The cockerel handed over in the ceremony referred to in the articles final paragraph was part of the bronzes looted during the putative expedition to revenge the massacre of a previous expedition into Benin with the view to replacing the Oba of Benin with a native committee more compliant with the interests of British traders. The bronzes were treated as compensation or reparations for the cost of the expedition. In this respect it was not dissimilar to the reparations following WW1 and the looting by the Soviets of German factories etc at the end of WW2. Looting has often accompanied war.
Elspeth Huxley wrote the following regarding the expedition:
“It is a story that still has power to amaze and horrify, as well as to remind us that the British had motives for pushing into Africa other than the intention to exploit the natives and glorify themselves. Here, for instance, are some extracts from the diary of a surgeon who took part in the expedition.:- ‘As we neared Benin City we passed several human sacrifices, live women slaves gagged and pegged on their backs to the ground, the abdominal wall being cut in the form of a cross, and the uninjured gut hanging out. These poor women were allowed to die like this in the sun. Men slaves, with their hands tied at the back and feet lashed together, also gagged, were lying about. As we neared the city, sacrificed human beings were lying in the path and bush—even in the king’s compound the sight and stench of them was awful. Dead and mutilated bodies were everywhere”.
Clearly the Oba of Benin was part of a culture that we and particularly academia would today condemn for its barbarity and slavery.
While it is not unreasonable that Jesus College might consider the best home for the cockerel today was back in Nigeria, is it not curious that the the cockerel was specifically handed over to the present day Oba of Benin without reference to the fact that his ancestors support of slavery and sacrifice? Is it not curious that it was handed to a man who represents inherited privilege without comment? Is it not curious that it was handed to a man that exercises male patriarchal privilege by his possession of five wives again without comment?
Is not the selective nature of woke outrage somewhat noteworthy?
The Woke are misguided & tedious.
As was often the case in colonial wars about three quarters of the military force that invaded Benin in 1897 comprised soldiers who ,as the photo in this link shows, were not suffused with white privilege.
And depthlessly stupid and ignorant.
The woke are misguided and tedious racists.
They are indeed, but their flaws go far beyond these. Hypocrisy, bad faith, malevolence and racism in the form of the ‘bigotry of low expectations’, are often to be found – though not in all, I admit.
Woke people are disgusting.
And generally pretty ignorant
It is noteworthy, in the instances you cite, for being an outcome of drinking the kool-aid of the cultural relativism of postcolonial theory.
Very broadly, it is the destruction of the moral foundations of the West, by any means necessary. The various frameworks for achieving this aim can be recognised by the terms ‘critical *** theory’ and ‘*** studies’ for example and their activists and speculators, having imbibed ‘theory’ have awakened to a new critical consciousness – been born again – and hence are now ‘woke’.
Born Again. Like the religious cultists they are.
This chimes with my own experience teaching at Oxford – apart from a very small minority (most of whom seem to write for the student press) the undergraduates are open-minded, hard-working and intellectually curious, not doctrinaire or dogmatic at all. The proportion of militant activists amongst graduate students is a bit higher (perhaps understandably given the parlous state of the academic job market they will be graduating into), but still certainly not overwhelming. The call to ‘decolonise’ comes from a small minority of academics and students – but as Tombs says, they often find powerful backing from elements of the university’s administrative hierarchy and the growing EDI bureaucracy who have a vested interest in portraying the institution as irredeemably mired in racism and colonialism.
The problem is that while in Oxford and Cambridge academics have a means of pushing back against this democratically, whether through the collegiate system or Congregation/Senate House, all other universities in this country are effectively run as dictatorships through top-down line management from the Vice-Chancellor’s office. Their administrators have the power to push through these measures and ride rough-shod over any opposition, often using Advance HE’s appalling ‘Race Equality Charter‘ as the means – and nobody is permitted to question the requirements of a regime created by a completely unaccountable quango on a very dubious intellectual and evidential basis. This underlines the need for comprehensive reforms to the governance of British universities to make academic representation something more than nominal.
