The Struggles With Lesbian History

LGBT history as a whole is difficult to study, with both its legal and societal condemnation historically and today. The first attempts to study the history of homosexuality were not started until the 19th century and these were largely hampered by source scarcity and societal opinion. It was not until the mid 20th century that as a study it became more popular, and until the 1970s that all identities under the LGBT umbrella were included. The last several decades have seen a massive increase in scholarship, especially in gay male history; however other identities have struggled much more. Trans historiography has been hampered by how to define trans historical figures, particularly so in the issue of whether people were trans or if they were passing as another gender for other reasons, such as avoiding being drafted into military service. Bisexual history has languished similarly due to the issue of how to consider historical figures who appeared to be bisexual – were they bisexual or were they gay and their opposite sex relationships a requirement of the society they lived in, or were such relationships genuine? This, of course, has implications for same-sex history: are historical figures being labelled as attracted only to the same sex or could they have been bisexual? While the lack of definitively knowing hampers any study of history, LGBT history particularly struggles.  

Lesbian history has always struggled – even the term ‘lesbian’ to describe history has been considered by some to be a difficult descriptor. Some feel that lesbian refers to an identity that historically women would have not considered themselves to be. Sometimes the phrase ‘women who loved women’ has been used. Scholars such as Cook and Rich argued for the use of the term ‘lesbian’ to describe women who had relationships with other women. However other scholars prefer to avoid the term, arguing that lesbian as a concept did not exist, or that the term does not fit the historical reality of the women they are studying. Others have also argued that this term is too Western-centric. However, others have pointed out that terms such as queer are too broad and erase the specific experience of women. This issue on phrasing symbolises the difficulty that lesbian history has faced. 

While there has been little debate about male homosexual history, lesbian history has been much more problematic. The existence of lesbian history has always been harder to find, just because as the history of women in general has been difficult to source because of the domination of men in the historical written word, lesbians have often been written out of history – even more so than heterosexual women who generally have been only featured when, relevant to men. Lesbian behaviour was less likely to be prosecuted than gay male behaviour (not that lesbians were not prosecuted but they were caught less often or in some cases the sheer idea of lesbianism was so alien that legislation did not exist) which also reduces the amount of source material available, although what does exist is important. Prior to the 19th century lesbian history is fragmented, although some lesbian historians, like Emma Donoghue, have criticised historians for failing to notice mentions of lesbians due their own heterocentrisim. Debates over whether female historical figures had romantic and/or sexual relationships with each other or whether they simply had close platonic friendships plague lesbian history. Many lesbian historians have pointed out that they themselves, and those that came before them who clearly were, and often identified, as lesbian have been described as ‘platonic’ yet that there are often signs of such romantic and/or sexual relationships. Anne Lister’s diaries are an example of this; when her diaries were originally deciphered some declared them a hoax because of their explicitness’ and her frank understanding of her sexuality.  

Most sources we do have on lesbian history focus predominantly on upper class women as they were the most able to record their own experiences. This can be frustrating for two reasons: women in the lower classes made up higher proportions of the general population and therefore are more likely to make up a significant proportion of lesbian women; and also that working class women traditionally had more opportunity to socialise with other women and without as much scrutiny. Upper class women were far more likely to have limited social circles and limited opportunity to be able to conduct affairs privately. Not only does this limit the amount of available knowledge it also means we miss out on knowing about working class lesbian subcultures and communities prior to the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Oral history has been an important part of lesbian history and has provided a significant amount of source material, although this is mostly restricted to post 1920s, as lesbian oral history was not recorded until the 1970s and beyond.  Along with sources such as zines and photography, archive groups in the 1970s and 1980s attempted to construct archives focused on the lesbian experience, such as the Lesbian Archive – now housed at the Glasgow Women’s Library, and the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York. Other regional archives exist as does archives holding either LGBT history as whole or feminist/women’s history. 

So why is lesbian history so important to discover? Other than the general desire to uncover the past as much as possible, many lesbians find it important to connect to their forebearers and to demonstrate that their identity is legitimate and has existed for millennia. Lesbian erasure, historically and currently, is a major issue not just in society in general but also in the LGBT and feminist communities that claim to include and represent them. Erasure and ignorance of lesbian history helps exacerbate lesbian erasure. Many lesbians have been outspoken about society’s attempts to erase ‘lesbian’ as an identity, from claiming that ‘lesbian’ is exclusive or to that it doesn’t even exist – the tendency for some historians to deny lesbian history prior to the 19th century does just this.  

LGBT history often focuses on gay men while feminist history often focuses on heterosexual women. The fact that lesbians have often been both at the forefront of social movements is often ignored, even within these movements, and despite their presence they have been later ostracised or written out of these histories. Therefore their lesbian identity has been paramount to them. This importance also highlights the need for lesbian history to be inclusive of all lesbians. Recent scholarship has aimed to not only focus on white middle-class women in western societies but to expand our knowledge of lesbian history and how the diversity of these women are how we can broaden our overall knowledge.  

Don’t Mention the Empire!

 

The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014.[1] Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit.[2] Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.

I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.

The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.

Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries.[3] 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families.[4] 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them.[5] At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War.[6] These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.

Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies.[7] This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.

The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism.[8] This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.[9]

The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.

It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.

Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.[10]

 

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/

[2] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/dont-mistake-nostalgia-about-british-empire-scholarship

[3] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/pdf/britain-and-the-trade.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S2EXN8JTwAEC&pg=PA132&dq=famine+british+empire+india&as_brr=3&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=famine%20british%20empire%20india&f=false

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml

[7] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20180412/281861529084026

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/british-empire-students-should-be-taught-colonialism-not-all-good-say-historians-a6828266.html

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413714/History_for_all.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true

 

Caesar & the Celts: Nationalistic Propaganda and Fear of Foreigners

Julius Caesar, for many a hero, for others a master of war, a tyrant. Whatever your take on Caesar is, the fact is that he was a rather intelligent man who used all the tools he had at hand to complete his objectives. Part of this involved building a narrative for Rome; tales of the greatness of their people and their military victories. Caesar in this regards was fantastic at crafting political propaganda; a common Roman sport that we have already explore in this blog with stories of Cicero and Augustus. And there was a particular enemy that Caesar needed to deprive of any glory: The Celts.  Accounts of the Galic War mystified and bastardised the history of these people and who they really were, to the point that the comics of Asterix do, in many ways, represent that image that the Romans held of their neighbours. This did not stop just with Gaul; the same story is repeated with the Britons and the people of Iberia – And let’s not even get into the nitty-gritty details of the defilement of the Germani, you know, just the same people but on the other side of the Rhine river…Of course, it all makes sense if we consider that Caesar was only delivering the information that his audience wanted of him. Meanwhile, if we have a look at what Greek authors such as Timagenes had to say about the Celts, the picture varies drastically. The Celts of the Greeks weren’t described as dirty or in rags, even if the Greeks believed them to have lower economic power than themselves in some cases. They were described as a people with a culture and a cultural exchange that happened often between the two.

There are plenty of evidence, however that confirm that Caesar was writing with propagandistic accents and that the Celts were people of culture, and not uncivilised societies. Here in Britain and archaeological excavation directed in 2011 of Roman Callevva (Silchester) shows the existence of an earlier Celtic town. This was what is commonly known as an oppidum built following a grid pattern that reflected the sun solstice. It is believed to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last decade. There are also archaeological evidence that the Celts used their own roads that were funded by toll systems, and this is confirmed by evidence of chariots found in Yorkshire as well as in the Rhineland. According to Graham Robb, author of The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe, he advises that the druids – another terribly mystified group of people, not just by the Roman but by many more since them, particularly the Victorians and the waves of Hippies from the 60s- we key in these networks. Robb states that the druids devised network of continental wide solstice lines used in the locations for temples and towns. This seems to correlate with the discoveries found at Silchester too. Another thing he points out is that the Celts and these networks may have led into the earliest types of accurate maps that would have use the Greeks systems for longitude and latitude, again a sign of communication and borrowing between the two cultures.

So where does this fear and defamation of the Celts? Well, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, this is something that will resonate incredibly without modern society. It was in fact fear of foreign people. Yes, you know, Trump, Brexit, all these movements and people are just representations of ideas that are rather ancient and demodee. Some cool guys with swords and original republics had already gone that far (and much classier and cooler I must say, if I am allowed to be flippant). Before the Rome succeeded in the supremacy for the West, there were in fact Celtic settlements all over their beloved patria. Notorious in this list are those in Turin, Milan and Bologna: all of which are, by the way, names of Celtic origin. There was conflict between these people, not just Rome and the Celts but also the Etruscans – or you know just a different type of Celts who happened to be really successful at what they did and were worthy of specific remarks. The conflict between all of these got to the point that arms were taken. As a result we have an important moment in the early history of Italy and one that will be forever ingrained in the memory of Rome: such was the Battle of Allia. During this confrontation (date c.390 BC, though Polybius suggests it may have been more like 387 BC) the Celts were the victorious side, and the trifle by the river Allia was not going to stop them. Their retaliation took them to the very gate of Rome, and as a consequence the city was sacked by you know them dirty Celts – and it was quite  a frightful moment for the inhabitants of the city, many of which actually fled the settlement in despair. Collective memory is a power thing, it shapes us all and our perception of history, and no one likes to be on the losing side. Therefore, years later with the great Caesar in charge, things started being turned around for the glory of Rome, would not die at the hands of them Celts but subdue them, for sure…

 

…For sure? Well, let’s see…It would take a long while but it would be in fact the Germani – or you know, our friends the Celts but with a  different name cause they happened to be on the other side of the river – that eventually lead to the fall of Rome, fall that was promoted by the very corrupted and broken system that our glorious Caesar had himself invented (and died for). And just some more food for thought: what of identity? A bit like the Vikings, whose past lives are misshapen by collective memory and political propaganda, the Celts are very much alive not just in our memory, but in our identity as people. There are certain parts of the world that if you walk around and ask their people who they are, or what they are, they will tell you they descend from the Celts. And to them those Celts are not the dirty barbs that the Romans painted. They are a proud and defined people, whose values, cultures and tales are still valued. Why, of course, you can accused me of being biased here for my Celtic heritage, but you just need to look around places in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, and many more. The Celts are embraced as part of them alive, whilst often the Romans are referred to as those people who came here and left all these things behind for us. Identity and ‘foreignity’ (here I have invented my own word, yeah) are often related. We identify us by what others who aren’t us are. Just keep that in mind when you deal with people around you and more importantly, with people in the past.

The Kite Runner- Using Literature as a source for recent times

The post will look at the historical significance in Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 bestselling novel, The Kite Runner. The novel is a coming of age story focusing on Amir born into a Pashtun family in Afghanistan. Recently, as of Monday 10th July I went to watch the stage adaptation of it with another blogger- lauraljpotter. This got me thinking as there is plenty to right about. Particularly, life in Afghanistan during the 1970s, during the Soviet occupation and the Taliban occupation. I also touch upon Afghans who immigrated to the United States of America during the late 1970s and 1980s, mainly commenting on the accounts in the novel. For starters, I will explain the basic premise of the story and provide a general historical account of the country. Minor spoilers of the plot will be announced to emphasise the historical value of this time period.

