Did you know that Paul McCartney once wrote a song celebrating slavery? Well, neither did he. It took about half a century after “Penny Lane” was a hit for the Beatles before historians decided that this street in Liverpool was a legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Sir Paul wrote the song as a nostalgic ode to Penny Lane as the scene of childhood happiness “beneath the blue suburban skies.” The Liverpool-born musician could not have known, while composing the cheerful tune in the mid-1960s, that scholars would one day conclude Penny Lane was probably named in honor of James Penny, a local mariner who made his fortune in the slave trade in the 1700s. Historians have not been able to prove this as a certainty, but the mere possibility was enough to inspire vandals to deface a sign in Liverpool with graffiti: “RACIST Lane.”
History is a horror show for liberals, who only look to the past in search of grievances they can exploit in their remorseless quest for political power. The liberal has a quasi-religious faith in Progress, which means that yesterday — another McCartney song title — was self-evidently worse than today. The past was a bad time, according to liberals, who see nothing there but oppression. Your nostalgia for the pleasant memories of childhood is almost certainly racist, and probably also sexist and homophobic. Now that I think about it, didn’t McCartney’s lyrics in “Get Back” mock someone who “thought she was a woman, but she was another man”? Isn’t this the textbook definition of transphobic hate speech?
It’s difficult to understand what a statue of Columbus in New York has to do with police brutality in Minnesota, but we can’t expect vandal hordes to be logical.
“Get back home, Loretta,” McCartney sang, but wherever she (or he) was from, Loretta probably wouldn’t recognize his or her hometown today. The vandal horde is everywhere, smashing windows and tearing down statues. If Loretta was from Seattle, a trip back home might land her (or him) in the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” (CHAZ). Protesters in Seattle chased off the police, took over the neighborhood, and set up what seems to be an attempted 21st-century reenactment of the 1871 Paris Commune. If nothing else, the drug-addled mob in CHAZ are proving the truth of Karl Marx’s aphorism that history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
There has been no shortage of tragedy in recent events, however. While the vandal horde was desecrating a Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Virginia, last Wednesday night, they accidently toppled one of the statues onto the head of a protester. Chris Green, 45, nearly died as a result of his traumatic injuries. His family says he “flatlined” twice in the ambulance en route to the hospital, where doctors put him into a medically induced coma to save his life. Relatives say Green wanted to “raise awareness for racial injustice,” but now Green himself has no awareness of anything, lying speechless under heavy sedation in his hospital bed.
Who is to blame for such tragic events? The soldiers who fought for the Confederacy? The statues memorializing them, in Portsmouth and other Southern towns, had stood in silence for decades as the social order was peacefully rearranged around them. Nothing that happened recently in Portsmouth inspired the protest there. Instead, it was the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — a Yankee town where there have never been any Confederate monuments — that furnished the pretext for a nationwide spree of vandalism, looting, and arson. Liberals who worship at the altar of Progress seem to believe that destructive violence is the best way to achieve their goals, which is why the media use euphemisms like “unrest” to describe crimes committed by anarchist mobs.
Everyone with two eyes and a functional brain can see that what is presented as “news” on CNN and other liberal media outlets is actually partisan propaganda intended to help Democrats defeat President Trump in the November election. Having incited the riots for this purpose, now the media are trying to control the narrative of what this “unrest” really means. Only facts that lend themselves to the partisan narrative are reported, and any critic who points out facts that don’t fit the narrative is denounced as racist. Disagreement is not permitted. Online mobs have smeared Fox News host Tucker Carlson for daring to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement, and for similar reasons NBC News enlisted Google in an effort to deprive conservative websites of advertising revenue.
A game is being played, and the rules are very simple. Activists declare that something is racist and organize a protest against it. Anyone who dares to defend whatever is being protested is denounced as a racist. Democrats and the media (but I repeat myself) are enlisted to promote this one-sided interpretation, and all opposition or criticism is effectively silenced. Such is the case not only with Confederate monuments, but with anything else that the magicians of media manipulation can turn into a symbol of oppression. Just yesterday — suddenly, as Sir Paul’s song said — the Quaker Oats Company renounced its Aunt Jemima trademark for pancake batter and syrup. The brand was more than a century old, deriving its name from a song made popular by African American entertainer Billy Kersands, but never mind that. In a statement Wednesday an executive for Quaker Oats declared, “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” and — poof! — the familiar figure disappeared. Mere hours later, the Mars conglomerate announced that it would be “evolving” the brand of their popular Uncle Ben’s rice products.