Very much to the point. The same applies to all the public sector bodies, from the NHS downwards, with control (as in thought control) passing unnoticed from, using the NHS example, medical directors to HR ‘teams’. Those with an immediate practical, professional or academic task facing them just sign the forms, letting real power devolve over time to the administrators – and, of course, to the media and PR teams, who dictate the public language of the organisation.
Unaccountable non governmental institutions setting the policy? You mean like Stonewall and The College of Policing for example?
I generally find that if I am brave enough to express some dissent at wokery that people will breathe a sigh of relief and express that they feel the same way but dare not say anything out loud. The self censorship we all, I’m sure, feel the need to do, is the most depressing change I’ve ever seen
DIE is the preferred acronym!
I’m very pleased to hear Oxford undergraduates are, as you said, ‘open-minded, hardworking and intellectually curious.’ That gives some hope for 2022.
So the minority are oppressing the majority then. Ironic
Delighted to hear the motion was comprehensively defeated. Clearly all is not yet lost as far as intellectual honesty is concerned at Cambridge where my father obtained his degree.
Unfortunately, not many have time to search out the true details regarding historical events and put them in context, so many are susceptible to propaganda versions of history. The more real balanced history is promoted the more a realistic appraisal of the past can take place rather than a partial and fraudulent woke version of our past.
“Not so fortunate has been Jesus College, whose contortions have epitomised the worst hypocrisies of “woke”. Their embarrassing record of lucrative sycophancy towards the Chinese regime means that discussion of human rights has been regarded as “unhelpful”, and suppressed, in case the College were “perceived as being a campaigning college for freedom for Hong Kong [or] freedom for the Uighurs”.”
My father is an alumnus of Jesus. Having been a prominent financier who in the past donated considerable sums to his alma mater, he is now quite a long way into his journey into Alzheimers. I am ashamed of his connection to Jesus for the reasons given above, and several months ago sought and received assurances from the people looking after his affairs that any further solicitations from Jesus will be rejected out of hand.
don’t be ashamed – your father, an intelligent man, did what he did with careful consideration and good intent.
To view what he did through the lens of today’s world is to do exactly the same as the ‘woke’ – to view out of context.
Your father was, although not perfect, probably a fine man; and should be remembered as such.
All the best
If the statuette was taken in 1897, what would the link with slavery by the British be?
Ah. The pachyderm in the salon.
You are rightly expecting that judgements on the British Empire should be based on historical fact; sadly, they are not.
Instead, there is a teleological view that starts with an ‘a priori’ position that Britain, and its white majority population, are irredeemably racist and then works backwards from there, ‘explaining’ this by reference to colonialism, the empire and slavery. Accounts therefore of African slavery, which cannot be fitted into that narrative, are automatically discounted or, if included, are on the lines that ‘normal’ African slavery was enhanced, increased and ‘industrialised’ by British intervention.
It figures therefore, on the ‘progressive’ world-view, that British anti-slaving activity was either negligible in its effect, a cloak for late 19th century imperialism or only implemented because slavery was no longer essential to the workings of our economy. I don’t doubt there were mixed motives, in some cases, but this completely ignores the radical change in sentiment and moral understanding from 1750 to 1845, that saw ownership of human beings as morally repulsive and therefore unacceptable.
Robert was more direct about their hypocrisy in this piece:
Great link, thanks.
Again calling into question my lazy assumptions about academia. I assumed any academic putting his name to a letter like this would be immediately cancelled and probably hounded out of his job.
Have all the fanatics moved onto trans and no longer worry about last years fad issues?
Hi Martin, Robert is retired and is professor emeritus so is free to speak out now he is on a pension.
Despite his immense intelligence, knowledge and talent, he wouldn’t get hired today. Brexit alone would be enough to trigger the Wokerati.
An excellent link highlighting the hypocrisy and selective nature of the ceremonial hand over of the cockerel skating silently as it did over the dubious nature of Benin’s past.