The story starts in the mid-seventies focusing on Amir’s friendship with Hassan, who is the son of the family servant and the strained relationship Amir has with his father Baba. The themes Hosseini highlights are the following; friendship, identity, love and redemption, spanning across time from Afghanistan in the mid-seventies towards California in 2001. The modern state of Afghanistan was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Duran but long before this happened the area was conquered numerous times. The earliest account we know was in 330BC, when Alexander the Great conquered it. In the 700s AD, Arab armies invaded the area and the inhabitants of the area converted to Islam. Later in 1218, Genghis Khan’s army penetrated the area. This is interesting to note as it explains the ethnic mix of people that live in Afghanistan and this is still visible today, this will be explained in more thorough detail further on. Conflict did not end there as in the mid-1800s Britain and Russia clashed in order to gain control of Central Asia. There was a power vacuum in Central Asia due to the declining Ottoman Empire, Qajar dynasty and Qing dynasty in the region. This was called “The Great Game” as Britain and Russia vied to occupy these territories. Eventually “The Great Game” led to the First Anglo-Afghan War. By the end of the 1800s, Afghanistan was unwilling to allow British presence in the region and refused a mission to be set up in Kabul. This resulted in the Second Afghan War. At the time Britain acquired an empire that stretched all around the globe, it was coined as “the empire, where the sun never sets”. Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Pakistan was still a part of India and in 1893, the British established an unofficial border to separate Afghanistan and British India. A third war ensued between the Afghans and the British. In 1919 the Third-Anglo War concluded. To summarise, what this short piece does is provide a background account to the complex history of Afghanistan up until when the story starts.

Now we will focus on the country of Afghanistan in the sixties until the seventies. It was a different place to what it became in the early noughties. It was a relatively safe and stable country since 1933 when Zahir Shah quelled unrest by becoming king. Before Zahir Shah, since after the Anglo-Afghan Wars there was always a power struggle in order to establish a long lasting dynasty in Afghanistan. In the twentieth century Emir Amanullah tried to rule and incorporate western influences in Afghanistan, but civil unrest in the country ousted him out. However, from what the background account tells us, this proved to happen throughout the course of history. In particular for those who had money and prominence, life in Afghanistan was very good, full of lavish hill top homes and festivities. Life was full of excitement and opportunities were abundant. This was looked at in Hosseini’s novel. Notably, Baba and Amir’s comfortable home, Amir’s schooling, Amir’s birthday celebrations and the Kite flying competition. This reveals that Amir had a stable and comfortable home life. Expanding on this western travellers often ventured through Afghanistan as a pit stop before moving on to India. This particular route was known as the “hippie trail”.

However, that air of stability soon collapsed when in 1973 King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin. Two ideologies developed during this time in wanting to prevent gradual western ideals that occurred in the royal Afghan court. One ideology supported communism and the Soviets. This group was called the People’s Democratic of Afghanistan. Another ideology advocated for a return of religious values in society. It was the PDPA that ended up being more successful first in 1978, within a year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, plunging Afghanistan into the Cold War as a potential satellite state. They did this to strength the communist ideology of the PDPA in Afghanistan as well as extending their on sphere of influence in Central Asia. However, war ensured as not everyone was happy with the Soviet invasion, in “The Kite Runner”, Babi, Amir’s father did not want the Soviets to take control of Afghanistan. Using Babi as an example, many affluent families in Afghanistan and those who held close ties to royalty were suspected to be reactionaries and many of them like Babi and Amir had to flee to neighbouring Pakistan and as a result became refugees and wait admitted asylum. It was from there that many families moved on to the United States of America, like what Babi and Amir did. Babi and Amir like many Afghans settled in Fremont, California. A majority of Afghans who fled Afghanistan settled in the San Francisco Bay area of California like Fresno, Los Angeles, Virginia and other major areas like Illinois, Florida and Washington. Many Afghan migrants worked in unskilled professions or in the public sector. Some Afghan professions mentioned in “The Kite Runner” were traders, teachers, policeman and gas station attendants. Life was not always easy for any particular new arrivals to the USA but what Hosseini does draw attention to is the fact that it was perhaps easier for some to assimilate into the new American culture, whereas for others it was more difficult. This was looked at in the form of father and son, Babi and Amir. Babi struggled seeing as he had established himself in Afghanistan it was bound to be difficult to pack up and start again, particularly as he was living in a comfortable hill top home in Afghanistan. In Fremont he was living in an apartment block. For Amir, you could argue that it helped him pursue his dreams of becoming a writer as he improved his English, went to college to major in Creative Writing and found love and married Soraya. In essence embracing his new opportunities and attempting to pursue the “American Dream”.

The Soviets tried their best to capture all of Afghanistan, but this did not happen, they found it difficult to penetrate the countryside and this remained relatively untouched. The Soviets eventually realised that they couldn’t continue funding a conquest they knew they could never win. The geography of Afghanistan is testing as it is a heavily mountainous land-locked country. Again, more civil unrest ensued and much of the country was being taken over by mujahedin groups. The capital, Kabul managed to quell this for three years as Najibullah, an ally from Moscow was able to control the area. Eventually, Kabul fell and Najibullah lost control. Even still these rival mujahedin only managed to control the city until 1996, when they were ousted by much younger jihadis. They were known as the Taliban and controlled everyday life in Afghan society from there on in, including the vibrant capital Kabul. Kabul changed drastically under this leadership. Kabul was once a place where men and women could sit in university together and women weren’t told what to wear. This all changed when the Taliban took control and implemented a strict regime on Afghanistan.

