Thursday, 11 June 2020

We Are History

My father was, by the standards being applied today, clearly a racist and an imperialist. His language alone would condemn him now, though it was completely commonplace at the time, as was his casually jocular approach to Jews and to foreigners, whom he regarded, in a typically English way, as (a) funny and (b) unfortunate in not having drawn first prize in the lottery of life (by being born English). He cheerfully related 'Rastus' jokes from the comic books of his boyhood, and, as mentioned above, casually used words which now cannot even be printed. As everybody did. The fact that he never did or said an unkind thing to anyone, regardless of colour, race or (a big factor then) social class, and treated everyone with the same good-humoured respect, would count for nothing now against his catalogue of crimes. If there were a statue to him, the thugs of the new fascism would be itching to take it down. If he had a street named after him, it would be on Sadiq Khan's renomination list...
  It comes as a shock to realise how little distance on has to travel into the past to find cause for offence, if that is what one's looking for (and large numbers of people seem now to look for little else). Recalling my own schooldays, I remember that blatantly racist jokes were common currency, the more extreme and tasteless the better. They were part of a race to the bottom which also accounted for the popularity of 'sick' jokes and 'spastic' jokes – the kind of things we prefer to forget ever disfigured our minds. And yet, if we boys had then had access to social media, we would have been enthusiastically trading such 'jokes' back and forth. Practically everyone of my generation would have enough on their record to make them social pariahs, and very probably criminals too. And yet we were perfectly ordinary people, representative of our times, just as my father was of his. Those times collectively form The Past, and ultimately History. Astonishingly, the Past was, at the time, the Present; similarly, our Present will become the Past – and heaven knows what the moral judges of the Future might make of it. What is certainly true is that to abolish or censor History is, and can only be, a massively self-destructive enterprise. We are History.  

9 comments:

  1. I most enthusiastically agree with all of this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I worry about history repeating itself .... is the reign of terror slouching toward us? .... three cheers for Santayana and Nige ....

    ReplyDelete
  3. A brilliant post Nige. It's an important point that sick jokes seem to be a pretty ingrained part of youthful behaviour - the sicker the better as I'm slightly ashamed to recall! - and numbers of teenagers are now being prosecuted for sharing such distasteful humour online...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Lord, has it come to that? No reason why it wouldn't, I suppose...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Here's an imperial legacy: the country I was born in was renamed, ditto all the schools I went to, the road I lived in, the town where I was born. My history doesn't really exist any more. But I'm still here.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow. What country was that Mary?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).

    ReplyDelete
  8. A wonderful post N - so true.

    ReplyDelete