Many of our ancestors did stuff that many condemned then and many more condemn now, but reference to out forbears sins without putting them in the context of the generally atrocious behaviour of the rulers of most other countries of the period becomes mere anti-British propaganda rather than an honest examination of the past, and as such unworthy of a world class University.
In the past people used to be hung, drawn and quartered, have their heads put on spikes on the whims of Kings and Lords, crucified, tortured, drowned and burned as ‘witches’ and many other things. By the time the British Empire came along slavery was normal and gad been for millennia. So as the sole power in history to take the moral leap, and act against its own interests, to banish the practice, we should be kissing the British Empire’s ar**. Imperfect of course but probably the most benevolent and influential in history and its influence is why we think slavery is bad and in the past. The woke view history dishonestly by trying to project the present onto it. A present they would not be indulged with if not for the Empire they despise.
That looks like a very interesting website. I’ve read quite a few articles by Robert Tombs, and his book “This Sovereign Isle”. Very impressive.
The elevation of St Andrews University in Scotland to no 1 in the Times Best UK University list of 2022, ahead of Oxford and Cambridge has wiped the smug, self-satisfied smile of entitlement from the faces of many Oxbridge people, and replaced it with a scowl of anger and disbelief. This is the best thing which could have happened to Oxbridge. By bringing this arrogant, out-of-touch group down to earth with a crash, I hope it undermines their woke tendencies.
I doubt it. No university is more “woke” than St. Andrews. Did I not read recently that all prospective students are to be questioned on their commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion?
Yes. I wonder whether that is unlawful?
The DIE test?
That was interesting. I’m equally surprised that they won and it calls into question my lazy assumptions about modern students and academia generally.
The strong identification of the problem as resting with the University Administration is instructive. If wokeism is to be fought it seems we must recognise it’s not a battle of ideas, it’s a battle for control of really boring administrative functions.
With reference to Aris’s article about Ernst Junger, how small we have become. Junger may well have been something of a fruit cake, but his visions of glory have more poetry than a deathly attritional war … with HR!
If wokeism is to be fought it seems we must recognise it’s not a battle of ideas, it’s a battle for control of really boring administrative functions.
True. As always, the UK is imitating the worst of America, where university administrators hold the actual scholars – if there are any uncancelled ones left – to ransome with their asinine “diversity”, “inclusion” and “equity” bilge.
And that’s a lesson as to why administrative functions should have their power limited
The greatest legacy the woke will leave us is a deeper knowledge and understanding of our history, here and abroad – the result of the honest and industrious academics amongst us needing to refute the imbecile claims of those who would cancel our culture.
My college in the United States, is located in the the state of Massachusetts, where slavery – always nearly non-existant since English settlement in the 1620’s – was abolished in 1783. The administration reflexively fell in line with all the other institutions of higher learning in the country, and established an anti-racism commission to uncover the college’s shameful racist past.
After two years of painstaking research by a well-funded committee, the college announced triumphantly that they had discovered a rather small gift made in the early 19th century by the son of a slave-owning farmer in Alabama.
Bingo! The administration felt it could hold its head high at last by joining the ranks of the guilty – and was now on the road (perhaps) to absolution. But the announcement came with the qualification that “much more work” needed to be done. (Presumably to enable the committee to remain in funds.)
Makes me feel nauseous
“The partial and fraudulent woke version of our past,” suits the narrative needs of the ruling technocracy. Simply, the story accomplishes the job for Bezos, Gates, Obama. It has less to do with postmodernism or moral relativism and more to do with legitimizing power. Yes it came from the former but the utility is for the latter
“A wrong that is so egregious,” says the Master (of the college).
Egregious is a funny term. Well, it’s strange how it has become a fairly popular word to use only in the last ten or fifteen years. It has become a substitute word for “unforgivable” or “beyond the pale”, but with the added connotation of “disgusting”. Egregious nearly sounds like “yeeuuukk!” It’s almost a blasphemy — it sounds like someone muttering “Jesus!”.