In more recent time, in the noughties Afghanistan garnished much negative connotations and further turmoil. Most notably, the War on Terror, Afghanistan was used as a testing ground by British and American forces. After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre all attention went on combating Al Qaeda, the Terrorist group responsible for the heinous act and capturing their ringleader, Osama Bin Laden. The Taliban were told in “The Kite Runner” in the form of one character the antagonist, Assef who frequently tormented Amir and Hassan. He constantly made fun out of Hassan’s ethnicity of being a Hazara. Some people like Assef did not like the Hazara people as they held a belief that they were not true Afghans and how they polluted the country. This was ironic in the story as Assef himself had a Pashtun father and a German mother. Many Hazara people as a result faced widespread discrimination in everyday life. This is something that many Hazara people face even today. Harking back to what I mentioned earlier, there were two different ethnic groups mentioned in the story, one were the Pashtuns and the other group was the Hazaras. The Hazaras were said to be descended from inner Asia and more specifically around Mongolia. This makes sense considering how many times different armies came to conquer and/or settle in Afghanistan. However, this theory is not entirely confirmed and we do not know for sure where they actually descended from.

Afghanistan faced much hardship over the years and history seemingly starting to repeat itself in the form of occupation, then reoccupation, then occupation, then reoccupation an endless cycle it seems over the centuries and something that still lays bare in Afghanistan today; whether that be when Alexander the Great first captured the land or as early in 2009 when Obama increased the number of American troops to arrive in Afghanistan.

An overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa (extended version)

Original was posted on- 12/04/2015 by lauraljpotter

Original title- A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the nineteenth century after the abolition of slavery. , as the next form of cheapest labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India. The British adapted the Hindu caste system that was already in place in India since Ancient times and they continued to do so in the nineteenth century. The system was as follows; Brahmins (Priests) remained at the top of the caste system, Khsatriyas (Warriors) were next, Vaishyas (Merchants/Landowners) followed them, Shudras (Servants/labourers) were of a lower caste and lastly the Untouchables (those who killed cattle for a living/eating the flesh of cattle) were considered to be out of caste and subordinate to all. The Indian labourers that were employed to build the railway would have been a lower caste.

As well as Indians migrating to Kenya and Uganda, those countries are often studied when analysing the Indian diaspora, other Indians migrated to other surrounding countries such as; Tanzania and Mozambique. These Indian Diasporas have not been studied as much and in some cases until recently. As a result we have less information about them. However, with the limited information we have it is still informative nonetheless. We will start with Tanzania. As with Kenya and Uganda, many Indians settled in India, those who came were mainly from the Gujarat region and were traders. Many Indians who settled in Tanzania were mainly found in the large port city, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar in particular was home to many Parsis. Parsis were originally from Persia that migrated to Gujarat and Sindh (now in Pakistan) and practice the Zoroastrian faith. Many of them worked as merchants and for the colonial government as civil servants. The father of Freddie Mercury, Bomi Bulsara worked as a Cashier for the Colonial Office in Zanzibar and the family lived there. After decolonisation there was an anti-Indian sentiment in Tanzania and many left the country for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Some went back to India and Pakistan. The situation was no different in Zanzibar. After the 1964 revelation, which was to destabilise the power the Arab/Asian ruling class many Africans were unhappy by this inequality and felt they were unfairly represented politically. As a result many of the Indian diaspora, namely Parsis fled to other areas in the Commonwealth with many settling in the UK.

The countries that have been covered so far were in the British Empire. There was a sizable Indian diaspora in Mozambique. Mozambique was not part of the British Empire but it was part of the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer noted how he spotted Hindu traders off the East coast of Africa. Many Indians took advantage of the trade route between East Africa and India for centuries. Some from the Vaishya caste settled in Mozambique during the nineteenth century. Muslim traders were also present in Mozambique and were involved in trade that included; ivory and selling cashew nuts that proved to be lucrative. Beforehand some traders were involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until it was outlawed. Some of the Indian Diaspora from South Africa continued to move up north towards Mozambique. Mozambique must have been considered a good place for the Indian diaspora and for their trade to prosper. So what went wrong?

Firstly, in the late nineteenth century there was an outbreak of plague in Mozambique and the Indian community was blamed for it. As a result, Indian migration to Mozambique as well as Asian migration in general was heavily restricted. This restriction was imposed from 1899 until 1907. However, it was still financially difficult for Indians who wanted to settle in Mozambique, the restriction was still in “force” in all but name.

Later on in the twentieth century, things took a worse turn for Indians in Mozambique after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961. Prior to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese territory. The Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveria Salazar placed Indians in Mozambique in concentration camps and froze their bank accounts. The Portuguese claimed this was to protect them. However, another reason was that they had hoped for the Portuguese prisoners captured in Goa would be released. From the 1970s the decolonisation of Mozambique occurred. During this time many Indians left the country. Most of the Indians were of adherents of Ismailism, a branch of the Shia sect of Islam. However, unlike the Indian diaspora in other East African nations they were not forced out by those from inside the said countries they adopted as their new home. The Ismaili Indians were told to leave by an outside source, Aga Khan IV, an Imam. The case with East Africa being, they were told or made feel to leave from inside the country.

