boy had not met his work quota for the day and this was his horrifying punishment. A punishment which was all too common place during the slave trade. The photograph of that moment is etched into my mind and will stay with me as long as I live.

Imagine that child's pain and terror in that moment and then imagine someone erecting a statue of the monster responsible. Imagine someone later saying it was "completely wrong" to remove such a statue.

The above image may be of Congolese slaves during the tyrannical reign of Belgian King Leopold II who the term "crimes against humanity" was literally coined for, but such an image is absolutely representative of transatlantic slavery which ended in 1807 before the arrival of cameras.

I have a five year old black son and the thought of someone hurting him in such a way is terrifying and unbearable. I would without hesitation kill any bastard who even considered doing that to him and I would kill everyone who helped them. Shit I would set the world on fire and so would you! Any parent would do whatever they could to protect their child. But to be unable to protect that boy, to be forced to watch that happening, that is sickening on a level I can't conceive.

The men responsible for the crimes of the slave trade should be burning in the fires of hell. This should not be a controversial statement. There should not be a debate, no weighing up the good against the monstrously bad. That's not how morality works. Why do I have to explain this to some of you?

We built statues to hell-bound slavers, to the worst of humanity, to bastards who would have severed the hands and feet of my boy if he was not a good enough slave. That these statues were ever constructed in the first place, let alone constructed well after the abolition of slavery is unacceptable and says so much about Britain. It sends a message some lives are considered less than others. It provides a perfect example of why the Black Lives Matter slogan is so necessary. 

We could have erected statues to the best of humanity instead of the worst, and those slaver statues are still standing today. That is not just offensive, it's chilling.

I have heard people say our country would not be the same without those slavers, that they built Britain, were great philanthropists, products of their time. Calling a man like Edward Colston who threw 19,000 slaves into the sea a "product of his time" is no less outrageous than calling a man who sent people to gas chambers a product of his time.

How can some people not see this? And why does the leader of the Labour Party seem eager to appease such people? To find a middle ground between right and wrong? 

Let's break this down, look at the reality, and then identify exactly who Starmer seems terrified of upsetting:

Firstly, to be absolutely clear, some crimes are so unforgivable, so completely and utterly monstrous they should never be played down. There is no balance needed here, no nuance, no scrutiny of the culprit's character. People know and have always understood cruelty. We understand we should not be cruel to humans. We understand we should not even be cruel to animals. We know all living beings can suffer so there is no excusing this, no saying slavers did not understand the humanity of those with a different pigment. It's bullshit. 

Slavers lived around their victims every day, saw their fear, saw them cry, saw them cower. Hell they often raped them, but you're going to tell me they were unable to see them as human? Slavers knew of their cruelty and it is absurd to suggest otherwise. There is no point in history when cruelty was justifiable simply because "it was a different time." And if you argue otherwise, you are confessing to the same callousness, the same desire to be just as cruel.

We would not erect statues of men who legally sent people to gas chambers. You know this. And you know why people excuse the statues of slavers. We all know why: Racism.

The leader of the opposition would appear to occupy a centre ground between racism and anti-racism, throw some criticisms either way, create some false parallels, and offer weak arguments in line with the subtle racists who bleat on about our history, even if he may not be in full agreement with such people.

Any conservative who cared about the preservation of history would be demanding the brutality of the British Empire be taught in schools. And yet the people who say we need statues to learn from the past take such a suggestion as an attack on our country, as unpatriotic.

If you understand your country was built on slavery, you don't excuse slavers for the achievements of their slaves. You highlight the shame, vilify the culprits, celebrate those who made changes for the better - and yet the apologists find a way to show pride in this barbarity. These slavers helped make Britain great, they say. We have much to thank them for. Let's not judge them by today's standards!

Only these are today's standards, clearly. Today in 2020 so many of us want to overlook slavery or claim the ends justified the means. And let's not forget every monster in history was a product of their time. Adolf Hitler was a product of his time just like Kim Jong Un is a product of his time. This is not a defence! 

Statues of these monsters are grotesquely offensive. Insulting. Abusive. They should never have been erected and should not be on public display, should not be glorified. They must be taken down. The how is irrelevant. And when people try for decades to use the proper channels, and their pleas fall on deaf ears, it is simply inexcusable for the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, to describe the removal of the Edward Colston statue as "completely wrong" and then lecture us on erasing history. When he does so he is siding with racists, even though that may not be his intention.

Starmer's pathetic words have prompted Labour MP Dawn Butler to respond on Twitter with: "I'm sorry but Activists were not completely wrong." As a BAME Labour MP, she should not have to correct her leader on this matter, but here we are.

The creation of that statue was completely wrong. If Britain wants to preserve history we should keep libraries open and teach school kids the truth, make sure the public know who the slavers were and what they did and that they deserve no credit for the achievements attributed to them. Instead conservatives brush the crimes of the empire's "heroes" under the carpet while accusing those who want to correct a whitewashed history of erasing history. Orwellian.

The leader of the Labour Party should understand this and I hope he will join the call to teach the truth of the British Empire in schools.

Starmer should stand in solidarity with the statue's removers, but instead he threw them under the bus using a pathetic legality argument. Would he say it was totally wrong for Rosa Parks to take that seat? Or for Iraqis to pull down the Saddam Hussein statue? Because those same arguments - legality and preservation of history apply.

Should laws which stand in the way of justice not be defied? Because every significant breakthrough in the civil rights movement came as a result of defiance of the law. Literally civil disobedience. Sir Keir Starmer would likely have condemned the illegal behaviours of Martin Luther King jr or Nelson Mandela. It seems he just doesn't get it. He is not a friend of BAME communities. He refuses to suspend racist bullies in his own party, alienates Black Lives Matter protesters and throw them under a bus. Yet he and his team are so reluctant to call out the clear racism of the US President or the Tory government.

Where is the representation of Labour's BAME members and core supporters?

Starmer seems oblivious to the fact times are changing, that under-50s are overwhelmingly shifting left, that we are not prepared to stand by and allow injustice and systemic racism to continue. He seems blind to the fact we are socialists, not moderates. And on those rare occasions when he does say the right thing, it's invariably too late, as though he is waiting for things to pass or consulting his focus groups before deciding what his principles are this week.

Starmer seems to be the white moderate Martin Luther King jr warned us against, the incrementalist who says he agrees with some of your goals but not your method of direct action. 

He is haemorrhaging the BAME vote, the youth vote, the left vote, and has already alienated northern heartlands with his ill-fated people's vote. He seems to be gambling all on winning over-50s conservative voters in large enough numbers to make up for these losses, and hoping enough of those he is alienating will reluctantly fall in line.

I'm not sure he realises just how large the gulf is, just how appalled we are by his apparent lack of principle, by his demoting of BAME MPs, by his saying whatever the focus groups tell him to say. He gives the impression he's an imperialist who is willing to overlook racism in his own party, throw protesters under a bus to appease the right and do little or nothing to appeal to his left wing base or stand up for justice.

Sir Keir Starmer seems determined to stand between the right and wrong side of history.

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