What if the particular descendant of the Obas, the Oba people, who received the statuette was himself or herself an observant (passionate to use today’s parlance) Christian? Might he or she balk at anyone (white) British who, on a mission to symbolically repair the past, says that the British had committed a “wrong so egregious”? (In other words, so unforgivable or disgustingly beyond the pale). He or she might well (inwardly) balk should the words he or she hears at some ceremony to stage the repair job refer uncharitably to the British equally now as of the past. As if the country is always and forever irredeemable! This Christian country, you know!
The discomfort might be eased if the words aired are in the pluperfect tense (“that the British HAD committed”, say). But clues as to the general direction of things are gleaned easily enough if society and civilisation’s clever detractors talk about “We dastardly Brits”, or, more subtly, “that we British HAVE committed” or “that the British committed” or “the British having committed”. These are expressions at which the Christian African, with undoubted forgiveness in his or her heart, cannot so easily avoid balking at.
And so “egregious” comes in. The kind of word school principals probably use to knock some sense of shame into pupils who have vandalised a piece of school property. And shame on the Brits too! The current crop you may as well throw in! The Christian heart may well not be as much in balking mode then if “egregious” is used as a compromise term. There is thus the opening for: conditional forgiveness. As with the school principal and his or her problem pupils, some kind of punishment is due. After all, how can letters to the parents that mention “egregious behaviour” not lay down some kind of punishment as a just response?
Will you forgive us, dear Christian, if we punish ourselves? How can I stop you doing that now? may well be even a Christian’s (inward) response as he or she smiles politely at the pained fellow.
In a scene from the excellent 1994 movie, Quiz Show, starring Ralph Fiennes, about a well-bred, highly educated university lecturer and his travails on an early American television popular quiz show, in referring to a letter from him that announces his resignation from the show, the miffed TV executive character played by Hank Azariah, having read out the letter, asks his executive colleague innocently enough “What does egregious mean?”.
The pretensions to the high-brow now, which includes being above sin, are so ingrained in our modern world in the 2020s that even any clever clogs kid who happens to watch that movie and that scene may well be prone to uttering out “What a stupid guy! He doesn’t even know what ‘egregious’ means!”
Most people back in the old days had had no fondness for the word!
So why are we being distracted by the issue of transgender rights claims which pales into insignificance compared with the brute fact of the UK’s education system being in the control of various types of Marxists and identity politics obsessives. It’s as though the culture wars are being fought on one issue of minuscule importance except to former feminist stalwarts of the guardian in their spat with their ex -guardian colleagues .
It’s obviously a useful tactic
Any mention of Africans, or other cultures, participating in slavery is simply ignored by our institutions. The British Museum for example is particularly silent on the issue of slave trading by West Africans long after the dastardly British abolished it. On its websites it mentions slavery only in a sideswipe at the British “ while by the late 19th century this trade had largely been abolished, its increasing scale and barbarity in the preceding centuries had a massive impact on West African societies”. This is a statement so general that one cannot disagree with it, yet so economical with the truth it cannot be said to portray the reality of slavery in Benin at the time the bronzes were acquired. Instead it describes the 1997 trade mission as “clearly provocative”, and the subsequent British response as a “bloody and devastating occupation”
There is no mention of who abolished slavery- the British over 50 years before. And no mention of who was continuing it- the Africans. There is no mention either of contemporary slavery in north Western Africa.
An interesting insight into this mindset of condemnation of all European motives but exculpation for Africans can be found at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-53444752. “Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani writes that one of her ancestors sold slaves, but argues that he should not be judged by today’s standards or values” even though “He had agents who captured slaves from different places and brought them to him,”
It would be nice if there was more research into whether any states could have modernised themselves. The Japanese managed to a certain extent.
The Japanese have a different mindset though. They took on their defeat and used it to remake themselves. I admire that they have not chosen the path of ‘oppressed victim’.