Not only did Indians migrate to East Africa, many had migrated to South Africa. Before the abolishment of slavery and arrival of the British, Dutch traders had acquired Indian slaves from the Mughal Empire and settled them in the Cape. The Mughal Empire ruled most of India apart from the southern tips. These Indian slaves were from Bengal, today the territory is in the Republic of India and Bangladesh during the 1600s. Interestingly enough they were never classed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Asian’ by Dutch Traders. They were called, ‘Cape Malay’ or ‘Cape Coloured’. However, there was no substantial rise in the Indian Diaspora until the British arrived at the Cape. Many Indians were transported to Natal Colony, today part of South Africa to work as indentured labourers, like what has been discussed previously in the post about Indians migrating to East Africa. They came to work on sugar, tea and cotton plantations that were introduced in Natal colony as the land was deemed appropriate for this type of cultivation to flourish. Again, due to a lack of indigenous labour, labour had to be imported from another Colonial hold, India. Over five decades c. 150,000 indentured labourers were imported from Tamil speaking areas, Hindi speaking areas and Telugu speaking areas. In terms of religion many of them identified as Hindu or Christian. There was a smaller Muslim population too. Colonial officials felt indentured labourers were a better choice than African workers because many of them were economically self-sufficient or that the British felt their working practices were not suitable for a growing economy based on a large supply and demand.

As with the Indian diaspora in East Africa some decided to remain in South Africa after their service. Many established themselves rather quickly in industry. These included; agriculture, the railways, fishing and clerks. Others established themselves as traders, but these Indian traders arrived after the indentured labourers. The main difference here was these traders paid for themselves in search of a new life in South Africa, whereas those in indentured labour could not afford this. Their payment was considered to be labour. These traders were mainly Muslim or Hindu Indians from the Gujarat region and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of large numbers settling in Durban, not all of these migrants settled there. Some migrants moved inland towards Johannesburg, establishing trading posts. Much to the dismay of white and even African tradesmen there was some conflict because there were more Indian tradesmen than white and African tradesmen.

Many Indian migrants faced discrimination in South Africa throughout the years, but unlike Uganda they were not forced to leave and unlike Kenya they didn’t feel as if they had to choose between British citizenship and Kenyan citizenship in Post-Colonial times. However, Indian South Africans were far from being free citizens in their new home. Indian migrants suffered from early discrimination in the colonies of; Natal, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some colonies treated Indians more harshly than others. For example in the late 1800s in the Orange Free State, a Boer held territory, Indians were banned from living there. Generally Indians were restricted from certain areas and professions in the other states. For example in the Transvaal, Indians were banned from working in the mining industry and they were not allowed to walk on pavements. In Natal voting rights for Indians were restricted. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi stated he received racial discrimination when he resided in the country as a Lawyer. In Cape Colony although racial discrimination occurred, it was not as bad in other colonies where they were banned entirely or that there voting rights were restricted. In actual fact Cape Colony proved to be the most lenient towards Indian migrants as they were allowed to vote, own property and prosper in trade.

During Apartheid, effective from 1948 until 1991 the population of South Africa was segregated according to the colour of their skin. People who were not considered to be white were racially discriminated. Indians living in South Africa at the time were not considered to be white, they were often classed as coloured and in some cases black. They suffered racial segregation just as much as the native population. Discrimination occurred in everyday life in South Africa. This included public facilities, employment opportunities, education and events.

The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and although many have left African countries, some migrated back to Africa after the troubles of expulsion or discrimination. Today there are c. 40,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique, c.50,000 in Uganda, c.70,000 Tanzania, c.110,000 in Kenya and c.1,300,000 in South Africa.

The Crown of Aragon (a snapshot)

This blogger is still on the Iberian Peninsula and so it will be another Iberian inspired post that is related to my travels. In February 2017 I visited Zaragoza in the autonomous community of Aragon in Spain. The blog will highlight the Crown of Aragon and is intended to provide a basis of knowledge for such a vast realm, in the hope that readers would be intrigued and would like to find out more.

Since I was a child, I had always been fascinated with the history of Aragon. For many British schoolchildren the first mention of Aragon is when we study Henry VIII and his six wives, the first being, Catherine of Aragon who is the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (Los Reyes Católicos). Ferdinand being the King of Aragon and Isabella the Queen of Castile, through their marriage this dynastic union layed the foundations to a seemingly united Spain. However, there is never really anymore to it than that. We only learn that Aragon was a realm on the Iberian Peninsula and that it was included in Catherine’s title. A personal favourite tale about the Crown of Aragon that I came across when I was much older was that Ferdinand’s mother, Juana Enriquez was so desperate to have her son born in Aragon that when she was pregnant she crossed over from Navarre to Sos del Rey Católico. However, I digress there is more to the Crown of Aragon than Ferdinand and his daughter Catherine. Let’s see…

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Cathedral of the Saviour of Zaragoza, commonly shorted to “La Seo”, photo taken by sholderness13

What was the Crown of Aragon’s size throughout its history?

The Crown of Aragon was a vast territory that covered large parts of the eastern coast on the Iberian Peninsula. Included in the realm was; Aragon, Catalan territories, the Kingdom of Valencia (1238-1245), the Kingdom of Majorca (1229-1235), the Kingdom of Naples (1442), Corsica (1324), Sicily (1282) and the Duchy of Athens and Neopatras (1311-1390).

 

So where did it all begin?

