Last night on the BBC, something so special happened that Brexit became insignificant

Eunice Olumide and panel on BBC QT
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On the 7 February edition of BBC Question Time, one intervention from polymath Eunice Olumide felt like a cultural revolution.

Something special happened

For about 40 minutes the show consisted of panellists and audience members squabbling endlessly about Brexit. Until host Fiona Bruce asked Olumide, an African and Scottish person, about the Liam Neeson debate. In response, Olumide spoke so thoughtfully about racism and capitalism that Brexit became insignificant:

The elephant in the room is the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, which nobody ever wants to talk about – despite the fact that it’s one of the most significant and horrifying points in history… Whereby you had… for 400 years people living in indentured slavery… When those people who were given freedom or civil rights in the ’60s… it’s very very recent history.

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An eloquent response to Liam Neeson

Neeson recently made international headlines by giving an account of a racist and violent reaction he had. Around 40 years ago, one of Neeson’s close friends was raped by a Black person. In response, Neeson initially held all Black people responsible and spent days seeking a situation where he could take out his anger on any other innocent Person of Colour.

Olumide said she thought it was positive that Liam Neeson told the truth. But she also called out such behaviour:

There does seem to be a… collective amnesia about how it is that People of Colour… came to certain parts of the world… I’ve been the victim of various persecution because of the colour of my skin. Now if I was to think to myself, oh because this person did this to me and they were white, than this means I wouldn’t be able to… interact with anybody practically in the entire country that I live in. So I think it’s… ridiculous… that you discriminate or judge anybody based the colour of their skin.

The issue with Black History Month

Olumide has a solution for tackling this “collective amnesia”. She called for the government to include education about slavery on the school curriculum:

The problem with that was that, we didn’t actually deal with any of psychological trauma not just to People of Colour but also to… white people who lived through that, who might’ve participated in that and who might’ve not actually believed in it. None of that is being discussed. We don’t discuss it in our education system. We have things like Black History Month which are like thrown on at the end, which should be part of our curriculum. So that all of us understand… I really feel that would reduce the amount of xenophobia.

It’s worth noting that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly pledged to increase the study of Black history in UK schools. On a visit to Bristol in October 2018, Corbyn said:

Black history is British history, and it should not be confined to a single month each year. It is vital that future generations understand the role that Black Britons have played in our country’s history and the struggle for racial equality.

Benefiting on the proceeds from slavery

Olumide pointed out that the UK government compensated the slave masters, not the slaves:

 And… for some reason none of those people were ever compensated in any way whatsoever… What happened was that the governments, even in the United Kingdom, actually compensated the slave owners as opossed to the people who were enslaved.

Olumide also offered specific details about how elites are still benefiting from the trade through legacy businesses and inherited wealth:

When those payouts were given, one of the gentleman was actually an MP… And there’s a number of different people. You’re talking about figures of like £65m in today’s money… £83m… paid out to replace… say 15,000 slaves.

She continued:

Capitalism, as we know it, is built on the back of slavery… In the 17th century, things like banking really only existed in London… It was actually invented for merchants… to borrow to… go and exploit human labour. And many of the banks that we use today, whether its Barclays or its Lloyds … they are still benefiting. Many families whether they like or not are living off the proceeds of crime essentially…

Governments are keeping people in the dark

Olumide finished by laying the blame predominantly at the door of 10 Downing Street and the wider establishment rather than ordinary people:

I don’t believe that human beings in their nature are born to be bad people… I think that a lot of time the… governments and the people that control us to a certain extent have chosen to operate this collective amnesia and not educate us properly on what has happened… that has actually led to this vilification of People of Colour…which we still live with to this day.

On 7 February, Olumide single-handedly raised the debate to a level not often seen on BBC Question Time. Her thoughtful account of the root causes of today’s racism and inequality changed the tone in the studio. It was brilliant to see.

Featured image via Philosoraptor/ YouTube

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  • Show Comments
    1. While decrying racism I might point out the even in the 2001 census only 650 people identified as black In the whole of Northern Ireland. Given an even lower number in the region 40 odd years ago, let alone in just Ballymena, it would not have been at all surprising if Neeson had met the object of his anger. That does not excuse his actions but he cleared his conscience and started a dialogue by talking about it.
      I’m also always wound up whenever the existence of black people in these islands is linked solely to the slave trade. Vast numbers of Roman occupiers dating back 2000 years were black. They didn’t all go back to North Africa. Then after the dark ages, North African Moors lived here in historically significant numbers that they appear in records and literature. Ironically perhaps, around the time of Neeson’s disclosures, as a teen I dated a beautiful Afro Carribbean girl, much to the violently enacted chargrin of her two brothers.
      We lasted a few months before I considered further threats and escalating violent episodes to be too risky and in any case our relationship was harming hers with her family.
      Rage and racism in my very personal experience, is not at all one sided.

