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10th Jun 2020

John in Lockdown (inst.18)

by Burns Team Writer

Coronavirus lockdown 9th June 2020

New Zealand has completely lifted its lockdown – all getting back to normal. As Boris Johnson likes to remind us, we are world beaters so let’s lift our own lockdown ASAP. Problem is, New Zealand has had no new cases of coronavirus for two weeks; we’re still having thousands a day.

Plus our ‘world-beating’ Track and Trace system is nowhere near ready, if it ever will be. There’s a not-so-old saying in the USA, “It’s the economy, stupid!” meaning elections are decided by the state of the economy rather than anything else. The feeling is that Johnson, like Trump is looking at numbers in opinion polls, not numbers of infected and dying people.

Officials rush to condemn the ‘criminal damage’ when the statue of Edward Colston who made his fortune from slavery was toppled in Bristol and thrown in the harbour. According to one Guardian writer he now “sleeps with the fishes.” Has anyone suggested that it should be re-erected on its plinth?

There are now calls for removal of monuments in many other sites, to others who were active in the slave trade; or at least a plaque explaining what they did. That seems to me to be the way forward. An acknowledgement of our shameful behaviour and how our wealth was accumulated but, rather than exalting these figures, we can hold them up to the light for their abuses.

Here in West Wales there are now calls to remove an obelisk to Sir Thomas Picton in Carmarthen. Sir Thomas Picton, a Napoleonic-era soldier, was born in Haverfordwest in 1758, and was a controversial figure in his own time, with much of his wealth coming from dealing in slaves. Picton was notable for his cruelty while acting as governor of Trinidad, becoming known as the “Tyrant of Trinidad”.  I think we will see a lot more of these calls.

Boris Johnson (him again) has gone on record saying that “Britain has made huge strides in tackling racism but more needs to be done.”  Clearly he’s talking about himself.  Back in the day when he wrote for the Daily Telegraph, (was that before he got sacked for inventing stories?) he wrote about “pickaninnies with water melon smiles”. [Picanniny: the term is used in a derogatory and racist sense to depict black babies and small children].

He has since apologised and said his words were “taken out of context.” Oh, yes? It would be interesting to hear the context he intended when he wrote about crowds in the Empire greeting the Queen. He has built his career by appealing to a certain type of person and that has included the use of subtle racism.

I recommend a wonderful film called “The Green Book” which tells the story of a black musician who recruited a white chauffeur/minder for a tour of the Deep South. It’s based on a true story. The Green Book was a real travel guide for black people which told them where they would be accepted for the night, where they could be served food, even where they would be able to buy fuel.

You can picture the scene even nowadays if in the US a police officer stopped a car driven by a white man with a black man sitting in the back.  Imagine the impact back in the 1960s.

Stay safe,