Aragonese monarchs were crowned in La Seo Cathedral in Zaragoza, a Cathedral erected on a former Roman and Moorish site. After this the Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style. Throughout the course of La Seo’s history, the design had changed to Gothic-Mudejar and Renaissance styles. The Crown of Aragon emerged as a result of a dynastic union, much like the union of Isabella and Ferdinand that was to come in 1469. However the circumstances were different. Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona at twenty four years old was betrothed to Petronilla of Aragon when she was only a year old, whereas Isabella and Ferdinand were closer in age. Petronilla’s father, Ramiro II Aragon wanted his daughter to marry the Count of Barcelona as a result of gaining some support against the Alfonso VII of Castile. Both Ramon and Petronilla had jointly ruled over their territories. Aragon was a landlocked realm and as such it had no access to the sea which would know doubt improve trade. Through Petronilla marrying Ramon, Aragon gained easy access to the Mediterranean. However both realms remained distinct in terms of culture, identity and law.

 

Relationship to Castile-

At one point Aragon and Castile were joined temporarily under Sancho III of Pamplona who wanted to unite all the Iberian Christian realms at a time when the Caliphate of Cordoba appeared to retract into taifas (independently ruled principalities). Sancho III ruled from 1004 until his death in 1035 and assumed the throne of Pamplona. Sancho revised the border of Navarre and Castile by marrying Muniadona of Castile. During his reign he would acquire power in the rest of Northern Iberia including Leon, Galicia, Aragon and the east towards Barcelona. It was upon his death that this “unity” dissolved. In Sancho’s will the realms he had claimed were divided up amongst his surviving sons. On the face of it this split between the two kingdoms appeared to have changed in the twelfth century when Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre married Doña Urraca, Queen of Leon, Castile and Galicia. However, the marriage was unsuccessful and was as a result annulled. The annulment sparked an outbreak of war between the territories and in a sense became rival domains that did not amalgamate successfully until the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand.

 

Language-

For the most part the Crown of Aragon had two distinct languages, Aragonese and Catalan. These languages are Romance languages and they belong to the same language group as Castilian Spanish, French and Galician to name but a few. Despite Catalonia being part of the Crown of Aragon, they had maintained their language. So in terms of linguistic unity in the Crown of Aragon depending on where the population were settled two different languages were spoken in the realm. Catalan was spoken in the east of the realm and was spread as far as the Balearic Islands and Corsica. Aragonese remained in the territory of Aragon.

Castilian Spanish did not arrive until the 1400s and even then Aragonsese was more common. It was really in the 1600s that Castilian Spanish started to spread in the territory, thereby pushing the Aragonese language slowly up towards the Pyrenees. Catalan for the most part did not distinguish as much as Aragonese. By the 1600s Castilian Spanish made its way into Catalonia but unlike Aragonese, where the language was not in much use, Catalan remained alongside Castilian Spanish. However, nowadays outside the Barcelona metropolitan area it is far more common to be greeted with a “Hola, Bon Dia” than a “Hola, Buenos Días” at face value.

 

What does it mean for Spain today?

The coat of arms. The Crown of Aragon’s coat of arms are an eye catching red and yellow stripped seal that is said to have been used since the time of Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona. Some theories differ in this explanation, suggesting the coat of arms belonged to Count Ramon Berenguer II. This implies that the origin of the coat of arms was much older. According to legend the coat of arms was created by Charles the Bald (King of West Francia, King of Italy and later known as Holy Roman Emperor) during the 9th century AD. Bald’s fingers were said to have been covered in blood from war and he placed them down Wilfrid I of Barcelona’s shield as an act of gratitude. However this is often disputed and is according to legend after all.

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The flag of Catalonia, an example of the red and yellow stripped flag, photo taken by sholderness13

 

Today many areas in Spain bare the red and yellow stripped design on flags in many shapes and forms. Here is a list of the most famous flag bearers-

  • Kingdom of Spain flag (the coat of arms is present)
  • Catalan flag
  • Aragonese Flag
  • Valencian Flag
  • Balearic Islands Flag

Gens Normannorum: What is Norman Identity?

In 1829 Sir Walter Scott delighted his readers with Ivanhoe. The novel for sure was a product of the romantic nationalistic movement that most of Europe was embracing but, possibly without meaning to do so, he also depicted the landscape of England after 1066, and its occupants. The image he provides about the Norman invaders is one of their military and political power, that of those French tyrants ruling over the Saxons with no wish to mix with the native population. This description usually comes to mind when thinking about the Normans and who they were. But the myths create confusion in the understanding of their identity. Perhaps we require some clarification of terminology first of all. Starting with the term ‘Norman’-  this is the modern concept that derives from old French and Latin words like Nordmanni or Normanni, which means men from the north. These would have been used by the Franks and their contemporaries, and not the Normans themselves. Then you will be thinking: what actually is the Gens Normannorum? The word ‘gens’ in Latin can refer to an extended group of people with particular characteristics. As per G.A.Loud definition, “a nation would be made up of several ‘gentes’, usually related to each other, but none the less separate and distinct”, which is precisely the concept around which the Normans build their realm. The Normans were a faction that survived by means of political union, adaptation and strong territorial bonds. Therefore, recognising a Norman identity per se is a difficult task.

