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By Jason Michael
HIGH CAMP AND PATHETIC, the Proms in the Albert Hall is an annual evening of British nationalistic superciliousness employed by the establishment’s artistic elite and the state broadcaster to inject some hardcore ‘patriotism’ dressed down as musical pantomime into the docile elements of the plebeian class. This is how the English do propaganda. The rest of the world doesn’t understand it. The closest we can imagine is the Waffen SS doing a march past singing Erika while wearing red noses and oversized yellow clown shoes. The Proms, like Royal Weddings and that patronising little chat the queen gives at Christmas, is something the thinking person avoids. But this year it has grabbed our attention. Due to sensitivities about Britain’s imperial past or because of coronavirus – the BBC is yet to make up its mind – the lyrics of Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia have been ditched in favour of orchestral versions.
Again, this isn’t something most of us would have noticed or even cared about had it not been for the stink the Brexit-addled far-right made over this slight to their dignity. Boris Johnson – talking about Nazis in red noses – leapt straight in with both feet, saying that it’s time we all got over the cringe surrounding Britain’s history. Eamonn and Ruth Holmes on This Morning had Femi Oluwole on to talk about the racial sensitivities around slavery in Rule Britannia, presumably because he is black, and, to make at least some of the counterpoints, Nigel Farage – the fascist without the red nose and big shoes. You can guess what happened; gammon chops Eamonn kept shouting over Femi while doing that shaky thing with his wrist watch and Farage, always on cue, gave all the appropriate dog-whistles to his yellow-toothed pals down the Tapped Admiral.
What was obvious and odious in this awful interview was the fact Eamonn had been coached. He had a number of set pieces at the ready, and each one was more disgusting than the last. Out of nowhere he began cutting Femi off whenever he attempted to speak about Britain’s history of slavery, and in doing so he introduced a new alt-rightism, ‘the S-word.’ It took a moment, but eventually it dawned on me what he was doing. He was deliberately mirroring the convention of masking the inherent violence and racism in a particular racial slur with the letter ‘N,’ the N-word. Sickening, sure, but quite clever. In doing this, the producers of the show knew they could at once rob an outspoken black anti-racist activist of the language he needed to talk about historical injustice and its present consequences and mock – yes, mock – the too ‘PC’ masking of hate speech with a letter. Eamonn Holmes, a vile troll at the best of times, had hit a new low.
Then with a massive grin on his face he pulled out Amhrán na bhFiann, the anthem of the Irish Republic, to highlight that it too contains a reference to slavery, before asking Femi if it too should be banned for sensitivity reasons. This point may require some background. Eamonn Holmes is Irish, but he’s from the British statelet of ‘Northern Ireland,’ that corner of the island of Ireland Britain has continued to occupy. And neither does Holmes have much sympathy for the Republic, the 26-counties which won their independence from Britain. Eamonn is a unionist. Of course he would jump at the chance to take a swipe at Ireland, a former British colonial possession. But there was a problem with this. While Amhrán na bhFiann does mention slavery – Faoi mhóid bheith saor, seantír ár sinsear feasta Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill, this is not a reference to Irish people enslaving others. The reference is to England; that Ireland will no longer be a home to British despots or their Irish slaves. Considering the genocide of the famine and the export of young girls from workhouses to Australia and other British colonies, this is a fair use of the language of slavery.
But regardless of the failed whataboutery and the gaslighting, the real question was whether or not the lyrics of Rule Britannia were racist. James Thomson published the original poem, part of the larger work Alfred, in 1763 – a time when the British Empire was cutting around the world in big bottoms stealing land and murdering and raping people who did not have the technological wherewithal to defend themselves. Here’s the first verse:
When Britain first, at Heaven’s command
Arose from out the azure main;
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
‘Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
‘Britons never will be slaves.’
Credit where it’s due, the greatest obligation of any state is to defend its subjects or citizens; and any call of the state to ensure its people will not themselves be enslaved is pretty good. But this was written at the height of Britain’s transatlantic slave trade, a period of time when the British state was accumulating vast sums of money from the profits of trading human cargo from West Africa to the Americas. One can even see the jolly crew of a slave ship belting it out mid-voyage while below decks, chained up like animals and packed like coffins, terrified African women, men, and children tried to make sense of what was happening – all the while hoping they would not be next to be dumped alive and still chained into the brine if another squall arose. As songs go, this one is bloody disgusting. It says all we ever need to know about the British imagination. And this all had the sanction of England’s God and its guardian angels – a devil if ever there was one and all its demons.https://twitter.com/jetpack/status/1298739172061130754
Still, this isn’t what it’s all about. Apparently, this is an innocent song about protecting poor Britons from Barbary pirates. Well, this is how William Angus Tait sees it, a young chap who wrote an undergraduate dissertation on the subject while studying at ‘a top ten uni.’ He and British people like him who studied British history at British ‘top ten’ universities do not seem to grasp the fact this story about North African pirates enslaving white people is a myth. This is not to say it never happened, it did. But the events were transformed into the myth of white slavery to legitimise Britain’s own imperial-colonial adventures; a real history that saw the invention of ideological anti-African racism and chattel slavery. The white slave narrative was always a British imperial Orientalist masturbatory fantasy which allowed for the manufacture of a new kind of anti-African propaganda; the naked white girl enslaved, a pearl white naked female body being gawked at and pawed at by dark and sullen – evil – African and Arab traders.
There is no escaping the racism in Rule Britannia, a cultural weapon of British racial supremacy that has been deployed against Irish Catholics in the six counties, against black and brown immigrants and asylum seekers in England, and against those now branded ‘traitors’ by the Brexiteers in every part of the United Kingdom. This is a truly ugly song, almost no different from the innocent lyrics of the marching music used by the SS and other ‘patriotic’ tunes and anthems used by racial states around the world to impress on the dominated their subject status. British people are always telling us how Britain has always led the way – another myth, but if they really want to join the peloton, they might want to think about dumping all this anachronistic baggage and grow up.
Nigel Farage Clashes With Political Campaigner Over Rule Britannia BBC Row
3 thoughts on “Britain’s Guide to Masturbation”
Thanks for this Jason! Nigel Farage called Femi Oluwole an extremist. I think Farage is the extremist here. Having lived in West Africa and South Korea I have experienced first-hand the effects of imperialism and colonialism in a “developing” country and a recently “developed” country, and the continuing damage being done by the daughter of Imperialism and colonialism, neo-imperialism and neo-colonialism. Multinational corporations with the cooperation of corrupt presidents and government ministers keeping those countries poor and exploiting their poor populations; the World Bank and International Monetary Fund extracting interest from loans and Western Countries extracting more money than the “aid” that they give; more money is extracted from Africa than what is invested in Africa and “aid” that is given.
Being a Scot, I grew up under the imperialist and colonialist rule of the English Government of the UK. In primary school we were taught to sing Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory. We learned little of Scottish history, and nothing about what our Scottish soldiers of the Empire did in India, and Kenya. We were told stories from the Wars of Independence; Bruce and the spider, Black Agnes of Dunbar. We were taught that the Union with England was England rescuing us from our own profligacy in the Darien disaster. We were taught from within an English imperialist framework and from an English Colonialist perspective.
I hope Scots will eschew those English Nationalist songs!
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Reservations about the jingoism of the Proms goes back a long way. I recall one of their regular conductors, Sir Malcolm Sargent (look, there’s his bust in the corner!) when asked if he enjoyed the enthusiasm of the audience on the last night remarking rather drily that the Proms audience was ‘very self-regarding’.