Wednesday 24 April 2013

Reclaim St George for multicultural Britain - Patrick Vernon

Guest blog by Patrick Vernon, first published in The Voice. Vernon is one of the contenders for Labour's parliamentary candidate for Brent Central.

AS THE BNP, EDL and UKIP party activists, candidates and sympathisers huddle around their campfires to review their misinformed campaign tactics for the upcoming May local elections in England and the European elections in 2014, they will take comfort from their inspiration leader and symbol of Great White Hope: St George.

Yes, folks, St George’s day is upon us again! The far right and certain members of the coalition government will be tooled up with passion in their hearts, renewing their vows against black and minority ethnic people, gay and lesbian community, feminists, trade unionists, socialists and democrats who are destroying the so-called ‘English way of life’.

The English patron saint St George represents medieval tradition and the role of the Crusaders who ‘fought the good fight’ in the advancement of Christianity and morality in an uncivilized and heathen world. In today’s society, Islam, the hip-hop/hoodie generation, refugees, people on benefits and gypsy/traveller communities are seen as the new public enemy where a new moral crusade is required for them to be ‘civilised’.

One of the greatest inspirations of the right and fascists to justify their policies and convictions around immigration and citizenship has been the values and principles around the virtues of the patron saint St George.

Namely that St George represents the genealogy of Englishness and British family history and heritage as a pure race with undiluted bloodlines.

And that St George represents the tradition of fair play, respect, tolerance, diplomacy and values of an England where people lived harmoniously and where multiculturalism and integration was not an issue.
Well, I have news for the BNP, EDL and David Cameron, what they promote is either incorrect or full of contradictions. It was back in 2003 while researching and developing the 100 Great Black Britons campaign and website ( that I found St George or, to give him his correct name, George of Lydda was actually of black and African descent.

Contrary to public opinion, St George never came to England to slay dragons or save princesses but was born in Cappadocia, then in Asia Minor what is now Turkey. He was persecuted and died at the hands of Roman Emperor Diocletian on 23 April, 303 AD in Nicomedia, Bithynia, on the Black Sea.

St George’s life and the lives of other African people during this period of ancient history have not been recorded and documented in a systematic way by European academics. However, black scholars such as J.A. Rogers in the three-volume book called Sex and Race in the 1930s have traced the black presence during the Greek and Roman periods. The impression that is given in public debates and the recent bicentenary slave trade events is that that black people did not exist until the slave trade.

St George and Septimus Severus, another Great Black Briton who was the equivalent of the Prime Minster of his day, and many others played a key influential role during the Roman Empire.

Unlike Septimus Severus, George of Lydda was a successful Roman Tribune who turned his back on the Roman political system and converted to Christianity. His commitment to religion and his subsequent torture led to his iconic status by the Crusaders when they travelled to the Middle East and North Africa. St George was subsequently adopted in the 14th Century in England as our patron saint.

It is 20 years since the murder of Stephen Lawrence and as a society we still have not fully grasped and acknowledged the nature and the impact of instutionalised racism and the legacy of Empire. Michael Gove’s social engineering of the national curriculum and Eric Pickles’ integration strategy reflects an ill-conceived and rose-tinted vision of Britain.

The recent cuts in public services, spate of deaths and mass unemployment of young black men is a major concern which is part of the wider legacy of post-Empire and its impact on social exclusion, inequalities of wealth, class and the status of black and other minority ethnic communities in Britain today.

It is a sad fact of history that victims of institutionalised racism over the years such as Orville Blackwood, Colin Roach, Smiley Culture, Roger Sylvester, Rocky Bennett, Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and many others reflect the symbolism that St George is really the patron saint of black men, oppressed people and the maturity of our multicultural society.

I hope the BNP/EDL hierarchy and supporters will continue to honour George of Lydda but recognise that they are supporting a black role model.

Over the past 20 years, mainly through sporting achievements such as the Olympics, boxing and representation in national team sports such as football and rugby, there is a growing acceptance and ownership of St George being adopted by black and minority ethnic communities.

I also hope the 2015 General election will focus on celebrating and focusing on the achievements, benefits and opportunities around immigration and migration.

So let’s continue to reclaim St George’s day and make it symbol of our multicultural society and a rallying cry in the fight against racism and fascism.

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