There isn’t *quite* a poem called sweeping the street by George Herbert, but you don’t have to be religious to grasp the wonderful truth of his idea that you can sweep the street ‘for god’.
Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says we mustn’t whitewash our history.
In a recent interview conducted by Hastings in Focus, Hart repeatedly used the term ‘whitewash’, apparently to criticise the taking down of offensive statues. This felt really bizarre to me, because listening to political conversations around the place, the term ‘whitewash’ appears to have two almost opposite meanings. One is to cover up the wrong-doings and the shady bits where we’re half-aware of corruption and injustice, the other is to deliberately or unconsciously remove the contributions and experiences of black and ethnic minority people.
Which does she mean? Statues are official markers of how a country, city or organisation sees itself. They mark up the kinds of people citizens are expected to know about and honour. That is why the ritual of pulling down statues is a global, traditional custom to mark a sea-change in a population’s awareness and attitudes.
Perhaps that important piece of information has been ‘whitewashed’ out of our history curriculum. Let’s consider it now.
The people of Bristol have long been campaigning to remove that statue they recently, famously, threw in the river. As per usual, the establishment was slow responding – it’s always easier for those in office to leave something where it is than to make a potentially controversial change, so the people did what people do – they picked up the mood of the moment, and removed the statue themselves. Problem solved.
That wasn’t whitewash as in hiding our history. It led to a week in which vast numbers of people across the country were talking about our history of slave trading.
That wasn’t whitewash as in ‘airbrushing out’ black history. It helped black people start talking about how deeply British glorifying of slave traders has affected their own families, and led to more white people trying to understand those feelings and their still-manifest consequences. It was a fantastic, nationwide history lesson.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three big demos where the Churchill statue in Parliament Square has received the attention of ‘political artists’. Sitting where it does, right opposite the seat of our parliament, it’s the perfect subject for a protesting movement to use to display their message about an unchanging, unresponsive establishment.
That’s not whitewashing as in airbrushing out corruption – it’s done on demos that are highlighting that corruption. And it’s not whitewashing as in ignoring black history – quite the opposite, in most cases.
What Hart was trying to say
“We’ve all got history. We don’t whitewash it,” she reckons if we know our mistakes, “we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Right, let’s learn something
Ms Hart says she was grateful the “march in Hastings was peaceful” she says there was “horrendous violence all over the country” she says the agenda is to combat racism but “all the violence is undermining that message” that the “conversation is not about racial equality, but violence and statues.”
She says “We have a history in this country, we can’t brush it under the carpet, she says “we’ve got to learn from the past.” She says “It’s up to local communities to decide what they want to do with a statue.”
What can we conclude from Hart’s words?
Firstly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what BLM did in Hastings. Yes, it was very peaceful and very well organised. The main event was not a march – was there a march?
Secondly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what happened anywhere in the country. Where was this horrendous violence? There were a few unfortunate incidents in the London demo, the worst of which happened in, and many think were caused by, a reckless police charge. Other than that, the only violence I’m aware of came from a crowd of completely not BLM white blokes who ran rampage in London the next week, for no very clear reason and among other things, tried to goad police into a fight. I conclude Hart is part of a tradition that takes any rumour of violence and seems to vaguely suggest black people were to blame.
Thirdly, when she says “the conversation is not about racial equality, it is about violence and statues”, I realise that she is only talking to the people who have not yet grasped what BLM is about – because it is only those people who insist on talking about violence and statues, rather than about what is happening to black people in our country. so be warned – our MP and her following have not even begun to get the message about BLM. We need to keep that conversation going, and really, deeply learn what people who want to teach anti-racism should be doing in Hastings and Rye.
She is right about one thing. We must not brush our history under the carpet. It is a very racist, sexist and classist history, and we urgently need to sort out the consequences of that.
What Sally-Ann Hart said about child poverty
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
Hastings Black Lives Matter event…
Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary
In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.
Cornered and anxious?
This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.
On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.
Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.
Asylum seekers seek asylum
It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.
France is a safe place?
Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.
Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:
Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says….
Get a job, feed your children
Hart says it’s sad if children are not fed by parents because of choices they’ve made. She says the amount of Universal Credit granted to Hastings is very high and that HBC is very slow getting everyone jobs. She says…
We need to reopen our economy
Hart’s message on coronavirus is that we need to be confident. to get ourselves back out there, live with the virus, be brave and move on. She acknowledges that a large proportion of Hastings’ income is tourism related, that we’ve lost Easter and we’ve lost May Day and we need to get out and earn some money now.