    2. Last night on the BBC, something so special happened that Brexit became insignificant
      This mantra in this program is also going on in Tory Govt now.
      Over brexit deals like Ms May C*** withdrawal bill that sell us out
      to E.U. plus N.I. D.U.P. party whimes (over broader problem)
      1–Like they have failed us leave voters on E.U. mees
      2– They then go into denyle on their failing us British voters
      3– When confronted in H.O.Commons by over parties they
      start on Labour over racism within the Labour party to avoid question on their failing to deal with E.U. 27 Country right.
      4– Point of racism the Tory Govt need to remember what they did in
      Lancashire AREA of Pendle they reinstated racist Tory Cllr party member just to win seat in May 2018 local election here.
      So for them to win full control like they did proves their party follower are racist as they voted for the racist Tory Cllr back to their seat when Tory party suspended them all before May election in 2018.

      So “I as a resident of Pendle area say to Ms May you need to look at your own party members before having a go at Labour party member o.k.
      FINALLY!
      Just so you all know “I am a free voter No ties to any party in power or out of power “I also pay No party fees to any party to vote freely.
      So “I do look at all sides of a coin all 3 sides that is
      1– heads sides
      2– tails sides
      3–the rime
      Before “I vote at all plus read all parties MANIFESTO PAPER FIRST
      unlike parties in Parliament that do not look or listen to voter now.

    3.  Eunice Olumide has an important point to make but I wonder if she goes far enough. Naturally her focus is on people of colour and the urgent need to address this issue in our schools and to acknowledge history, all history. But discrimination and exploitation go much deeper than this one issue. From as far back as we know people belonging to specific races, colours, creeds, orientation have been exploited and discriminated against. It’s almost as though we need a “them and us” to function.

      What we are taught in schools about history is crucial to the views we hold later in life. No matter which nation we are born into the history we are taught in schools tends to glorify our past and rationalise the ignominies we have all been guilty of. I am from Ireland living with my English wife in England. We are both amazed at what we were separately taught as children in our respective schools and how little we knew of the good, the bad, the ugly of each others’ history. On the whole each of us is taught what is seen as glorious about our respective histories and very little, possibly nothing, about what was ignominious.

      Unless a nation has the courage to look rationally at its history and include an accurate account in its history lessons in schools I fear we shall continue to inculcate a “them and us” in our children. It would be a brave and courageous nation that flew in the face of the status quo and took a more responsible approach. Such an approach would, I believe, go a long way to removing discrimination and exploitation from our society.

    4. I liked the words of Eunice as she is unafraid to speak out directly to a topic, and has noticed there is something healing , and learnable for people when they do so. Hence unless we discuss issues unafraid we will never learn from them. She is courageously civilized.
      To speak out is in essence essential for us to feel civilized, and the rights we have created for ourselves allow us to do this.
      I spoke to a woman who suffered under Communist rule is eastern europe who said the most difficult thing to suffer through was not being able to speak out her mind socially.
      The reformation of 1516 with Martin Luther was basically about speaking out to God without anyone telling you what to say.
      I think this need to speak out is a deep attribute of our humanity.
      In Germany they teach what happened to create the rise of Hitler, and the terrible consequences which followed in school.
      They are learning the mistakes of the past. Instead of pretending there is nothing to discuss as one hears so often from government when things go wrong.
      Sensible.

    5. Broadening the mind does give one a satisfying feeling as Eunice Olomide has done.
      Thank goodness for her courage.
      Whereas 10 Downing has narrowed the discussion to the point where everyone is going crazy.
      No discussion of the Issue seems possible but what is controlled by May.
      One reads in the Irish times essays about what had happened in the “Troubles”. Yet never a word spoken by the Tories, with only the mind numbing “Backstop” word heard repeatedly with a slip up about Northern Island being a colony.
      Was watching on the net the Peasants Revolt in 1318, and after it was repressed by the Lord’s Soldiers also had this Amnesia about it.
      One could safely say that those who are intersted in pursuing this collective amnesia are not interested in learning from their mistakes, nor do they care about the consequences of people dying.
      So 700 years later the same game is still played out.
      Eunice is onto it, and it would be enliving to see this approach carried to the Austerity Economics Debate.
      Life in general!
      I’ve read conservations from many brilliant people living today in the UK, so why aren’t people like Ms. Olumide heard more often?
      I’d say its a controlled conversation by leaders/media who are wierded out on power and willing to sacrifice the public good to a fate they determine is good for us.

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