Friday, 22 March 2013

Apologies to a Portuguese-Canadian of African heritage for banging on about "dead white guys"

I just watched a bit of last night’s Question Time on BBC iPlayer in order to see the excellent education secretary, Michael Gove, duff up some ghastly female Labour MP taking ignorant sound-bite swipes at his rather good policies (f you have access, the whole programme is available here). You see, Gove – shockingly – thinks British children should learn boring stuff about grammar and maths and British history and British culture and that kind of stuff. Dreadfully insensitive and non-inclusive, of course.

Vaguely swarthy chap at the back, wearing a Big Sweater, sporting long frizzy hair, and speaking in a North American accent, piped up with this:
I agree with the concept of the body of knowledge – that is a very, very important aspect of being creative… What I find disturbing about what happens with Mr Gove at the moment is that very limited scope of what’s being given. That body of knowledge seems to be dead white guys. And that’s interesting if you’re a white guy. But if you’re a Portuguese Canadian living in England, of African heritage, it’s less interesting, and it becomes incredibly boring.
Okay, where to start? Well, as a Scots-Norwegian of distinctly non-African (or Asian or Oriental of anything other than Northern European) heritage who’s been living in England for some 54 years, what I think I want to say is – if you’re bored, bugger off, mate.

This is still a hugely, overwhelmingly white country whose culture and history and morality and modes of being and thinking have – until very, very recently - been shaped almost entirely by writers and poets and politicians and statesmen and economists and reformers and warriors and farmers and clergymen and academics – as well as millions and millions of ordinary folk – who have been 99.9% white. Shocking, I know – but I think I’m probably right on this one.

Judging from your accent – and despite your exotic antecedents - I presume you attended school in Canada, where I expect you mainly studied the exploits of dead Canadian guys, who would have been almost entirely white, although, to be fair,  some would have spoken with French accents.

If the point you’re making is that British schools should teach more foreign history, well, yeah, whatever – but history, like charity, starts at home. British children need to understand their own heritage before they can understand other people’s – any other approach would be bizarre and indefensible, surely. (Okay, I won't call you Shirley.)

If your point is that British children should only learn about living people, then that somewhat narrows the scope of the history curriculum.

If your point is that they need to learn more about the contribution of Africans and Indians and whatnot to the history of Britain – that’s poppycock. Where people of those enthnicities have made a contribution, they should be mentioned, but there should be no attempt to single them out for special attention. That would be deeply patronising, and it would merely serve to distort the truth. (I’m delighted to see that the attempts by Labour to big up Mary Seacole, a mixed-race nurse during the Crimean War, at the expense of Florence Nightingale, are to be reversed by the Michael Gove – Ms Seacole has been expelled from the curriculum.)

And the idea that only white people could possibly be interested in dead white folk is so horrible and so deranged, I think you quite possibly need to be shouted at for having voiced it.

But I suspect that what you really want is for British history – all history, in fact - to be rewritten so that the role of white Europeans during the past Millennium can be both diminished and demonised. But our kids have been force-fed quite enough propagandist nonsense about the past already.

If you find British history boring, that’s tough – I don’t see why Britons (or Europeans or North Americans or Australians) should be expected to rewrite their own stories simply to pander to those who can boast a non-European heritage, let alone merely to engage the attention of a foreign adult seemingly happy enough to live here but apparently uninterested in Wellington, Nelson, Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Elizabeth the First, Alfred the Great, Boadicea, Wordsworth, Raleigh, Peel, Disraeli, Reynolds, Turner, Cardinal Newman, William Wilberforce… and thousands  of other "dead white guys" (and gals, as you might have noticed - unless you were too repelled by the skin pigmentation of those I've listed to pay attention).

I’m sure the world has been enriched by the contribution of many Portuguese-Canadians of African heritage – but might I suggest you research their vibrant history in your spare time, rather expecting British boys and girls to take any interest whatsoever in them?



  1. Did I read right? Did you suggest that people, not rugs and vases, could be Oriental.


    1. You read right, e.f. Here, from a much earlier post, is my justification:

      '“Oriental”, very, very roughly, means “Yellow” – i.e. having skin which is of a slightly yellowish hue (Japanese, Chinese, Koreans etc.). This is dead useful, as it means we can employ “Asian” to refer to Indians and Pakistanis etc, whose skin isn’t even vaguely yellow. Furthermore, this leaves “South-East Asian” free for people from the Far East whose pigmentation is more light-brown than yellow – Burmese, Thai etc.

      Half of all immigrants to the UK are Asian - whereas less than 5% could be classified as Oriental. What is the point of using “Asian” to cover both groups? What, exactly, do the Chinese and the Pakistanis have in common, physically or culturally? Besides, given the notorious racism of both the Japanese and the Chinese, might they not feel offended at being lumped in with other races as all-purpose “Asians”? Aren’t they, in a sense, victims too (the answer, if you’re a liberal, is yes - anyone who isn’t white is, by definition, a victim.)'

      In the US, what do you call Asians? Can't be "Indians" or "Pakistanis", obviously.

      I'm convinced that Oriental is a perfectly non-pejorative, massively useful collective term, that has been adopted by Westerners, not because it offends Orientals, but because (for some incomprehensible reason) it offends liberals. For whom, as you know, I have the greatest respect.

    2. Hahah

      Seriously...Asian here refers to South-East Asians...Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.

      Indians, Pakistanis, etc...are all referred to as Indians...kinda like all soft drinks are referred to as Coke. That there might be something called a Pakistani or a Sikh or...what is this a quiz?

      This is of course a problem when you consider that we have Indians in this state as know in the cowboy movies.

    3. There you go - here, using the term Asian means you don't run the risk of calling a Pakistani an Indian or vice-versa, which, given they're constantly at each other's throats, goes down really badly.

      Anyhow, I suspect the Thought Police will be knocking on my door any day now, so my next post will probably be from prison, where, ironically, you don't find many Orientals. Mind you, if the police insult me by referring to me as Swedish or Danish, I'll be able to sue them for cultural insensitivity.