Yesterday I attended the Pharos lecture at the Sheldonian theatre.  (Lord) Jonathan Sumption talked on the subject ‘The New Roundheads: Politics and the Misuse of History.’ At the end of his eloquent address, I knew that the label ‘roundhead’ applies to me. But why is it we must label each other? He suggested that modern days ‘Roundheads’ who want to de-colonise history are intolerant. I dislike the term ‘de- colonise’ because it cements divisions. I prefer ‘telling the whole story.’ Spearheading the desire to tell the whole story are the Windrush generation & I don’t know of any group of people who are more tolerant.

No questions were allowed from the floor but afterwards I talked to Jonathan about his claim that Scientific Racism was a nineteenth century phenomena discounted by the scientific community in the C20th. The journalist John Simpson, whom I respect immensely, introduced the speaker and questioned him. Sadly it was a matey affair so I’ve emailed John asking him to forward my comments to Jonathan Sumption. What do you think?

Dear John,

I have a great respect for you but your  questioning of Lord Sumption this evening was not rigorous  so would you please forward these comments to him?

Scientific racism

It started here in the nineteenth century but it didn’t end there. Its effects were felt throughout the twentieth century- worse of all in Nazi Germany but even in the fifties and early sixties ,in the USA people, labelled ‘Feeble Minded’, a large proportion of them with black skin were sterilised.

When I mentioned Cyril Burt, you said that frauds like his always come to light eventually.  I beg to differ. Burt  died still honoured and no-one in the UK was showing any interest in exposing him. It was because of the rebirth of scientific racism in the USA that Leon Kamin came to England to look at Burt’s data . He came because  Arthur Jensen was using Burt’s research to justify his  theory that black children were  of lower intelligence than white  and Asian children. President Nixon wanted an excuse to cut social programmes, like Sure Start begun by Kennedy and Johnson. If it was pointless teaching black people due to their genetic inability to grasp higher level learning, why waste money?  It was Leon who uncovered Burt’s fraud.  Even in the eighties respectable academics in the UK, like Jinks and Fulker, Eysenck & Herrnstein in the USA were supporting the kind of research that believed in the inferiority of women’s, working-class and black people’s brains. Richard Lynn of Ulster University, as recently as 2006, published Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis. A previous publication of his was Skin Colour and Intelligence in African Americans. The effects of that research damaged black children’s education in the USA and here. Those assumptions buried deep in British society. It wasn’t until the last 25 years that things started to improve.

Monuments etc.

You accuse ‘Roundheads of being intolerant. If you were of Afro- Caribbean ancestry  living in Bristol and your children were looking at monuments celebrating  Coulston , I think you too might have requested, like they did for 4 decades, that a plaque be added to the statue explaining that the wealth he gave to Bristol was  generated from the sale of 100,000 people including your ancestors .

If you had Haida relations, I believe you too would feel uncomfortable seeing the   roads ,buildings and monuments celebrating General Amherst all over Canada.  I doubt many in the audience today know that he sent blankets infected with small pox into Haida villages to commit genocide.  In the event, one quarter of the population died. The perception of this ‘inferior’ people continued into the nineteen sixties. Children were taken from their families, denied their language and culture, sent to residential schools where many were beaten and sexually abused and unknown numbers died.

You mention some de-colonising projects that are indeed questionable but you didn’t mention  any that are needed. The large numbers of body parts of indigenous people  in our collections were collected during the genocide of North American tribes and Australian and Tasmanian aboriginal people.

Rigorous History

I agree with you about the need for nuance.  I’ve written a novel set in Oxford and India called Sculpting the Elephant. The historical subplot concerns a Victorian maverick called Bartholomew Carew. I have him working on the Great  Trigonometrical Survey  of India – an outstanding project.  I also show how some dedicate Brits uncovered the lost history of Asoka. India like most former British colonies appreciate one legacy of Empire –the English language. But rigorous history involves telling the whole story and it is stories like Amherst that are ignored   and not the building of railways.

If you asked the audience this evening ‘What was the largest Ethnic Cleansing the world has ever seen?’, how many would know the answer?-The Partition of India.

It is relevant because how else can young people understand why 80 percent of the South Asian ancestry Brits originated in just two states – the Punjab and Bengal. When we decided to partition India, we spent only 50 days drawing the dividing lines. We were meant to stay a year for an orderly hand over of power, instead we left a year early and used the Indian army , which we had  used to police  the empire to protect British leaving.  Despite the protests of many decent British officers we did not police partition. That led to one million deaths.

There is a growing division between the Global South and the ‘West’ , it will only be bridged with honesty .That is what you say you want . Ye , it should include the achievements but neither should we sweep the rest under the carpet. It was less than two decades that we gave Kenyan veterans who fought with the British  in Burma  compensation for us torturing them in Hola Camp . Even now rarely is anything said of the million Kenyan’s put in camps and militarised villages.

I suspect than in your eyes this makes me a ROUNDHEAD .