“Decolonize your mind…”

…was amongst the many thought-provoking signs at the Black Lives Matter (not Black Friday) protest in Seattle.

I’ve never attended a protest march before, but Mark has seen his fair share, usually as an onlooker, but sometimes as a participant – in London, Paris, and Berlin. And in the 1960/70s, he took part in anti-fox-hunting demonstrations in rural England. These could be particularly vicious and nasty, because aside from the animal rights considerations, there was a strong measure of class warfare combined with the clash of traditional rural and modern urban sensibilities. On top of that, demonstrators contended with opponents on horseback carrying whips, or driving Land Rovers and carrying shotguns — and dozens of excited barking dogs! And, this often took place in mud under pouring rain. Mark says it was like Glastonbury meets WTO.

It was Mark’s idea to attend the Black Friday protest. He figured we might get away with being in the same place at the same time if we were in a large enough crowd. I belong to a White Allyship group at work and wondered if anyone else might go — but Mark suggested I go alone and experience it in my own way.

Mark managed to keep a safe distance from me all day. He rode downtown on an earlier bus and kicked his heels at a coffee shop in Belltown. I ended up having coffee in Pioneer Square, at the Cherry Street Coffee House that’s actually on Cherry Street. Before heading over to Westlake Park, Mark suggested I just have a quick wander through Magic Mouse Toys — where I worked many years ago. The Philadelphia Chickens (the soundtrack to my life for three years) were playing in the book room — and the Intermission Song by Aaaardvarks brought back a flood of memories. For the day after Thanksgiving, the store was awfully subdued — and it was hard not to feel a bit sad — looking back on the mad and magic part of my life. But I would soon forget all of that and return promptly to 2015.

I’m not a good shouter. My voice is rather weak. But protests are about numbers as much as anything — and I enjoyed just being another person, another white person, in the crowd. I quickly realized how easy it is to lose your bearings and become disoriented — even on city streets that are very familiar. All the usual landmarks at ground height are hidden by people — including street signs — and you have to look at the upper parts of buildings to know where you are. No wonder a crowd is easily panicked when there’s tear gas.

“Fun” is not the right word to describe the experience. Neither is “enjoyable.” But I do remember feeling happy — not the kind of happy that’s about having a good time — but the kind of happy that’s about being glad to be where you are.

We were told that going into Macy’s (and other stores) was voluntary — we could just stay outside and make noise if we preferred. I elected to stay outside, but Mark went into Macy’s. (I was near the front of the march and he was further back.) He said it went fine, with shoppers and staff largely taking it in stride. I stayed with the march past the standoff outside Westlake Center and then the attempt to enter Pacific Place. By this time, I was feeling distinctly overstimulated — and decided to call it a day, although I continued to follow the events on Twitter. As I walked back to Third Avenue to get a bus home, I checked the time and was surprised to see how early it was still — it had been less than three hours — but had seemed a lot longer.

“Decolonize your mind” struck me as a rather apt description of what Mark and I have been struggling with. We’re not only white folks, we’re English white folks — and so we have a lot more history to drag around — and a lot of that history, we never really understood — or even knew!

When I started high school at age eleven (as we did then), my history studies began with the Norman Conquest of 1066 — and the proceeded chronologically through the Middle Ages to the Tudors and the Stuarts, arriving at the English Civil War and Cromwell by the time I was fourteen. Then we fast-forwarded to Napoleon and Waterloo — and then Peterloo and the Great Reform Bill and on to the Chartists.

And that was about all the history I learned. Nothing of British Colonialism. Nothing of the Twentieth Century. Of course, we knew about the British Empire — but to us, it was just territory on a map that once was ours — and the people who lived there were just people we once ruled — and we never questioned it growing up — because you can’t question what you don’t know about. And your vision of the world ends up being very limited by this colonial mindset.

Time to go looking for some more podcasts!


Help yourself

Onward with the In Our Time History Archive!  We continue with the unapologetically English theme — but the British Isles have a very old culture and a very long history — and you can’t understand the appalling modern history without some examination of how the English came by the mindset.

Alene was busy today with iPod-friendly work — so we heard about the dissolution of the monasteries, Hadrian’s Wall, Druids, the Divine Right of Kings, the enclosures of the commons, the Magna Carta, and the Roman Occupation — somewhat in that order.

The Hadrian’s Wall episode somehow collapsed time and space for us, as we contemplated Whin Sill in Northumberland, the dramatic fault escarpment on top of which part of the wall was built. Alene had to stop what she was doing briefly to look at pictures online. There was much confusion over who exactly built this wall, with the attribution going to Hadrian in modern times. In Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History Of The English People, it would appear to be Severus, who came from northern Africa — and we found ourselves contemplating the Atlas Mountains, which were formed more than 200 million years ago by the same tectonic collision which built the Appalachians (rather dear to Alene), as well as the highlands of Scotland, which brought us back to Hadrian’s Wall again.

But the account of the dissolution of the monasteries spawned an idea that we kept revisiting all day long. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries following the split from Rome. Common belief is that he had them sacked and destroyed, but that is not necessarily the case. Rather, their occupants were forced to leave, and the buildings were made non-habitable, usually just via removal of the roof — to make sure no one returned. The serious sacking and looting was actually done by local people — not by Henry’s henchmen.

The Church lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the people. God had just stood by as the monasteries were dissolved. Then the people went in and helped themselves to anything they could carry away — and again God just stood by — there were no consequences. It is said that God helps those who helps themselves — and the English got rather good at helping themselves!

Another tragedy associated with the dissolution of the monasteries is that the contents of many of the libraries were destroyed. The cultures of pre-Roman Britain had an oral tradition, which is why we rely on archaeological evidence for want of written historical accounts — and why we know so little about our original religion, Druidism. The Anglo-Saxons did have a written tradition (both Latin and Old English) — but much of it was lost in the sixteenth century.

So at the same time that the English people were losing their conscience, they also lost some connection with their early history and culture — which is too bad — because that’s a deadly combination.