Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Beyond the culture wars with Owen Jones: slavery, statues and racism

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Are we in the middle of a culture war?

What even is a culture war?

Its not a terminology Im familiar with at all.

Culture war, it sounds daft.

What do we even mean by the culture wars?

Our identity today is determined by how we understand our own history.

Ive long believed this country is going through

a profound gramscian cultural revolution.

And I feel like its now coming to fruition.

And in the midst of a global pandemic statues

became a key battleground in that struggle.

You know when were arguing about a statue,

were arguing about whose history is forgotten.

A new front in the so-called culture war.

But does it have more to do with how we process our history of colonialism?

And why is the issue of statues more important in some cities, than others?

So weve come to Oxford for the day, with its dreaming spires.

This is where I actually went to university.

I studied history here

and there is a big battle about our history which is taking place.

And you know, a gentile kind of place that this is,

the struggles that began in the United States.

after the death and of course the killing of George Floyd

by the police brimmed out on the streets of this country.

Including this street here.

The reason, the focus of the struggle on this street was a guy up there called Cecil Rhodes.

Hey, how are you?

Hi Owen.

Great to see you.

Simukai Chigudu teaches African history

and is one of only a few black professors at Oxford University.

So Cecil John Rhodes is a Victorian imperialist whose major ambition in the late nineteenth century

and early twentieth century was to colonise Africa.

Now you must have walked past this statue hundreds of times?


How does that make you feel?

You know, this is such a glorious position on which to frame him.

Its easy to miss it right, hes so high up,

you can walk past and not think about it.

How I feel about it, its a relic,

an anachronistic relic of a bygone era.

There were already calls for the Rhodes Statue to come down in 2015,

but they were reginited by the Black Lives Matter

movement last month.

Rhodes must fall started because of student activists in South Africa,

tired of colonial iconography ...

Tired of the crisis of representation of black and other minority ethnic people in our institutions.

You know, when we are arguing about a statue and whether a statue belongs on a particular plinth,

were arguing about whose history is told

and whose history is swept under the rug or forgotten.

And if we envisage this country as tolerant and democratic,

that also means being able to be much more inclusive in a public way

about the different sorts of people that make up the British isles.

Everyone talks about everyone,

that Britain and everywhere, we are in the midst of this inferno of a culture war.

What do you understand by culture wars?

Many of the same folks who are saying things like black lives matter,

many of the folks who are involved in movements like Me Too,

are sharply aware that its not only about being recognised in terms of identity,

but its also about the very material circumstances that shape the life chances of different sorts

of people.

And I think that framing things in terms of the culture war

is potentially a distraction from that.

And one that fuels the very sorts of jingoism that we see in the US,

in parts of continental Europe, even in parts of Africa, and that deeply worries me.

So I would be keen to push back on the culture war.

Hello Peter, my old friend

Owen, its been so long ...

Obviously weve got to keep our distance.

Weve got to keep our distance, I know youre taking this very seriously.

Im an unbeliever in all this stuff.

You dont believe coronavirus exists?

I believe it's here but I don't think it's anything like a terrible plague ...

Someone who isnt necessarily calling for the Rhodes statue to come down

is Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens.

So here he is again. So it commemorates his residence.

But its a good deal easier to get at than the other statute.

So this is a video of some chanting students ...

What did that summarise to you?

If I was look at that picture, that video, what did it represent?

It summarises the fact that the camera can lie.

I was walking along the pavement

and some people were chanting and I wasnt particularly bothered by that.

But it looks as if they were pursuing me.

Should we be celebrating white supremacists

who are responsible for thousands of people who died?


Absolutely not but you cant forget that an awful lot of the wealth

and standing of this city is based on the activities of Cecil Rhodes.

He spent a lot of money here.

Im not a militant opponent of the Rhodes Must Fall demonstrators,

what worries me much more is the general regime change aspect of pulling down statues.

When we say this regime change, lets just consider the country,

weve got a Conservative PM.

Well we have a government which has been formed by the Conservative party.

Lets not mix that up.

Totally different.

Whether you regard this as a conservative government or not,

the tearing down of statues wont change any government.

Its a part of it.

As with so many things it shines a light on the subject.

Isnt the point that far more people now know about Cecil Rhodes

and have debated Cecil Rhodes than theyve probably ever done?

This is why I like demonstrations, they draw peoples attention to things.

You could say quite reasonably, well, put it in a museum, its alright by me.

But thats what they are arguing for.

I keep telling you, Im not standing here saying leave Cecil Rhodes alone.

Im not his spokesperson.

Dont mix me up with the person youd like me to be.

I am not him.

Why is it that we are both scared that we are on the losing side of the culture war?

Well I expect we both are, one of the problems with revolutionaries

is that they are almost always eaten by the revolutions they ...

The problem with counter-revolutionaries is that they always get eaten.

So well get eaten by the same people for different reasons.

I think were both scared of each others-side on this war.

Theres nothing to be scared of from my side, my side is totally powerless.

Masks on, on the train

and as we head north the weather is significantly deteriorating.

And we are on the way to Liverpool.

And that is a city whose history cannot be divorced from the slave trade.

In the 18th century, Liverpool played a central role in the UK slave trade,

which contributed to much of the citys wealth at the time.

But how does that legacy relate to its contemporary history

from the Toxteth disturbances in the 1980s,

to the protests weve seen over the past few months?

What kind of response are you getting to these banners?

So you felt a lot of solidarity?