When I was a boy the phrase ” Sold down the river ” was common. Who was doing the selling ?
One question, who is the “master” mentioned in the last paragraph?
Master of the college, the head of the college.
Here is the Master referred to: https://www.jesus.cam.ac.uk/articles/sonita-alleyne-obe-elected-new-master. You might wonder why she is not the Mistress of the College but gender is flexible so Master it is.
May I suggest the title of this article is miscast: Peter Nolan, the man behind Jesus College’ China connection is an integral supporter of all things Chinese in Cambridge. Not so much cynical as in your face. The interesting thing to follow up is how far Chinese money is behind the spread of wokeness, definitely of the professional denigration of british history.
With prose like this Robert Tombs is wasted on Cambridge
It is worth pointing out that the Oxford and Cambridge Student’s Unions are not like Students’ Unions in other Universities, they are more a sort of Private debating societies with elements of private clubs as well, dominated by the pushy and sharp-elbowed, well the Cambridge one was when I was there. I chose not to join and never regretted it. A vote at the Cambridge Union will have little reflection on what student opinion at Cambridge actually is. It is, however, worrying that someone with the rank of Professor thinks that “woke” is a real word signifying anything than dislike of someone’s opinion.
What you say is true, in the sense that the Union Society and the CU Students Union are on very different political pages. But the Union Society is (or at least was, when I was there) by far the biggest university society, with a membership measured in 4 figures (albeit many of whom were inactive, having other priorities) so it should not be confused with a private dining society.
An article that his mostly spot on except when it comes to Noah Carl. There are some views that are too extreme to tolerate in any respectable institution. These include insisting that the holocaust was a hoax and that black people are inherently inferior to white people. If you do not understand why these views are intolerable I would be happy to try to explain. Noah Carl’s writing indicated that he endorsed the latter view. He would never have been appointed if those responsible had known this at the time.
Googling Dr Noah Carl I came across this interview with him:
it doesn’t appear to suggest that he holds any extreme views. What is the evidence that he is a holocaust denier and.believes black people are inherently inferior to whites? I don’t see it in his responses in this interview.
On the face of it he is being condemned for tenuous associations with people who might hold such views. No doubt some of those writing for and commenting on Unherd would be regarded as far-right. Do you regard yourself as a far right racist for posting a comment that might taint you by association?
I haven’t heard of Dr Carl before now and am simply interested in whether there is evidence to support your claims or whether he has suffered from a bit of woke McCathyism.
I never said that Noah Carl was a holocaust denier. However he certainly wants scientists to investigate whether black people are inherently less intelligent than white people. Or to phrase it scientifically, whether genetic difference account for group differences in intelligence. If you understood a little about population genetics and intelligence testing you would appreciate that, especially in the context of the long history of whites treating blacks as inherently inferior, that reflects a profoundly racist view. It is equivalent to someone arguing that further research is necessary to verify holocaust. Now it is possible that Noah Carl is profoundly stupid and simply ignorant of human genetics and what we know about the heritability of intelligence. Some holocaust deniers definitely fall into the stupid/ignorant category. In that case however he should not be employed by any self-respecting University.
To provide a bit of background on genetics and intelligence. (1) Blacks (people with African ancestry) show vastly more genetic diversity than people with European ancestry. Indeed there is vastly more genetic diversity within Africa than in the the rest of the world. This is because only a small group of people from Africa emigrated to populate the rest of the world. (2) Because of these genetic differences between these groups (genetic stratification) it is inherently incredibly difficult if not impossible to establish causal associations between genes and group differences in intelligence. (3) The environment has a huge impact on intelligence. The best example of this is the fact that average intelligence have increased dramatically (by ~3 point per decade) over the past century, much more quickly than can be explained by genetic changes (this is the Flynn effect). (4) Blacks in the USA and other European countries have experienced huge differences in their environment and because of the legacy of racism and cultural divisions these difference persist. It is far more likely that IQ differences are explained by differences in environment than genetic differences. Indeed group differences in IQ are likely to be a reliably proxy for these environmental differences and are perhaps best viewed as evidence of structural racism.
