David Abulafia David Abulafia

No, racism isn’t a ‘creation of white people’

The British Library (Getty images)

I remember that, as a small child, I was told not to talk when my father took me inside the public library in Richmond. Now I find that the British Library has rendered me speechless. With the apparent approval of the chief librarian, Liz Jolly, a review of statues and artworks in the library is under way. Among those who are commemorated by statues in the library and who are being subjected to this inquisition are Beethoven and Mendelssohn, as protagonists of ‘western civilisational supremacy’.

Setting aside for the moment the implication that many of the greatest composers, artists, writers and maybe scientists of the past should be shunned as ‘western’, we should stop short with alarm at the name of Mendelssohn. Of Jewish origin, though baptised as a boy, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy suffered for his ancestry during his lifetime and remained a victim of anti-Semitism after his death. There was a monument to him in Leipzig from 1892 to 1936, when it was thrown away. There was a bronze statue of him in front of the Opera House of Düsseldorf until the same year. Besides, his music was banned. One might charitably assume that he has been chosen for ‘review’ by the British Library out of profound ignorance of the fact that he was a victim of racism. And, since it is now the fashion to condemn anyone related to the targeted individual, it is worth pointing out that his grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, the distinguished philosopher, was spurned and humiliated by Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, who deeply disliked Jews.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Ms Jolly asserts that ‘racism is a creation of white people’, of whom she is one. In this she appears to be supported by the ‘Decolonising Working Group’ at the British Library, and by 200 members of the library staff, who are demanding special privileges for BAME staff, including a voice in the appointment of senior librarians within the BL, owing to the racial ‘state of emergency’ within its walls.

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