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kerry and Buster Nugent are integral to todays Black Lives Matter movement in Liverpool

After George Floyd, Buster started a one-man vigil outside this park

in Toxteth.

Were going to go to the Caribbean centre, and meet some of our younger representatives.

Lets do that, lets do that.

This plinth here used to be of Huskinson, the slave owner.


So the 81 riots, the following year, was torn down.

Was it torn down by local people?

They didnt wait for the council?

No, no, it was torn down, it was taken down.

The Toxteth disturbances of 1981, big moment here


Basically back in them days it was about police brutality.

You could not come outside of this area, which is like a thing called the Toxteth triangle.

You just couldnt, you couldnt move.

Young males were stopped and searched every hundred yards.

They were just harassed to death.

I was 17 at the time so ripe for rebelling

and getting involved.

What about the police now? Have things changed?

You know what? Its kind of mellowed out a bit,

but its still on the same thing, its racial profiling.

We are trying to understand why as a community, were

Still left behind

Why were still left behind.

Believe me, Liverpool is one of the worst cities

for being a person of colour.

Within a week of Busters one man vigil up to 7,000 people were on the streets.


How is it going?

So, how did you all get involved in this new movement, what happened?

I grew up in Liverpool, I've lived in London,

I've experienced racism from all areas

and all aspects of life, and people so I had to represent my city

and my community.

I felt like I had to go.

Its bringing different groups together, all different diversities, ethnicities, class,

cultures ...

As eye-opening and overwhelming as this is,

I really think this could be part of something really revolutionary.

Why Britain?

Why was it so important that it has to happen here?

It may not be as everyday as were seeing in the US,

but it definitely happens here.

In my lifetime I know people weve lost to police brutality

and if you speak to my grandparents, my elders, aunties,

uncles, and people from the community, theyve been fighting for a long time for

justice especially

in the Toxteth and L8 community.

Its nothing new to us at all.

So the movement has partly targeted statues of slavers, colonialists, and others,

why does that matter?

For me, I feel like the statues argument is an interesting one,

because I dont have the answers.

I recently had a conversation with someone about the psychological impact of living

in a city like Liverpool with a history so dark and deep

as it is around the slave trade.

Does it have any subconscious affect on us? We dont know.

But we do know our history in Liverpool.

When I walk down to the docks.

I dont know if youse have been there, you feel that?

You will feel that.

If you go to certain areas you will feel the energy is different

If the statues remain, lets at least be honest

about why they are still here,

or why they were here in the first place,

lets talk about their entire legacy and then people can judge what they want to judge.

Are we in the middle of a culture war?

What is a culture war?

Its not a terminology Im familiar with at all. Culture war ... it sounds daft.

This is ending a war.

This is to get to peace. So to put the war in it ...

Its negative.

Yeah yeah, when I think of war, I think of horror, I think of death ...

And this is, it sounds a bit cheesy but I genuinely think this is a rebirth.

Thats proper cheesy innit?

It you dont understand whats going on, its very easy to be like,

yeah its a culture war,

the black people hate the white people for some reason.

I was like, no, no no, its not that at all.

These protesters are obviously very aware of the legacy of the city they live in

and how important the docks were to that.

The docks are also home to the UKs only slavery museum

which is attempting to confront our colonial past head on.

It was still closed because of the pandemic,

but we were fortunate enough to get a special tour with Dr Richard Benjamin.

I mean some would go, this is a terrible history, but it is the past.

Is this really something we have to relitigate in the here and now?

Yeah, because it is the here and now.

There are examples today where black people are still not treated as equal citizens.

As is proven by many of the horrendous murders that still take place.

So whos this guy here for example, what are we looking at there?

So Thomas Golightly, hed be one of the many mayors of Liverpool,

who would have also been pro-slavery.

So he would have profited from them maybe?


Do you think theres a sense of guilt here?

Well, Liverpool made an official apology in 1999,

make of that what you will.

It was a step in the right direction.

As is having a museum.

Whats the point of an apology, wouldnt some people go,

these people responsible are long dead.

Well the individuals themselves might be long dead

but legacies arent, are they? Thats one of the things.

You shouldn't necessarily feel guilty about it but there are the remnants with us

today, very much.

Do you think people get defensive about it?

Some are, but equally Im someone who will not just talk about this white privilege.

My mums white, OK? She married a black man,

so no one needs to tell my mum what its like to be anti-racist.

So sometimes it does kind of grate on me a little bit

while everyone expects every white person to feel guilty.

It's not about that.

What I think is happening now is that people who it doesnt affect, they are thinking,

do you know, yeah,

I get it a bit more now, I get that theres racism,

I get that theres unconscious bias,

but it doesn't affect them on a day to day basis.

So if this helps some people think, how do I act, how do I think of people of

African decent?

Maybe well move forward.

Whats your hopes and dreams for what this movement is going to archive?

I want to see the outcomes in education, within our own organisations, within our own


Im still learning, I suppose youre still learning

that's why youre doing this documentary.

So for me the hope is that we have some real outcomes, measurable outcomes as well.

Are you worried this will just fizzle out?

We cant change our colour, we can change our race,

we cant change our history, we can't change our ancestors,

so that fire will never fizzle out in our hearts.

Youre very moved by that, arent you?

I am, Im just so proud ...

Talk to him

It's alright, take your time, take your time.

Im just really proud of them and Im touched that theyve got the passions

and the emotion to take it forward.

Were getting on a bit now so we really need these young people

to take this movement forward.

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