Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Posted elsewhere

Ackee and saltfish from a very nice cookbook, "Tastes Like Home".

As I've said elsewhere, I post my best stuff at other people's blogs. I would encourage you to read Brother Peace Maker's excellent piece, "Never Owned A Slave". This was my comment:

"As a white man I’d like to ask a question. Why are white men so universally stupid? The answer is: because we have no incentive to stop being stupid. We have managed to so arrange the world that everyone else on Earth has to do our thinking for us. You all have to understand us, be aware of our needs, do all of the work we refuse to do and rush to comfort us if we feel disturbed. Not surprisingly, most of us like this arrangement just fine.

We have the minds of children or psychopaths. When we berate you for “playing the victim”, we are really saying, “How dare you squirm while we stand on your neck?”

OK, seriously, I was one of those people whose family “never owned a slave.” We were hardworking fishermen in the Canadian Maritimes. As far from the slave trade as you could get. Right?

Turns out those Canadian fisheries were subsidized by the British Empire to provide a cheap protein source for the vast slave plantations of the Caribbean.

My ancestors worked on ships called Grand Banks schooners, light fast sail powered fishing boats where cod could be salted and stored, then quickly transported south to the islands.

You know that traditional Jamaican fondness for “salt fish”? Yeah, that was my great, great grandfather’s work. My people lived off of the slave trade for generations.

For generations we were also members of the Anglican church. The head of the Anglican church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, oversees the church from an enormous complex of buildings called Lambeth Palace.

We in the church do not like to hear it mentioned that, at one time, The Church of England was the largest slave holder in the British Empire. Lambeth Palace was built with profits gained by working literally millions of slaves to death at an early age.

The fact is, when a great crime is perpetrated against humanity, the African slave trade, the destruction of the Native people of this continent, only a willing and deliberate fool could claim that there were no consequences involving their place in the modern world.

Now, stop bumming me out with all of that playing the victim. I’m going to go pretend that I come from simple fishing folk who lived in a tiny harbor community and worshipped at a humble wooden chapel. Oh, and I worked hard for everything I have."

I thought I was a pretty hip guy. I didn't know any of this stuff until I read "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World." That fucked my head up so bad that I had to read Adam Hochshild's "Bury The Chains-Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves".

You can learn something new every day.

Fisherman - The Congos


ib said...

I don't know, Jon.

And right off the bat, let me apologise for jumping straight in before I even read the piece you refer to at the top.

When I was a kid I fell out of love with my Sunday School teachers real fast. The first thing was the "Plagues" inflicted on the children of Egypt with Old Testament zeal. Surely not all those people must shoulder the guilt of their Pharaoh, I wondered ? Be quiet, I was told.

Later came the bullshit regarding "the sins of the fathers". Fuck you, I thought.

Now, of course I am aware of Scotland's role in the slave trade. All these Scottish surnames common in Jamaica just for starters. I am not aware that any of my ancestors were directly involved, but the possibility - of course - remains very real.

I am not about to accept personal responsibility for that number, man; in the same way I am not responsible for even my own father's actions should he have transgressed even in a minor way somewhere along the line.

That's not the same as using the "I was only following orders" line as a defense. The fact is, I wasn't fucking born, can you dig it ? I wasn't there, alright ?

Now. I am guilty of a whole lot of shit in my own brief personal lifetime. That's another story, entirely. That's something I can crucify myself on in the small hours of the morning, or torture myself over in the middle of making a cup of coffee.

Those European fathers were guilty of a whole lot of bad shit. And so were those Africans who enslaved or otherwise subjugated other tribes and sold them on to the white man for a profit. And those Pharaohs with their entourage of servants and slaves to toil on building monuments to their glory.

If you ask me, religion in whatever form is the great historical corrupter. I am not about to buy into that hoary old crap I kicked against as a child and bow my head to anybody in collective shame on account of a sperm donor somewhere down the line.

That said, this post raises a whole host of thorny issues. And that's all for the good.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Does that mean we can blame the hungry blacks for decimating the cod fishery off Newfoundland?

Jon said...

Ib, as I've said many times before, I'm just some asshole in a trailer.

Let me put this another way: Do they owe us a living? Of course they do. We live in a world built to the glory of a few at the expense of so very many of us. A lot of us are owed.

I assure you, my ancestors did not grow rich off the slave trade.

It still seems reasonable to start to address the problem somewhere and where better than with the historic crime of the African slave trade? Here in the US, the Capitol dome in DC was built by slaves, skilled workers who were paid nothing more than food and clothing and minimal shelter.

I could go on and on with the groups of people whose lives were sacrificed to Mammon. I am not trying to guilt trip anybody. I am trying to acknowledge the legitimate claims of an historically dispossessed people.

The point here is not that Ib, up in the projects in Glasgow needs to feel bad about himself. The point is that one percent of humanity owns the great majority of the world's wealth. I think the other ninety nine percent of us deserve to be remembered in their wills.

Beer, yes. That explains it.

ib said...

Well. Of course, you are right; i just prefer when you put it "another way". I am thin skinned and prickly to the last.

These flats I stay in represent public housing as the first rung on the ladder to shelter refugees and asylum seekers while they wait for an official outcome on their legal status; in effect, will they be permitted to remain in this country or face deportation. I have witnessed several families or individuals in that situation being moved after a year or so into better homes outwith my immediate area as the result of a policy to house a certain percentage of "ethnic minorities" in the regenerated area of the consituency in which I live. Often this means a newly built apartment or house with a back and front door. Since my own son is unable to go outside and play, naturally I feel aggravated. Do I blame those people who are rehoused ahead of me ? Of course not. Do I blame those political bodies responsible ? Of course.

Lately a minority of incoming asylum seekers have refused to take up residence initially in my apartment block, because they see themselves being forced into poor living conditions as a result of discrimination. From this, I can only deduce that they are used to better. This, of course, is purely an unsubstantiated observation.

You live in a trailer. I live in a shitty project.

Clearly we are poor white trash and, by definition, racist.

ib said...

Sometimes I howl and stamp my feet like I'm still three years old.

Jon said...

Or like a very frustrated grown up.

Jon said...

Ib, you said,

"Lately a minority of incoming asylum seekers have refused to take up residence initially in my apartment block, because they see themselves being forced into poor living conditions as a result of discrimination. From this, I can only deduce that they are used to better. This, of course, is purely an unsubstantiated observation."

This just reminded me that there have been a couple of times when I have endured some miserable situation and thought I was a hell of a tough guy.

I worked for about four years for a shitty charter bus company in SF. During that four years more than three hundred people quit or got fired from the job.

I also worked for six months at a "management" job in the trucking industry. It turns out that no one had stuck at that job for more than three months in over five years.

On reflection, I should have taken the hint.

I don't know what your situation is, but I've never gotten much benefit from being a tough guy.

Just a thought.

ib said...


I don't think I'm attempting to prove I'm tough, but could be there's a grain of truth in your observation.

I, too, have stuck with shitty jobs and bad situations in the past; my guess is that I am perhaps unwilling to engineer change. This in itself is a worse failing that trying to ride the storm just to demonstrate the size of one's balls.

Not laziness. But a form of weakness, certainly.

Fuck knows. But food for thought.

ib said...

Yep. Clap me in irons, and I'd have worked on the Capitol dome in DC for as long as it took until it was done; probably wouldn't even have tried to run.

Jon said...

Me too, just so long as someone came around and told me I was doing a hell of a job every once in a while. I mean, what can you ask for?

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