NO song should be banned. Doing so only manipulates history and creates confusion.
The BBC was last night facing a storm of anger over a proposal to drop Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory from the Last Night of the Proms.
Finnish conductor Dalia Stasevska, 35, is said to be keen to modernise the show and cut its patriotic elements, while critics accuse the Beeb of pandering to the woke cancel culture and of ignoring the history of the anthems.
Both the PM and his culture secretary Oliver Dowden involved themselves in the row, with the latter saying he believed that Rule, Britannia! and Land Of Hope And Glory are ‘highlights’ of the performance while adding: “Confident, forward-looking nations don’t erase their history, they add to it.”
But then late in the day the BBC took the side of the woke cancel brigade in an extraordinary fudge.
The orchestra will play the tunes of both songs — but nobody will sing the all-important words. Usually there is at least a soloist, if not a full choir leading the audience, but of course this year the public seats in the hall will be empty because of the virus, and the voices on stage silenced.
Now, the lyrics of both songs are pro-colonial. If you ban them from the Last Night of the Proms, ending a tradition going back decades, what consequences will that have?
Certainly, someone 100 years from now will say we shouldn’t have done that.
It is the same argument for not taking down statues. If you remove statues because that person stands for something evil in their past, you are removing the deed too.
Manipulating history only adds to mistrust among the black community.
I would like to see the survey that says the public want these two songs taken out of the Proms programme, because it appears to me that the public hasn’t been consulted.
Rule, Britannia! was written by Scottish poet James Thomson and he features on the famous Scott Monument in Edinburgh, near where I live.
He is also commemorated in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, next to William Shakespeare.
If we say we must remove his words from the Proms, do we then remove the memorials too?
Rule, Britannia!, written and set to music in 1740, was mentioned in James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. It is part of my history and my culture. If we take it away, we take away part of my culture.
It’s a song about the power structure at the time, and the arrogance and hypocrisy of Britain vowing to “never be slaves” while at the same time owning and benefiting from about 800,000 black chattel slaves in the West Indies who were called ‘property’.
Of course, people are sensitive to its meaning, as well as Land Of Hope And Glory, the music of which was written by Edward Elgar.
It doesn’t mean we should hide it.
I personally don’t find the lyrics offensive because they are a true representation of the terrible truth at the time.
If you take that away, then you are replacing history with a fairy story.
There is also the possibility that it was written to show the evil of the time, rather than glorifying it.
The objection is that Rule, Britannia! is used by flag-waving “prommers” as a jubilant finale at the Proms.
It is used in the wrong context, and that is part of the ignorance of our society of our history.
It’s the same with Amazing Grace, which was written by a slaver of black people and is sung as a religious anthem.
Recently, it was proposed that we should ban Swing Low, Sweet Chariot at rugby matches due to its link to slavery. That came to nothing.
Instead of banning such songs or stripping away their lyrics, we need to educate people on the history of slavery, starting with putting it on the history curriculum.
From speaking to people about slavery, the one constant reaction is always: “Why didn’t anyone tell us this before?”
At the Proms, instead of taking the words away, we should put an explanation in the programme. We should tell people it’s about enslaving black people, making money from them, giving them a short life span and then compensating the slave owners when it was abolished because slaves were regarded as ‘property’.
If they want to sing it after reading that, then fine, go ahead and sing it. But I bet they won’t sing it as joyfully as they might have done before.
When I worked in research, I once had a lovely technician who worked for me. She looked after me so well, and she went to the Proms.
If she knew the history of those two songs, being my friend, I doubt she would have sung along.
It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know the history.
Those songs didn’t have a place in the Proms in the first place, they are there because of people’s ignorance. I would challenge anyone to know their meanings and still sing them in a frivolous capacity.
But we shouldn’t be bothering ourselves about whether those songs should now be removed.
What we should be bothering ourselves about is increasing the representation of black people who are the descendants of slaves.
We should be concerning ourselves about making sure black people from the Windrush generation get compensation. And we should also be ensuring ourselves that every child is taught the history of slavery so that they can make their own minds up about whether to sing songs like these.
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