THE communities secretary Robert Jenrick has found time to write for the Telegraph an article headlined: “We will save our history from woke militants.”
There’s plenty to unwrap in that headline and the words that lie beneath. Such are the pleasing ambiguities of the English language that you can take that last sentence two ways. Those words sit underneath the headline; and they lie there too, in the sense of being misleading.
As you must surely know by now, woke is the new ‘it’s political correctness gone made’. Like its shabby predecessor, woke is dragged out as if to seal an argument by people who can think of nothing better to say. It is much favoured by right-wingers such as Jenrick.
Woke originates in the US where, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”.
In that form, woke is something admirable; later it became a self-conscious, slightly self-mocking label; and then it was wielded as a weapon by those who are proud of not being at all sensitive to issues of racial and social justice.
This reminds me to once again seek out an application for the liberal elite. I’m always hearing about this organisation and it sounds jolly fine.
Funny thing is, those who disparage the liberal elite tend to be members of that old club known as the Conservative Party. Thanks to the peculiarities of this country, they’re nearly always the ones in power; they pull all the levers and yet they moan on about the liberal elite ruining modern life.
Something here doesn’t add up. You’re nearly always in charge: so how can you blame those who rarely are?
What Robert Jenrick is doing here is waving an irrelevance as a distraction from all the bad things going on, all those wasted billions and untold deaths. Don’t look there, look over here instead.
He writes with unfettered pomposity, saying at one point: “We cannot – and should not – try to edit or censor our past.” Adding that he agrees with his boss that to tear down statues is “to lie about our history”.
There are plenty of stray threads to pull here, but let’s start with the statue that came down last year, when slave trader Edward Colston was dunked in the Bristol docks.
Colston transported into slavery some 84,000 Africans, around 19,000 of whom died, their bodies thrown to the sharks that followed slave ships. It had long been the wrong statue in the wrong place, and its presence affronted many in the multi-racial city.
But there is more to it that than. This statue was erected in 1895, more than 170 years after Colston’s death and more than 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain.
It was hauled up by local businessmen who wished to paint over that shameful panel in their city’s history.
As such, you could easily say that statue was a lie that rewrote history.
The historian David Olusoga has argued that “this was not an attack on history. This is history. It is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were”.
Robert Jenrick seems to see history as something fixed and set in stone and marble. Perhaps there is a slogan lying around somewhere: “Get history done.”
Better, surely, to see history as an ever-evolving story, one that is constantly being rewritten thanks to new discoveries, fresh interpretations, and the different sensibilities of each age.
What Jenrick is really saying is that there is one version of history, and it’s the one that proclaims everything about Britain is and always has been marvellous and stain-free.
Trouble is, that’s not history. It’s propaganda fancy-dressed as history.
Jenrick says history should “be studied, not censored”. What does that even mean? Well, if it means anything, it means you will stick with the officially preferred version of history and not investigate the family’s grubby secrets.
Attempting to brush off slave trading or the cruelties of Empire as “just of those things than happened” – or trying not to mention those dark patches at all – is itself a form of censorship. Robert Jenrick doesn’t seem to understand that inherent contradiction.
Anyway, I’m off to discover how you go about becoming a woke militant. Sounds like it could be fun.