March 24, 2010
The Independent is a newspaper with intellectual pretensions, and unlike most British papers often uses words with more than two syllables. But so far as most of it is concerned it is fair to say what Truman Capote declared about the works of Jack Kerouac, “That’s not writing, it’s typing”.
One of the busiest typists is Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, whose appropriately exotic-homely name has become synonymous with the anti-racist sub-division of the global Complaining Industry (the Moaning-Industriously Complex). From her rarely still keyboard there vomits forth an almost daily (at least it feels like that) torrent of words impelled by high-octane outrage and oiled with self-satisfaction, interrupted only by sad head-shaking.
A Ugandan Asian, Yasmin was given shelter in Britain just before Idi Amin went postal, and she has been demonstrating her gratitude ever since by haranguing the naughty natives for assorted racisms and phobias, bad history, bad institutions, bad media, bad food, bad dress sense—you get the idea. Against all the institutionally racist odds, she has amassed awards and professorships for her loudness (sorry, outspokenness), for being a woman, for being an Asian woman, for being a left-wing Asian woman, and many equally impressive achievements. Her website asks plaintively: “Why does she irritate so much?”
With such competition, pretenders to the anti-racist crown are bound to find it tough going. But a hitherto unknown, Nick Gilbert has made a very promising beginning, “Is Boudicca a poster girl for intolerance and British nationalism?” (Clue: The question is rhetorical.) “Poster girl” gives a nice, accessible touch, to prove that history can be FUN!—while the phrase “intolerance and British nationalism” offers Indie readers enjoyable hours of tut-tutting over their frappes. Nick is worried:
“Should we really be touting Boudicca as a hero? Or does she represent the kind of nationalism and xenophobia that we should rail against?”
His answer is plain as piled pikestaffs, although he admits the insensitive Iceni had been provoked.
“It was justified to lead an army against the Roman forces.”
“If the motives of this force were good at first, they did not long remain so…widespread plunder, rape and slaughter occurred.”
Imagine that sort of thing going on during a war! Now gird yourselves for some irony.
“How ironic is it then that in the centre of our houses of parliament, cited as the symbol of civic freedom and welfare, that we have a statue dedicated to the woman who wanted to “ethnically cleanse” the British isles and to raze the burgeoning city that now commemorates her.”
Crikey. Is there, then, no logical reason Nick can see to celebrate her?
“There is, then, no logical reason I can see to celebrate her so much as the English/ British do…the word to explain the love of Boadicea is xenophobia. A red-haired, milk-skinned dame leading an army of men in tweed and woad against Jonnius Foreignus.”
Crikius! Nick’s insight reminds me of the conclusion reached by Yasmin and her 22 fellow Commissioners on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain in their 1998 Parekh Report:
“It is widely understood that Englishness, and by extension, Britishness, is racially coded. Race is deeply entwined with political culture and the idea of nation.”
Yasmin has a dazzlingly original suggestion to deal with this problem:
“We need to talk about race.”
But to return to Nick, and the vexing statue, which is
“…becoming rapidly out of date against our modern sensibilities.”
We are fortunate that there are great thinkers like Yasmin and Nick who can help us come to terms with our horrid past. What would you recommend, O Gilbert?
“Perhaps now it would be right to move it elsewhere, where it does not cast its shadow of violence and xenophobia onto the home of our government.”
But what, or whom, should replace the bronze of Boudicca? Ideally, it should be a representation of a single-minded woman who embodies modern sensibilities, and who will cast a less threatening shadow over legislators. Really, there is only one possible choice. Modest to a fault, she feels “there are those who want to put down this uppity brown””so I say why don”t we put her up instead? Step forward, Yasmin—your adopted country needs you!