Despite the fact that the Normans were a wonderful collage of different people, it is true that they are usually associated with certain features. Some of these were an invention of their own, but some others were the perceptions of their contemporaries, being the most prominent their so feared military skills. Not only Walter Scott portrayed these people as powerful warriors, so did the Greeks when they saw them conquering their lands in the Mediterranean. The same sentiment was shared by multiple Popes. It seems likely that the feudal system they started to follow from their settlement in Normandy provided a good military service in which the aristocracy got involved quite eagerly, turning to be more efficient than anywhere else in Europe. So maybe this was the genesis of this Norman ideal. Living in such a militarised society, discipline and cooperation evolved quickly, which made possible having a single ruler to lead these diverse people. This ruler would the seek support within his lineage, which becomes another important issue in Norman identity: family. William the Conqueror serves us – funny that – as a perfect example here. Just look at his retinue for the conquest in England: half brothers like Odo of Bayeux, cousins and other distant relatives. It was this power and unity, linked with their adaptable Scandinavian mind which allowed them to create great institutions, like their new bodies of law and government.

Moreover, these pretensions took also a tangible form which is very characteristic of the Normans: castles. These could serve as residences, fortresses and symbols of authority. The typical Norman castle would have been the motte and bailey construction, although it is known that in the southern Norman territories they recycled pre-existing Muslim castles that were more elegant and rather appealing to their ‘greedy’ minds. Therefore, castles seem to represent everything the Normans were; a bellicose race with hunger for new lands. But that was not just the point, though, was it? It happened that the Normans were quite good and efficient architects that helped to develop a whole new architectural style: the Romanesque. Furthermore, we have the issue of monastic revival and all that religious work the Normans did…Let’s not forget that their conversion only happened in the 10th century. Just like the Carolingians did before, they promoted Christianity through learning and pious charity, and they embraced their new religion as a vital part of their lives. Many religious buildings were built with the money and patronage of the different noble families, in order to provide for their souls but also to improve their status, and to portray themselves as Norman pious rulers. So, it seems that not only were these Northmen warriors, but people with cultural sensibility and religious devotion. How did they end up being related to such different concepts, and why is the first one the prevailing one?

Sadly, those to blame are the Norman historians from the 11th century, as they built up the Gens Normannorum around the idea of their military prowess. It is likely that the intention was to portray them as tough survivors, particularly considering their Viking origin. Consider that, what Rollo and his companions managed to do by 911 was, in medieval terms, extraordinary and epic. They found themselves a new context in a land whose ancestors had ‘terrorized’ for decades. They managed to grasp power and survive, of which they were obviously be proud, as Dudo of St.Quentin reflects in his text History of the Dukes of the Normans. According to him, the Normans were descendants of the Dacians; the heirs of Antenor, who was known to be a Trojan survivor. Not only was he giving them a legitimate legacy to rule over their new lands by linking them with an ancient culture, he was establishing a bond between them and the Trojans who were warriors and survivors, just like the Vikings. Even more, he was establishing a parallelism: the Aeneid gives the Romans a Trojan background and origin, the same than Dudo is doing to the Normans…What else could the new European power desire that being equal to the Roman Empire? This was all a matter of legitimacy. The Normans were lovers of history; heroic history. And so this historical snowball got bigger and other authors came and  reinforced the ideal. Then with William the Bastard, they just elevated their might to holy standards. His chaplain, William of Poitiers, describes his great religiousness while participating in mass before battle. Furthermore, he is praised and elevated to the level of Christian icons such as David and Salomon, even Jesus or God as “he heals where he wounds…peace and war obey him sympathetically”, like it is stated in the poem Jephthah. So not only the Normans were now warriors: they were crusaders.

And so, from the 12th century onwards the crusader image begun. Figures like Tancred, who managed to get control of the Principality of Antioch that brought more glory to the Southern Normans. But then, there is a sudden twist. The issue of the 12th Century for the Normans and their identity is a problem of generational change.  They had now spent several decades in Normandy, but also in the Mediterranean and England. In England, they tried to suppress the ‘English’ traditions, but it was impossible, as the Saxon customs had been there for a longer period. The Normans assumed an ‘English’ past at the same time that the Norman myth got introduced within the Saxon population; now both the ‘gentes’ Normannnorum and Anglorum were not easy to separate. In addition, there were family crisis shaking the Norman rule: Henry against Robert, then Matilda and Stephen, and even in the South William I had trouble with the Sicilian aristocracy. There are even evidences of decline in Norman art: the further they expanded, the weaker the influence of Romanesque was. In addition, their military prestige disappeared as the age of Conquest came to an end…and considering that in Southern Italy and Sicily they had to deal with the Islamic and Orthodox population, one can even doubt their religious unity.

So, what was in truth Norman identity? It was everything and anything at the same time. It is clear, though, that as Marjorie Chibnall puts it “the Norman people were product, not of blood, but of history”. One could argue that, the only true Normans were those that lived in Normandy – centuries later they would promote their independence. Perhaps, Norman identity was nothing more than a Viking wish of adventure and expansion with a French touch of creativity and piety more appealing to their neighbours, therefore making it easier for them to fulfill their objective. Others might blame the imagery on the 11th Century chronicles that promulgated the Norman pragmatism and opportunism to satisfy their lords and their own minds. Maybe this is hypocritical, and just a pure modernist judgement, from which scholars should try to learn and focus on what the Normans thought of themselves and why. There is still much to consider and revise about the subject. Until then, I am happy to keep in mind, and N.Webber advises that Norman “identity evolved in these years, through changes of patria, of language, of enemy and of religion…’Norman’ was used in Normandy, in England, and in Italy and Sicily, to do so was to assert different claims in different areas, and in different times”.