Many thanks indeed for your two responses to my enquiry. In past posts here I have expressed the same point as your (1) and (2) seems to follow logically. Nor would I dispute your (3) and (4).
Indeed, since modern scientific research suggests everybody’s ancestry has an African origin is it not time the erroneous 18th Century classifications of mankind into separate races is abandoned? Would it not be much healthier for social relations going forward? The idea that intelligence has any correlation with the pigmentation of a man’s skin is clearly absurd and one doesn’t have to be a geneticist to appreciate that.
Researching whether genetic differences account for group differences certainly presents formidable difficulties in the light of the points you outline but surely research in this area is not automatically racist and indeed might help to highlight the degree of disadvantage different population groups have suffered as a consequence of slavery or other circumstances. I seem to recall Dr Sowell suggested prewar IQ tests suggested urban blacks scored on average better than whites from the rural south of the US so enquiries into differences between particular groups might well highlight environments that are favourable to the development of intelligence to the advantage of people of all shades of skin colour and background.
Having appointed Dr Carl to the Toby Jackman Newton Trust junior research fellowship to presumably research intelligence variations across various populations the University appears to have caved in to a petition asserting that that Carl’s proposed research was racist. The suspicion is inevitably that his research simply did not meet the ideological prejudices of the protesting leftist academics and students rather than that he wanted to investigate whether black people were inherently less intelligent than whites. I was hoping you would point me to some paper by Carl where this proposition was outlined to refute any suspicion this was merely an unwarranted smear.
You will appreciate from my posts above that I am sceptical regarding the intellectual honesty of many leftist academics addressing historical issues involving slavery and colonialism and Inevitable that scepticism bleeds over into the intellectual honesty of academics campaigning against a fellow academic wishing to carry out research in what they may regard as a taboo area.
In any case thank you again for your replies since I come on Unherd to learn something new every day as well as to comment myself. Many times the comments are as interesting as the article.
I’m not interested if something is intolerable or unpalatable I’m only interested if it is true. Holocaust denial seems nuts but if it is then sunlight is still the best disinfectant. Each generation surely must be re-educated in the facts, with fictions challenged robustly. To remind us why it’s true, not just taking it on blind faith making us more vulnerable to charlatans. Regarding black ‘inferiority’ perhaps there is some small truth to it as the races are separated by evolutionary adaptation to their environments which confers specific advantages. It could be equally argued that if there are some small ‘inferiorities’ (whatever that means) on a bell curve there can also be ‘superiorities’ too. Or just some marginal differences on average, that don’t really add up to much at all. The study of human evolution is interesting and important avd truths to not need to be shied away from. It’s how they are applied which is important.
Hi Cheryl, I circle back here from time to time to see if Anton van der Merwe is able or willing to justify his claim that Noah Carl is a racist who wants to establish that blacks are inherently less intelligent than whites.
I suspect (though I am perfectly happy to be proved wrong) there simply isn’t any such evidence – it is simply a bit of woke outrage worked up by leftists who simply don’t want any research carried out in this area.
I suspect in Africa the average ( emphasising average) IQ scores would be lower overall partly because of cultural biases in the test and also because there is widespread malnutrition among the young in large areas of Africa which is bound to affect intellectual development.
Is it important to research such differences – I and I presume you will think it is. Unless one is better informed about facts you can’t take effective action to alter things for the better. The improvements in life and longevity are based on being better informed about things than our ancestors. Unfortunately the woke don’t want to face facts that might call into question any of their ideological positions. Of course, research in this area is not likely to be easy given the difficulties outlined by Anton der Merwe.
No sensible black person will worry about any average intellectual inferiority, were it actually established, any more than I am concerned that black skinned players may better footballers than whites on average and so disproportionately represented in the England football squad.
Personally I would like to see fewer bright but bigoted woke and more sensible people of genuine good will who value facts.
Best wishes for the New Year.