The More Things Change…

This year it’s Black Lives Matter. Last year it was Extinction Rebellion. Before that #MeToo, GM crops and gun control. Every year it seems there’s a new cause for us to take to the streets, or, if we can’t be bothered doing that, to social media where we can make our feelings known. Of course, the common people – you and I – have a voice. We have greater means of expressing it, more platforms on which to exercise it, than have ever existed before. No-one in history has had the means we have to express our outrage, opinions and grievances.

But so what? Whether we take to the streets, vlog, blog or tweet, the result, it seems to me, is the same: things stay pretty much as they are. Hardly anything changes as the result of our outcry and protest. Maybe a few statues are demolished, a handful of sexual predators jailed, but ultimately there’s no lasting change. Perhaps a tokenistic law is created, maybe the media involve themselves for a short time in the issue of the day, but before very long everything reverts to the way it was: black lives are no more improved, the police go back to their former ways of behaving (once no-one’s looking any more), children continue to be abused, the environment is still in crisis, there’s another mass shooting by an idiot who’s bought a gun too easily and politicians carry on acting as if they’re above the law. There’ll be a new cause to excite ourselves about next summer. And another the year after that. Today’s preoccupation will disappear just as quickly as the latest fashion or pop sensation.

Why is this, and  why are we largely ignored when we take to the streets or campaign on social media about the things that concern us? Why does our voice count for so little? We live in democracies don’t we, here in Europe and in the States; we have a right to be heard, to be listened to and be taken into account – don’t we?

Well, no. We don’t. No-one is obliged to listen to us. They don’t even have to pretend to, unless they’re politicians running for election and then they are only pretending. Even then we don’t really have the choice we think we do; we’re told we can vote for the candidate of our choice, but we can’t; choice is so severely restricted it’s hardly qualifies as a choice at all. We vote for whoever the parties have put up for us to vote for; for a package that dresses either to the left or the right, without nuance or balanced consideration of the issues, and very often with no long term view of what we need to survive and flourish. That’s why so many fail to vote; they know intuitively that the more things change, the more they stay the same – so why bother?

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The rest of us dutifully select from an already selected few: the millionaires, billionaires, career politicians and failed businessmen who claim they have our best interests at heart, who say they can manage us and make our country great again. Once they have power they forget about us – their lives are so far removed from ours that they can’t possibly relate to the way we ordinary people live – and what the most vocal of us say we want. We think we won’t get fooled again, as the Who say in their politically astute song, but of course we will: we are fooled again, and again and again. Every time.

To be continued.

Swing Low

This is my response to the way some in the UK have jumped on the bandwagon of the Black Lives Matter movement. I appreciate it is different in the USA.

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‘So it’s important we get out on the street and bring down the last vestiges of colonialism.’

‘Right. So how do we do that?’

‘We tear down the effigies of those who made their fortunes on the backs of black people. Colston in Bristol, Nelson’s Column, Earl Grey in Newcastle…’

‘I didn’t know Earl Grey owned slaves.’

‘Well, no, he didn’t. But he did fund a port in London somewhere and that port was used to bring in cotton. And who was forced to grow the cotton? Slaves!’

‘I see. Yet I think you’ll find it was Earl Grey’s government that abolished slavery in the British Empire, back in the 1830s.’

‘Was it? I didn’t know that.’

‘Obviously not. I agree, of course, that we shouldn’t be celebrating anyone who was involved in the slave trade, but how is vandalising statues going to improve the lives of black people today?’

‘It shows that we stand with them. It shows we disinherit our racist past, founded as it was on the exploitation of black people; on slavery.’

‘So you won’t be using sugar any more, or visiting the Tate? You won’t be drinking at a Greene King pub? Or driving your Mercedes and reading your Guardian newspaper?

‘I don’t see what that has to do with anything.’

‘No, you wouldn’t. Don’t you think Black Lives Matter, which, might I remind you, is an American movement, has been hijacked here in the UK by well meaning, largely middle-class white people with little understanding of the past? That smashing statues, boycotting Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – written, incidentally, by one-time negro slave – and anachronistically slotting people of colour into films and TV dramas, is really going to improve the lives of black people in this country today? If you do, you’re seriously deluded. We’re not a salve for your white conscience.’

‘Look, I’m no racist, you know that, but you just don’t have any understanding of what’s at stake here. Thank God there are white people like me to look after your interests. Now are you coming to this protest or what?’