Earlier this year, the Institute of Art and Ideas (IaI) held HowTheLightGetsIn 2012 – the latest instalment of the annual philosophy & music festival. The aim of the festival is to stimulate debate and discussion, and reinvigorate the intellectual landscape. This year one of the invited speakers was Labour MP Diane Abbott, notably the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons.
Diane gave a riveting talk titled Beyond Downton Abbey in which she deconstructed the idealised version of British postcolonial history that it represents, offering instead a more realistic look at black British history. Lamenting the lack of black history in her own university education, Abbott emphasises the importance of understanding our past, even the bits that some might rather forget, and how this can affect our present.
Post-colonial British history has not all been idyllic, and it does damage to pretend otherwise, as Downton Abbeysometimes can do. Diane Abbott convincingly argues that we need a realistic account of our history, black or white, and that sugar-coating the past does more harm than good. She also emphasises how easy it is to let our progress make us forget our past – to allow the last few decades’ improvements in equality to hide the lack of equality before these changes.
If you enjoy the talk, and are interested in watching similar talks and debates, the IaI have videos of events from the last few years of HowTheLightGetsIn, across a variety of topics from philosophy to science.