There are two glaring problems with this
- On going child poverty
Even before coronavirus, there were many, many parents in Hastings who, whether working or not, were not getting a decent, reliable income that allowed them to look after their families properly. The fact that they then missed out on the usual ‘big earning’ weekends in the spring has made that worse, and brought more people into the danger zone.
The school summer holidays are almost upon us and there is no way, not with even a Tory-sized ego, a family can make up for three months losses on top of ten years of Tory austerity and be sure to feed their kids properly.
There is no way that Hastings Borough Council, struggling with swingeing losses to government grants over ten years of austerity, can magic up thousands of well-paid jobs overnight to solve these acute and immediate and devastating problems.
Sally-Ann Hart, please understand those families need help NOW.
2. We need to protect our depleted health and social care services
Both services have been run down during the ten years of austerity and, when Hastings people set up those admirable volunteer services to help people not properly compensated by the government to stay home safely, they weren’t doing it because they lacked confidence, they were doing it because they had an eye on the small number of available hospital beds and other services. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t all fall ill at once, and keep within the limits of the Tory-depleted services we have, and to avoid overwhelming our hard-working, under-paid NHS and social care staff.
Sally-Ann Hart, please understand our health and social care services need re-funding NOW.
Sally can wait – we can’t
The landlord won’t wait for the rent. A hungry child can’t wait for economic measures to filter through. Sally-Ann Hart, please understand – Hastings does not lack confidence, but Hastings can’t wait.
Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP
What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about refugees
I saw my old school on Derelict in the UK! But the photos didn’t show the thing I really loved about that school, so I went and took some of my own…
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: me and school – we really didn’t get along. I am not nostalgic, I do not dream of the ol’ school days. But I am aware that my secondary school was a far, far pleasanter experience – and in many ways, a better learning environment than that many teenagers have to put up with nowadays.
I went to secondary school in 1972. I was in a bit of a pickle because the changeover from eleven-plus and selective education had happened during the latter half of my junior years and my family managed to compound the confusion by moving house midway through the assessment period from an eleven-plus town to a select-by-school record town (that was a sort of halfway stage before ending selection).
So – Hastings High School (latterly known as Helenswood), and us pretty much the last of the ‘selected by ability’ intake. I got a default place because my Hastings primary school hadn’t had me long enough to do a performance-based assessment, and because my mum made a fuss. I’m not sure which bit did it, but it got done.
So I was at a school with very good facilities, a wide range of subjects to choose from and – this is the thing – superb grounds. The single greatest compensation for all the things I didn’t like about school was the opportunity to just disappear into playgrounds, loll about on lawns or stroll in woods.
I’m writing this now because there was a time when many schools, not just the posh ones, had great outdoor space for break and lunchtime wanderings and sport for those that liked it (I didn’t!). I’m convinced it vastly reduced the stress of bad times at school and I’m furious that so many schools have lost those spaces.
I’m particularly furious about Helenswood, and I want the people who went there in my time and later on to be furious. I have no idea if the building is rescue-able – it was built in the era of flat roofs, which was never a good idea, and buckets-in-corridors was the norm in winter in all the schools I went to – but it’s the grounds I’m furious about, and here’s why.
Like most of the state schools in this country, Helenswood was handed over to an academy trust some years back. In this case, an outfit called ARK so it became ARKHelenswood. They put ARK before the names of all the schools they take over (any conversation about education in Hastings sounds as though it’s being constantly interrupted by chickens).
A second building was constructed a mile or so up the road, and the school run across two sites. My daughter and her friends told me they didn’t like the new building – it was cramped by comparison with the old one, and seemed to be a very efficient stress-building sound-box. It wasn’t sited so well either, fronting right onto a main road intersection opposite the new hospital –
But that academy trust had more problems than bad school design. People started sending their kids out of town to avoid the trust and that, coupled with a projected reduction in population, apparently led the trust to decide they didn’t need the Helenswood building after all.
I am highly suspicious. They didn’t own it for that long, and the population projection didn’t come out of nowhere – why did they take on that school, with its extensive and highly desirable grounds, and set about building another one when a reduction in uptake was on the cards?
I suspect the Helenswood grounds have been stolen from our town, stolen from the next generation of kids, and I think we should start making a lot more fuss about the loss of school grounds. Please tell me what you think. Links to campaign groups and info about the value of school grounds especially appreciated.
(It’s a work in progress – I want to hear about yours, too.) What do we change, what do we scrap – what can we do?
… what the fighting all was for
Thoughts for VE Day…
Not so far from the supermarket queue…
Did you know some theatre companies drop the last couple of pages of ‘Hamlet’, because they like Hamlet’s dying words, “the rest is silence” as the last line?