‘Cancel Culture’ is Not the Preserve of the Left. Just Ask Our HistoriansRoundup
tags: slavery, social media
David Olusoga is a historian and broadcaster.
This will be a year of disillusionment. Even the rollout of new vaccines and the potential end of the pandemic will not prevent that. The first moment of disillusionment will come the moment we realise that we are still going be talking about Brexit and still negotiating our future relationship with the EU, particularly around the service sector. As 2020 demonstrated, getting Brexit done doesn’t mean it’s actually done.
For those who believed in the more utopian of the many false promises contained within the original Brexit prospectus, the disillusionment will be deeper – although few will be willing to acknowledge it – as through the Brexit wardrobe lies our new age of difficult choices and cold realities, rather than some “enhanced sovereignty”, “Empire 2.0” Narnia.
For the government and its cheerleaders, growing disillusionment will bring with it another challenge, because among the many problems that follow the vanquishing of an imaginary enemy is that there is no one left to blame. What happens now that the finger of blame can no longer be pointed at Brussels bureaucrats? What will fill the papers now that stories of “bendy bananas” are off the agenda? Who can be vilified when immigration is not reduced to a trickle, lost industries do not return and Britannia fails to re-emerge, “buccaneering” and “unchained”, on to the world stage? While many of the damaging effects of Brexit will be slow to emerge, and others will be blamed on the pandemic, eventually the day will dawn on which it is widely recognised that the buck stops at Westminster, not Brussels. Then what?
In the second half of 2020, one strategy for filling the post-Brexit blame vacuum was tried, tested and war gamed, all of it executed with levels of proactive forward-thinking and strategic planning that the government struggled to muster when dealing with the pandemic. New enemies were identified and the attack lines against them fine-tuned in the focus groups.
Firmly in the crosshairs are black and brown working-class people, who are to be stripped of their class identity so that their interests and their histories can be falsely presented as a dangerous threat to those of working-class white people. Hence the demonisation and deliberate mischaracterisation of the Black Lives Matter movement. But among the new enemies are academics and, in particular, historians, whose work focuses on the histories of empire and slavery. They and the institutions that have commissioned research from them have been subjected to a new order of hostility. Expect more of the same in 2021.
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