Aug 182023

A fair few videos are popping up at the moment responding to a description of the Bamber Bridge incident. This post is mostly adding a few points from the British perspective.

US military authorities insisted that local British authorities impose a colour bar

The British pubs co-operated and stuck up signs saying “Black troops only” – which is obviously not what the US authorities wanted.

Well of course they did – under what kind of authority do the ‘US military authorities’ have to impose a colour bar? They are after all nothing more than guests in the country, so of course British pub owners would interpret it “perversely”.

It is nice to think that this is an indication that the British of the time weren’t racist. Wrong of course – Bamber Bridge is just a couple of hours away from Hartlepool where according to legend a ship-wrecked monkey was hanged for being a French spy. The British regarded themselves as better than anyone else (so just like everybody else then), but the presence of non-whites was very low especially in a small town without a port.

And besides, the British were told to be nice to visiting US troops and nobody mentioned that it wasn’t supposed to apply to non-white US troops. And of course there is sympathy for the underdog.

What Happened Afterwards?

At least the videos I’ve seen neglect to mention what happened after the incident. Except to say that many of the black troops were court-martialed.

But what also happened was that the general in charge (Ira Eaker) placed most of the blame on the white officers and MPs, merged the unit with other trucking units, and purged the new unit of racist and inexperienced officers. Which is supposed to have improved things considerably for black troops.

British Racism?

It is easy to assume that the British attitude during the incident means that the British aren’t racist. The fact is that black people were relatively rare in Britain during WWII and were most likely concentrated in the great port cities rather than a small village in rural Lancashire.

Immigration of black British from the colonies was strongly encouraged after the war, and with their arrival racism reared its ugly head. I would argue that the racism in Britain against black people was never quite as bad as in the USA, but I’m white, so what the hell do I know?

Posts leading out to the sea.
Into The Water; Stillness and Motion
Dec 182021

A while back something popped up on my Facebook stream claiming that Pushkin (Alexander Pushkin – the Russian poet) was black as a way of saying “look at all these incredible things blacks have done”. I don’t have a problem with that. I might just question the logic of classifying Pushkin as black.

Of course I also question the use of the colour of the dead stuff that keeps the squishy bits on the inside, to divide people into arbitrary categories. But we’ll gloss over that for now.

Pushkin was at least partially black because his great-grandfather (Abram Petrovich Gannibal) was black; that’s one sixteenth. So he was also 15/16ths white. Can someone be both black and white (presumably without stripes)? Of course the racists amongst us were the ones who set the standard for excluding people from the privilege of calling themselves “white”. And just to irritated the bigots, it pleases me to declare that Pushkin was white; and to avoid making those who look to trumpet the accomplishments of black people foolish., it also pleases me to declare that Pushkin was black.

Which is ridiculous of course, but that’s kind of what I feel about the whole obsession with skin colour anyway.

And finally, take a look at Abram’s bio – he’s probably more accomplished than his descendant Puskin.

King Alfred Looking Down At The Runners
Aug 282021

To be a nice person there are all sorts of things to avoid – racism, sexism, transphobism, ableism, and probably a whole lot more -isms. Which is really rather complicated but it can be boiled down to the very simple :-

Just don’t be an arsehole.

That’s it. No special magic, just treat everyone in the way you would like to be treated :-

  1. Don’t stick your nose into other peoples’ private sex life; it’s none of your business.
  2. If someone decides to transition their gender, don’t worry about it – just address them with their preferred pronoun and name, and job done. And whilst we’re about it (with particular reference to TERFs), don’t invent bullshit reasons to be an arsehole.
  3. Colour is just skin-deep. It’s a spectacularly dumb reason to be labeled an arsehole.
  4. Someone doesn’t share your religious belief? That’s their problem (or yours).

The list could go on and on.

But it can all be simplified – if someone isn’t directly causing harm to others, what they are up to is their business not yours. Just don’t be an arsehole.

Jul 192021

Of course it does.

But let us go a little deeper.

First of all, does race really exist? It is notable that the Wikipedia articles on race (1 and 2) distinguish between biological race and the definition of race as it applies to humans. The later seems to be a rather vague term defined differently in different places or circumstances and as someone who likes clearly defined terms the temptation is to go with the biological definition of race and declare that humans are all one race.

But people do insist it exists. So lets take a look at the “white” race; a supposedly monolithic race. But in reality it subdivides up into different “racial” subgroups – the Irish, Finns, Arabs, Jews, and the Romani have all been at times classified as non-white. At what proportion does non-white ancestry qualify one as non-white? In the US, the standard varied from 1/4, to 1/16, or any African ancestry at all (which excludes every single person from being classified as “white”).

Nothing illustrates that US “whiteness” is a qualification for a privileged position (“white privilege”) more than the one-way one-drop rule which although no longer part of the law is still widely accepted socially. If you have one drop of non-white “blood” (ancestry), you are non-white; yet the opposite doesn’t apply – one drop of white “blood” doesn’t disqualify a person from being black.

Which means that racism is little more than an excuse to divide us all into “them” and “us”. Which neatly leads on to the second point.

Many of these ‘isms – racism, excessive nationalism (and xenophobia), … – are just means to an end. To divide us up into “them” and “us” so we can blame “them” for everything that is wrong. Just like the school bullies, we can pick anything to divide people into “them” and “us” – wear glasses, be too tall or too short, gender, a built-in tan, … just about any stupid reason can be used.

With this in mind, racism is using an invented means to divide people just to bully one category. Silly isn’t it?

Lastly some of us have a suspicion that the fires of racism are stoked by those in power as a means of distracting the proles from the real enemy – unrestrained capitalism. Next time you wonder why that immigrant is allowed to steal a well-paid job from you, instead wonder why there aren’t well-paid jobs for both of you.

Standing On The Board

Yes racism exists, but it is as childish as schoolyard bullying and based on little more than the arbitrary grouping of people. And those who promote racism might just have a hidden agenda.

Jul 172019

Trump’s twitch. No not that one, the tweet about certain congresspeople “going home” (despite the fact that of the four women targeted, three were born in the USA).

Quite rightly it has been labelled as “racist” but without meaning to minimise that criticism, that is a personal insult to the four women (and we can get outraged on their behalf). But something that has been less pronounced: it’s also an insult to every single voter who elected those four women.

Trump was criticising those four women because they are criticising US government policy; as duly elected representatives and part of the US government, they are doing what they were elected to do. Criticising those women for doing their job is essentially saying they are not entitled to do their job and in turn those who voted for them are not entitled to their say.

And this attack on democracy is as important to highlight as the racism.