The past in the present
July 5, 2018 — Press release
Written by Institute of Race Relations
Past oppressions are written into our statues, our architecture and our walls. This special issue of Race & Class brings a new perspective to reparatory history.
‘We are, at this moment, witnessing an eruption of active memory’, say Anita Rupprecht and Cathy Bergin. Resistances mobilised around Confederacy statues have provoked mass protests and fierce debate. In Baltimore 2017, statues of Stonewall Jackson and Robert Lee were carried through the streets. Following the killing of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, anti-racist protesters in North Carolina pulled down the statue of a Confederate soldier. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign, calling for the removal of statues of Cecil Rhodes, drove international debate about decolonising the curriculum at Universities, which spread from South Africa to Oxford. This special issue of Race & Class 60.1, ‘The past in the present’, brings a new perspective to reparatory history, as a way of recognising the wrongs of the past, and actively working towards repair in the present. Following the reparative history conference at Brighton University last year, we reproduce three articles by Catherine Hall, Anita Rupprecht and Cathy Bergin, and John Newsinger.
‘Could re-thinking the past, taking responsibilities for its residues and legacies, be one way of challenging rightwing politics and imagining a different future?’ asks Catherine Hall. Calling for an active reparatory history that ‘brings slavery home’, she argues that only by bringing the past into the present day will we develop an understanding of Britain’s involvement in slavery, and ‘our responsibilities, as beneficiaries of the gross inequalities associated with slavery and colonialism’. Hall founded the Legacies of Slave-ownership project, which followed the material traces of the £20 million, paid by the state to British slave-holders as part of the Emancipation Act, which was funnelled into financial, industrial, cultural and political institutions in the UK. By following the ‘economic and cultural after-life of slavery’ and the ways slavery and empire have been represented into the present, the author disrupts the distance between histories confined to ‘here’ and those confined to ‘there’ in order to trace ‘the dialectic between past and present, and the local and the global’.
Rupprecht and Bergin build upon Hall’s call to open up the ‘entangled histories’ of racialised capitalism by exploring the connection between Caroline Anderson, who lived in Brighton and received money from a family plantation in Brewer’s Bay, Tortola, and an aborted slave uprising on the plantation in 1831. The Tortola conspiracy is a little acknowledged contribution to the Atlantic-wide wave of black anti-slavery rebellion and resistance, which connects ‘metropolitan accumulation in UK to everyday resistances in the Caribbean’, illuminating, as Colin Prescod says, the ‘radical history of resistance to White supremacy, locally and globally’.
Rather than silencing violent pasts with narratives of ‘closure’, the past must be brought into dialogue with contemporary racialisations. John Newsinger uncovers the suppressed histories of Britain’s involvement in some of the bloodiest repression post-1945, and takes issue with the Labour party’s ‘progressive’ reputation in imperial affairs, deriving from Atlee being seen as a liberator of colonial rule in India. Revealing how this reputation is dependent on brutal wars of repression in Malaya, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Palestine, Kenya, Korea and Iran, Newsinger works to undo the omissions in British imperial history.
But how do we mark the past in the present when memory is silenced by political repression? Bill Rolston and Amaia Alvarez Berastegi explore how memory in Spain must be exhumed from under layers of fascist policies established by Franco’s authoritarian state from 1939-1975. ‘Franco’s victory was not simply a military one’ the authors argue, ‘but also a triumph of exclusive memory in the public sphere’. Much of the political significance of Miguel Hernández, one of Spain’s most popular poets who died in a fascist jail in 1942, has been silenced. The authors explore how ‘the authentic Miguel’ is exhumed through an annual mural painting event in Orihuela, Valencia, ‘the people are resurrecting the dream in a visual way… the dreams of Hernández and all who suffered at the hands of fascism’.
The collective mural painting event in Orihuela becomes an act of social healing, which not only remembers the dead, but ‘displays one’s remembrance in pursuit of respect, acknowledgement and inclusion’ in an overdue act of justice. Reparative history is about more than recognising how the legacies of the past live on in the present, but must actively work towards ‘hopes for reconciliation, the repair of relations damaged by historical injustice’.
- Doing reparatory history: bringing ‘race’ and slavery home by Catherine Hall
Reparative histories: tracing narratives of black resistance and white entitlement by Cathy Bergin and Anita Rupprecht
- Exhuming memory: Miguel Hernández and the legacy of fascism in Spain by Bill Rolston and Amaia Alvarez Berastegi
- War, Empire and the Attlee government 1945–1951 by John Newsinger
- The next economic crisis: digital capitalism and global police state by William I. Robinson
- The Impossible Revolution: making sense of the Syrian tragedy by Yassin Al-Haj Saleh (Sune Haugbolle)
- Race and America’s Long War by Nikhil Pal Singh (Arun Kundnani)
- Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde (Sophia Siddiqui)
- Deport, Deprive and Extradite: 21st century state extremism by Nisha Kapoor (Shereen Fernandez)
- Post-Soviet Racisms by Nikolay Zakharov and Ian Law (Marta Kowalewska)
- Alt-America: the rise of the radical Right in the age of Trump by David Neiwert (Liz Fekete)
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.