On the opening day of the Test match series England v. West Indies, let me make this contribution to Black Lives Matter and to Israel/Palestine. Two personal memories, thirty years apart.
In 1978 I was in Senegal, the most westerly country in Africa. I came across several black Americans, in search of their roots. They had no real idea which part of that vast continent their ancestors had come from, but this was the closest. With their American ways, they didn’t get on very well with the conservative, Muslim and French-speaking locals. The Senegalese had their own problems, adjusting to becoming a low-wage economic colony despite having secured their political independence in 1960.
Just off Dakar, the most westerly tip of the continent, is a small island, Goree, half an hour from the mainland and idyllic in its peacefulness and sandy beaches. On the western side is a Napoleonic-era building, centrepiece of the slave trade. People were brought to this holding station, and walked through the archway directly onto the gangways of the ships. Often I saw black Americans doing that short walk, over and over again, re-tracing their ancestors’ last steps in Africa.
Fast forward to 1998, 50th anniversary of the foundation of the State of Israel. I was in an Edinburgh Lecture in the City Chambers. I remember the Director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC describing her determination to avoid having only photographs and written testimony – she wanted real exhibits from the Holocaust. One result was crates and crates of shoes that had been taken off just before people entered the gas chambers.
In the Q&A session she described how she made a point of talking to people in the assembly area after the exhibits. She approached a black family to ask for their reactions. Their spokesman said ‘Gee ma’am, we never knew other people had their problems too’.