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.
‘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?’