Wokism Hits Oxford

The cult of woke is spreading like a contagious virus, misconstruing past and present at Oxford University and elsewhere. The members of the Middle Common Room  at Magdalen College, Oxford, passed a motion to take down an “unwelcoming” portrait, a print, of Queen Elizabeth II from the graduates’ common room because she “represents recent colonial history.” The portrait is of the Queen as a young woman, wearing a blue sash, symbolizing her role as a member of the Royal Victorian Order. The pretext for removing the portrait is supposed to be to create a welcoming, neutral place for all members of MCR, an organization of graduate students, regardless of background, demographic, or views. 

The motion to remove the portrait was moved, perhaps with feline charm, by MRC president Matthew Katzman, a 25-year-old American lecturer in computer science, who studied at Stanford University and whose father is a prominent American lawyer. His earlier schooling was in the elite and expensive Sidwell Friends School, which has been attended by the daughters of presidents Obama, Nixon, and Clinton.  Only 10 of the 250 members voted to remove the portrait.  

The most aggressive comment came from Kehinde Andrews, professor of black studies at Birmingham City University, and a member of the team that launched the first Black Studies degree in Europe. The Queen, he said, doesn’t just represent modern colonialism; she is probably the number one symbol of white supremacy in the entire world. Even in the removed portrait, she is wearing jewels stolen from different parts of the black and brown world. Andrews is not new to controversy. Whiteness, he believes, is a psychosis, and “genocidal” capitalism must be overthrown. Britain, he has argued, was built on racism. British imperialism has ruined many parts of the world.  Winston Churchill, because of his treatment of Indians in 1943, is, he thinks, comparable to Adolf Hitler.

More objective observers, however, will regard the action at Magdalen College by woke students or jesters, as dishonorable in itself and an affront to the memory of the illustrious alumni of Magdalen who, in relatively recent history, have included Oscar Wilde, King Edward VIII, actor Dudley Moore,  and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Whatever their views on the placing or removal of the portrait, and on free speech and political debate, none of these celebrities would associate the Queen with colonialism or racism. 

When will the woke cancel culture stop? Oxford colleges themselves are full of royal sculptures and art and are available for toppling.  Magdalen College alone has portraits or sculptures of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, and Prince Rupert, grandson of James I.  Are they all to be removed, as have monuments to historic figures in recent months?  The University of Liverpool agreed to rename Gladstone Hall, one of its buildings, following a campaign by students due to his alleged links with the slave trade: the links were that, as a young parliamentarian, Gladstone, who became prime minister four times, spoke once in the House of Commons against the abolition of the slave trade because his family had slaves in its plantations in the 1800s. 

In a less educated setting, a small coed secondary school, Howden in East Yorkshire, announced it would replace historical figures linked to Britain’s colonial past, slavery, oppression, racism, with modern heroes and role models. It would therefore no longer use as house names, Lord Nelson, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Admiral Francis Drake, because of their “despicable deeds which have been brushed under the carpet.” They are to be replaced by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, footballer Marcus Rashford, Amanda Gorman, who read her poem at the inauguration of Joe Biden, and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. The Howden students may admire these new heroes but is pertinent to observe that few of them appeared to know who the three replaced anti-heroes were. 

The latest suspect to be removed from his pinnacle is John Maynard Keynes, product of Cambridge by birth and education, author of fundamental works, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, and The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, a man of the highest intelligence and brilliance, and generally regarded, even by those with different opinions, as the most important modern economists. 

However, Keynes was part of the Bloomsbury Group of early 20th century artists and writers who met at the Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex, the country home of Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf,  a place for discussion of intellectual issues including eugenics. The group presented Keynes as a believer in “racist” eugenic theories of human selective breeding, the “darker side” of his beliefs.  Keynes held strong views on eugenics.  He was chairman of the Malthusian League for family planning, and vice president of the British Eugenics Society, and considered eugenics the most important and significant part of sociology. A key belief was that government control over the quality and size of the population was the key to a better society and crucial for those seeking to improve the material condition of the world. It was necessary, he said, to protect “our standard of life from injury at the hands of more prolific races.” 

Meanwhile, the controversy at Oxford over Cecil Rhodes will not end.  Oriel College decided not to remove from its wall the statue of the college benefactor, the British imperialist, businessman, and politician who played a predominant role in southern Africa in the late 19th century, ostensibly to avoid cost and planning problems.  About 150 Oxford university dons were unhappy with this decision and stated they will not provide tutorials to Oxford’s undergraduate students, presumably including nonwhite students.  This form of academic blackmail by leftist intellectual activists has been supported, even led, by Kate Tunstall, interim Provost at Worcester College, Oxford who previously at her own college attempted to scrap the saying of grace before meals. It is surprising, even unprecedented, for the head of one college to detract from teaching students at another college. 

The no-teaching signatories stated that the Oriel decision not to remove the statue of Rhodes glorifies colonialism and the wealth it produced for the college and undermines the work to eradicate racism and to address the ongoing effects of colonialism.  The academics therefore will refuse to give tutorials to Oriel undergraduates,  will refuse to assist Oriel in interviewing prospective students, and will refuse to talk or attend conferences and meetings sponsored by Oriel. It is relevant to the issue that Queen’s  College, Oxford,  recently appointed the first associate professor of Black British history, Dr. Meleisa Ono-George, social historian of race and gender. Queen’s also has instituted a new undergraduate prize for the best thesis in black history, a prize named in honor of Professor Barbara Savage, of the department of Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, who will teach the Oxford dons wisdom? The actual job of the arrogant dons is to teach, not exert academic blackmail in favor of ideology and political posturing. They should take a good look at Rhodes, who did not fall.


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