Re:  Whose history are WE talking about?

Date: Wednesday 13 April 05

The Guardian, 14 April: "Belsen, 60 years on -The world must not forget, says liberator"

Daily Telegraph, 14 April: "Captain Cook statue insults Aborigines"

The two articles above set me thinking, not for the first time, about history and whose history it is that WE refer to.

"The world must not forget Belsen". As a European, Belsen and the context in which it occurred is an essential part of MY history. But if I were not a European, if I were not so closely related to the victims and the perpetrators of Nazi crimes, if I were African, Asian or an Australian aborigine, for example, why should I take a particular interest in European history? World history and European history are not synonymous, although the way many people talk, you'd think they were. Africans were not responsible for Nazi crimes, neither were they responsible for putting a man on the Moon. Europeans were, on both counts.

Because of the close ethnic, cultural and historical ties, Nazi crimes should be as relevant to Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans of European decent as they are to indigenous Europeans , but they can hardly have the same relevance for native Americans, Australians, New Zealanders or South Africans. Far more relevant to them will be the crimes committed my Europeans (more Englishmen than Germans) against their own peoples.

The truth of the matter is that different people's have different histories. The history of white America (and Americans) is not the same as that of Black America (and Americans). The nation state (i.e. the American government) requires all citizens to identify with it, but what is a nation without its history? When objecting to being drafted to fight in the Vietnam war a Black American famously said: "Why should I? No Vietnamese ever called me a Nigger!" (or words to that effect). So why did, and do, so many Black Americans serve an essentially white American government?

What relevance does British and European history have for Europe's non-European immigrants? Surely some, since European history affects everyone, the more so if Europe is where they live and were perhaps born, but their perspective will be very different to that of a native European; added to which the history of their own ancestors will almost certainly be more important to them, because it is with these they will most closely identify.

Identity - including and most importantly, ethnic and racial identity (it's about our ancestors, for heaven sake!) - lies at the heart of human existence. Because it played a central role in Nazi philosophy (placing the German "master race" above all others), its importance is now greatly played down, or denied altogether, because it shames and scares us. But in consequence, and because nation state politics demands it, we are living a lie. 

It's awkward, I know, but we need to face up to it, not least because feelings of racial and ethnic identity among Europeans are generally condemned as a form of "racism" and suppressed. This is dangerous and likely to lead to the very problems we want to avoid (just as suppressing human sexuality, rather than facing up to it and dealing with it responsibly, can also have terrible consequences).