This is Packwood House, built by a 16th century family of yoeman farmers (including the second generation lawyer) who accumulated land and built this house through their own labour, likely the unrecognised labour of the household’s women, and the labour of other hired workers (for example, it was extended by Roger Hurlbutt, a notable master carpenter, in 1670). In the eighteenth century that family laid out the huge yew topiary representing the twelve apostles and their master. That lineage having foundered, the much modified Elizabethan house was transformed into a twentieth century artwork by Graham Baron Ash, who incorporated architectural structures from old buildings facing demolition and historical objects harvested from salesrooms. These included a bed slept in by a queen the eve before giving battle and a chimney piece that might once have warmed Shakespeare’s arse. This Ash was fourth generation of a line of business men, two generations prospering through four surviving sons, moving from grocery into manufacturing from zinc. Their company, Ash and Lacey, still operates today: it reported in 2018 a gender pay gap of 15.9% commenting this is lower than the national average. Most zinc is mined. I cannot tell where the Ash family’s zinc originated, perhaps from northern India during the Empire, nor the labour conditions by which the metal was extracted.
Our foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, would not take the knee except to his wife or the queen, sees it as a symbol of subjugation, thinks it comes from Game of Thrones.
We took the knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in the main road. The traffic stopped and waited in silence. It hurts to put weight on one knee that long. It was an honour to do so: celebrating our common humanity, recognising and opposing White power and violence, being part of a 250 year-long history extending from the iconography of Josiah Wedgwood to the actions of Colin Kaepernick and others on the streets and sport-fields.
What is the value of such protests? It seems remarkable that there was a rally, nearing a thousand-strong, in Solihull, a Tory voting suburb on the outskirts of Birmingham. The traffic hooted its support. People of all ethnic backgrounds took part and gave witness. This is reclaiming the history that belongs to us all but which is airbrushed from the curriculum and media. At the war memorial we called on the handful of defensive men to join us, to champion the common values for which those soldiers died, fighting fascism. They refused, embracing their fearful myths and clutching themselves round the cold stone like it might hatch.
Does this raise consciousness? Are White people on these marches just signalling virtue without challenging their relative privilege, without building a better future for all our children? Its hard to know. One thing I will say is this. When you walk, you can chant “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice No Peace” and even “say his name George Floyd“, “say her name “Breonna Taylor“. However, when you say out loud “I can’t breathe” and think, just think, really why we are saying that, then it becomes hard to breathe.
I cycle past this old mill regularly. Its for sale. It looks ridiculously impractical and probably a money trap. Still, I cant help dreaming as I go past. Next to the mill is the river, widening at this point and a ford with a foot bridge. I have drawn from that bridge before, below are sketches from 2016 and 2014.
Race linked to White and Non-White skin colour is an invention founded in exploitation and slavery in Europe and its colonies over centuries. Empire and capitalism created divisions to justify and facilitate the extraction of value from people through actual and economic violence. Alongside this is a history of shared humanity and resistance to these divisions.
White is a fluid concept. To make our lives and our children’s lives more secure, we acquire camouflage to mimic or blend in with privileged people. There is more to this than skin tone, but colour is a key marker. So, like many others, three generations of my ancestors progressively shed their poor Polish Jewish identity to redefine what it is to be White so that it included them, claiming the trappings of being middle class and privileged. That must have been hard, but their skin was pale and no visible tag of that journey remains in me.
Being White, I need not think about race. I can say: I do not have a race; race is a problem for other people, race is a problem for the people we group together as Black and Minority Ethnicity, race is their problem.
As a White social liberal I can say: I treat everyone the same regardless of skin colour and expect the same back; racism is a problem for people being abusive on public transport, or the deplorable Leavers or MAGAs and their antidiluvian attitudes; racism is not my problem; racism is a problem between racists and Black and Minority Ethnicity people.
History is dynamic. We do not make what came before us, but we selectively mythologise historical events to build our culture and identity, continually making and remaking our society. We choose what we see and what we ignore. Privilege means we choose many things in our daily lives that reduce or perpetuate division and exploitation. Being White and privileged, we determine what we expect of our public servants, the politicians, the unelected officials, the police, the teachers. We are small fish swept along in the shoal, but we are also actors. We make choices that influence the direction of the crowd. So in this way, White supremacy is both perpetuated and undermined.
White supremacy is a problem for White people: so it is my problem to solve and if also you are White, then also it is your problem to solve. When we duck the challenge, we support White supremacy.
When we own and oppose White supremacy, we have to actively see what had been invisible to us, seek out the history of empire censored from the curriculum and the news, give way and listen and promote the voices of those who are White supremacy’s most immediate victims, protest, bravely challenge not just the racists but our liberal friends, donate also if we can, make changes through wise and courageous voting.
There are many links. Here are some, for which there is an opportunity to donate. I have included speeches of the many that moved me.
Rapper Killer Mike speaks: “it is time to fortify our own house .. plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize” Note the police chief in the background: she went among the crowds of protesters and listened.