So, it’s the start of October, which in the United Kingdom, also means the start of African History Month. This is supposed to be the time when schools, councils, libraries, the media, some corporate bodies and community groups, highlight the great and good among the global African family, and senior politicians such as the Prime Minister, mayors, Council leaders, and equalities and culture portfolio holders offer platitudes that speak to the valuable contributions made by Africans to society generally, and specifically to some borough or region.
The irony of words such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying: “Black British history is all our history,” aren’t lost on most people. What happens on the ground might of course be very different. We all know that if this history was really appreciated, what I call The Big Shame or the Commonwealth And Windrush Scandal, might not have happened.
Worse still, few would know that one of the PM’s ministerial departments, which is in grave need of rebuilding trust among the African and other marginalised communities, recently withdrew advertising from a small, specialist publication because of a perceived slight or criticism. Are publications expected to accept everything the wings of government say without criticism, or else face withdrawal of advertising revenue?
Anyway, I digress. So back to the matter at hand.
I, as TAOBQ (The African Or Black Question) co-ordinator, I have launched this petition at the start of African History Month, and intend reminding BBM subscribers each week to sign or forward the petition until it closes at the end of the Month. And if the weekly frequency of an otherwise decidedly ad hoc newsletter gets too much, thankfully we have a simple Unsubscribe link.
Anyway, soon after the Afriphobic death of George Floyd in late May, the image of a “white” St Michael standing on the neck of a “black” devil surfaced. My initial reaction upon seeing one of the different versions of the image that adorns the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) insignia was that it was fake!
It seemed unbelievable that such an image of “European/white/good/saint” and “African/black/bad/devil” could still be in use. That’s until Lord Simon Woolley confirmed its provenance at a Zoom meeting on decolonisation and pan-Africanism.
In addition to the exchanges of the image on social media and WhatsApp messages, someone set up a petition asking that the medal be “completely redesigned in a more appropriate way and for an official apology to be given for the offence it has given”. All very reasonable. It garnered over 15,000 signatures and coverage in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Guardian.
In my view, the only problem with the petition was that it was directed to the UK Parliament. I tried unsuccessfully to make contact with the petition proposer to suggest it be re-directed to those who have direct control over the Order.
As we can now see, although the petition has amassed a laudable 18K-plus signatures, there’s been no forward movement three months on since the Cabinet Office said the premise of the petition is ‘inaccurate’, because the current image was redesigned in 2011 and now features a “light-skinned” devil. Also, it adds, those with the pre-2011 insignia can request an exchange.
So to the Cabinet Office, the matter is solved. Like it’s OK because the devil’s now “light-skinned” (see left). But we think not! The latest iteration still perpetuates the colour racist hierarchy. It’s still racist against both olive-skinned people and those of multiple heritage
What is it with a Eurocentric or white supremacist mindset that depicting the devil with wings or a lower body of a serpent is not grotesque enough without making the devil look African, dark, brown or “light-skinned”? As if this is not bad enough, this grotesque racist iconography has been internalised by some Africans on the African continent, where at least one life-size statue can be found in the grounds of a Catholic church in Ghana!
It is for this reason, and wearing my hat as TAOBQ (The African Or Black Question) co-ordinator, that I’m appealing to conscious Africans, allies and Afriphiles, to call out these racist images, and where possible campaign for their removal or withdrawal.
For our part, we’re launching a petition today directed at the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) Chancellor The Rt Hon Lord Robertson and Prelate Bishop David Urquhart, requesting that the Order withdraw the current “light-skinned” devil iteration, make a formal apology for unwittingly promoting racism and Afriphobia, promise to institute anti-racism training within the Order’s organisation and embed anti-racism awareness within its processes that will commission, review, sign-off and promote the ‘non-racist’ GCMC replacement image and other images on its other insignia.
In the summer Jamaican governor Sir Patrick took the decision not to use the insignia anymore. He went as far as writing to the Order’s Chancellor, suggesting the image be “changed to reflect an inclusive image of the shared humanity of all peoples.
We are yet to hear the Order’s response, or indeed that of the other African recipients of this particular Order. Their silence perhaps speaks to their suffering from Afri-victimised syndrome, in that they cherish this accolade from the top of the British Establishment too much to think of it as tarnished, even if it’s Afriphobic.
The petition will close on Oct. 31, after which it will be officially handed to the two officers of the Order. And we’ll be on their case for a formal reply.
The motto of the insignia reads: “Auspicium Melioris Ævi”, which means ‘Token of a Better Age’. We hope in light of this petition the Order will do the right thing in this current age of heightened racial equity awareness.