-Chibnall, M., The Normans (Oxford, 2000)

-Davis, R.H.C., The Normans and Their Myth (London, 1976)

-Dudo of Saint-Quentin, ‘History of the Dukes of the Normans’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Haskins, C.H., The Normans in European History (New York, 1959)

-Fulcouis of Beauvais, ‘Jephthah Poem’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

-Kennedy, H., Crusader Castles (Cambridge, 1994)

-Loud, G.A., ‘The Gens Normannorum- Myth or Reality?’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. IV, (Woodbridge, 1982), pp. 104-116

-Potts, C., ‘Atque unum ex diversis gentibus populum effecit: Historical Tradition and the Norman Identity’, Proceedings of the Battle Conference on Anglo-Norman Studies, Vol. XVIII, (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 139-152

-Searle, E., Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power 840-1066 (Berkeley and London, 1988)

-Ville de Caen, ‘Les Normands, peuple d’Europe’, accessed 20th May 2011,

www.mondes-normands.fr

-Webber, N., The Evolution of Norman Identity (Woodbridge, 2005)

-William of Poitiers, ‘Deeds of Duke William’, The Normans in Europe, http://www.medievalsources.co.uk/normans.htm (on-line version)

Too Much Too Young- The Specials, Ska and West Brom!

As part of our music month, I am posting about a song which very much not only paints a picture of the political scene at the time, but showed a new movement arising in the urban hubs. The song I am talking about of course, is Too Much Too Young by the Specials, a band based in the Midlands and was one of the many taking advantage of the changing political landscape and the views of the time. As a band, they were one of the few to have both black and white members, which at the time in the late 70’s/early 80’s of Britain, this was a very weird thing to happen. Here is the song:

Too Much Too Young Lyrics by the Specials

Music and youth culture went hand in hand like bread and butter, and with the generation coming through containing a lot of the common wealth nations such as Jamaicans and more Asians mixing with the white children; it was a mixed society where the rules were broken and the club scene was somewhere you could not only let your thoughts be known but also to let your hair down. The club scene itself was often playing what was known as Ska music, which had its roots from Jamaica. The Specials used the Ska beat to vent their frustrations and the dissatisfactions of the British underclass growing up out of sight and mind on bleak and soulless inner-city council estates.

Image of the Specials

In this song in particular, we are hearing the dissatisfaction with the welfare state, how far too many young girls are getting children too early and missing out on the fun that could be had at the time. The title itself, Too Much Too Young, further illustrates that the society at this age were doing far much more than was perhaps expected of them, and in a way throwing their lives away before they had lived their lives to the way that they should have done. But the effect the lyrics had on the society which listened to them created an obvious message that this was the generation that were going to enjoy their lives; they weren’t going to live by the norms of getting a job, having a family. Instead they would party until the sun rose and not have any regrets about doing so. Even the build up of the band, with 2 Jamaicans and the bands colour scheme of black and white made the racist society look outdated. The Specials helped to create a new idea which many generations since have followed.

Image of some of the National Front activities in 1980’s England

The fact that at the time, the current political climate was full of massive demonstrations about putting a cap on the amount of migrants allowed to come into the country doesn’t sound too dissimilar to today. However it was an awful lot more violent, with groups such as the National Front regularly demonstrating against anybody that wasn’t a white Briton. The fact that groups such as The Specials so openly promoted integration amongst races would have angered a lot of the Front’s members. However it wasn’t just The Specials that were making big moves to integrate the blacks amongst the white community. Further down the road in the West Midlands, football club West Bromwich Albion had their own idea on how to integrate the races.

Image of the band- The Three Degrees on their tour of the UK, with West Brom players Laurie Cunningham, Brendon Batson and Cyrille Regis.

West Brom was a normal football club like many other: managed by a good manager in Ron Atkinson, they were playing competitive football at the highest level in England. However what made them different from most other teams was the fact that they were the first team to play more than one black player at a time, and they were regularly integrating with the squad. The amount of pressure that must have been on Cyrille Regis, (a brilliant striker who had a hunger for goals he regularly tended to), Laurie Cunningham, (a pacey midfielder who flew whilst on the ball and who was taken from us too early), and Brendon Batson, (a solid defender and who would later become an important member of the Players Football Association), is hard to imagine. These were the men that led the football of the late 1970’s early 1980’s forward, showing not just the fans but the players and the manager themselves that it could be done, and not only that but that they can play football.

Laurie Cunningham floating over the pitch

After reading the Three Degrees- The Men Who Changed British Football Forever by Paul Rees, I was struck by just how much not only these 3 men but the music of the time had on the society around them. Cunningham himself helped destroy the racial stereotypes in society around him but having a white girlfriend with whom he regularly went out with every weekend on the Birmingham club scene. He also became such a good footballer that he played for Real Madrid, one of the biggest teams in the World. Both Cunningham and Regis further emphasised that a mixed community worked by representing England on a number of occasions, letting their feet do the talking. In Rees book he regularly talks of the fact that Cunningham would let his feet do the talking, and although he was subject to an awful lot of racist abuse, he would consistently silence his doubters with his skill.

Video showing the skill and grace of Laurie Cunningham

The trio at West Brom and the music acts like The Specials all helped to change a period of racial prejudice and create a new period  rebelling against the system and acceptance of certain aspects at the same time. Too Much Too Young made not only people dance but think about their own lives and make them think of themselves. The fact it is convincing them not to get held down too early by family, marriage and life illustrates a changing shift at the time. It was songs like Too Much Too Young which really did help to shape a generation.  With the music and the way that football was changing, it has helped improve both society and the outlook on race within this country. If you have time, I would suggest reading the Three Degrees, it is an excellent book, talking not just about the football but the cultural significance of these 3 great football players and the spirit of the Midlands music scene.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog, and I hope you enjoy the rest of WUHstry’s music month.