Does our perception of skin colour over-ride that of nationality? Does a white Englishman relate more closely to a black compatriot or a white American?

Let us imagine that the cruel murder of George Floyd had occurred in Milton Keynes; that a white English policeman had knelt on the neck of a black British innocent man called Foreman Patterson. Would the United States have reacted as we have reacted in England to Floyd’s death? I would suspect that, because Patterson is not American, whatever the demonstrations in the UK, it would not have attracted much attention across the Atlantic. And we have a kind of precedent.

In 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes, an unarmed, innocent citizen was shot dead by police for boarding an underground train, following instructions from Metropolitan Police Commander Cressida Dick. The response was not global protests against murder by the police. On the contrary, Cressida Dick was showered with a succession of honours, promoted to the highest office in the police force and recently honoured as a Dame of the British Empire. This response goes way beyond the usual kind of cover-up by the Establishment.

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Apparently, Jean Charles was mistaken for a terrorist because he did not look British enough. This tragedy did not involve the gratuitous brutality meted out by too many American police but it was a cruel slap in the face for the family of Jean Charles. He happened to be a decent law-abiding white Brazilian. In the UK he has been long forgotten. What if he had been a US citizen? Demonstrations for and against causes always seem to start well before going too far. We have seen this with Women’s Lib, Gay Rights, Save the Planet and even Animal Rights movements. Protests turn violent and demands become more extreme and more inappropriate.

So it is with statues. There should be no statues to any person who has owned or traded slaves, regardless of how those slaves were treated or how philanthropic the slave owner had otherwise been. However, their crimes should not be removed from history books. This would be akin to Holocaust denial. I believe statues of leading figures who simply had controversial views should remain. In the democracy I was brought up in, these people are entitled to their opinion. If those views have not been expressed to incite violence, discrimination or oppression, they should remain as part of our history, warts included.

Black lives were not persecuted by Churchill, Gandhi or, certainly Mandela. In their differing roles, they were all champions of freedom. In the US “Gone with the Wind” is being questioned; in the UK it’s Fawlty Towers. How sensitive are our societies becoming?


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