Americans have been fed a racist diet, just the same as the Beatles were raised on racist streets in Liverpool. This is what we are told by the devotees of Progress who go rummaging through the past like Indiana Jones exploring a tomb in a remote jungle — Raiders of the Lost Racism, as it were — in search of something to be angry about. How many statues of Christopher Columbus have been vandalized or removed since George Floyd’s death? I lost count last week at four, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than that now. In destroying monuments to Columbus, however, the vandal horde is at least taking aim at the Spanish empire rather than our own English forebears, but most statues of Columbus were erected as a celebration of Italian heritage. No less a liberal than New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed some resentment of attacks on Columbus, saying “the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian-American contribution to New York.” So it’s OK for the mob to vandalize symbols of your heritage, but not Cuomo’s heritage.
Of course, it’s difficult to understand what a statue of Columbus in New York has to do with police brutality in Minnesota, but we can’t expect vandal hordes to be logical. In their frenzy of destruction, the anarchist mob in Boston defaced a memorial to the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment, made famous in the Oscar-winning movie Glory; in Philadelphia, a statue of abolitionist Matthias Baldwin was attacked. What liberals call Progress often appears to be a descent into barbarism, but however ignorant the mobs are of the dead men whose monuments they deface, the vandals are nonetheless certain that (a) because the past was bad, therefore (b) anyone who lived in the past is undeserving of respect.
This crude simulacrum of an argument can justify the destruction of almost anything with historical significance. The word “colonial,” for example, has become controversial. Not long ago, “colonial” was used as a sentimental evocation of America’s early history. To speak of “colonial” architecture was like using the word antique; visitors to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were treated to a living reenactment of life in the 1700s, amid reconstructed historic buildings. But in the eyes of the vandal horde, “colonial” is a synonym for oppressive. Students at George Washington University have denounced their school’s Colonials mascot as “extremely offensive,” and Western Connecticut State University is also reportedly considering ditching its Colonials mascot.
Predictably, during this carnival of destruction, there have been renewed calls to change the Redskins mascot of the NFL franchise in our nation’s capital. “I think it’s past time for the team to deal with what offends so many people,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a radio interview last week. “And this is a great franchise with a great history that’s beloved in Washington. And it deserves a name that reflects the affection that we’ve built for the team.” With a 3-13 record last season, perhaps they can change their name to the Washington Losers, which would be more accurate. Who are these “many people” that the mayor says are offended by the Redskins name? Are they football fans or, as I suspect, a disgruntled bunch of “activist” types with nothing more important to protest against?
Never mind who is offended, or what they’re offended about; the point is that “Redskins,” like “Colonials” (and, for that matter, Aunt Jemima and Penny Lane), expresses a sense of the past as something other than a nightmare of oppression. We are not to be permitted any nostalgia for the past as romantic or noble, nor can we be allowed think of our American ancestors as courageous pioneers. Columbus was wrong ever to sail West from Spain, and the English were wrong to send colonists to Jamestown and Plymouth. The entirety of our national heritage is permanently stained, according to the liberal cult of Progress, which finds practically nothing in American history worth celebrating. The besmirching of “Penny Lane” shows that this destructive revisionism is a global trend.
Amid the recent protests, a mob in Bristol, England, toppled a statue of Edward Colston. A successful merchant known as a philanthropist, Colston made his fortune in the late 1600s while a board member of the Royal Africa Company, which had a monopoly of the slave trade on Africa’s Gold Coast. If Colston is no longer deserving of honor, then what about the Duke of York? Yes, James Stuart, who later became King James II, was the original governor of the Royal Africa Company and its largest shareholder. Therefore anything named for the Duke of York is, like Penny Lane, tainted by the history of the slave trade. By this logic, we must rename New York.
Excuse me for pointing out what absurd consequences might result if we follow the logic of Progress to its possible conclusion. So much news in the headlines of the past few weeks has been absurd that I don’t think we can rule out further absurdities. Our happiest childhood memories are now subject to being denounced as hate crimes, and the history we’re not allowed to celebrate keeps repeating itself anyway, sometimes as farce, but too often as tragedy. “I believe in yesterday,” Paul McCartney once sang. Soon we may be left with no yesterday to believe in.
ADDENDUM (June 22, 11:31 p.m.):
We are pleased to report that Penny Lane has been acquitted before the tribunal of history. Not long after this article was published, we were contacted by a British researcher who goes by the name Glen Huntley. His research into the origins of the name of Penny Lane began many years ago, and therein lies a tale.
The current craze among the British for self-flagellation over their role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade apparently dates back to the 1990s. In Liverpool, the Merseyside Maritime Museum opened a gallery dealing with this subject in 1994. Subsequently, plans developed to create a separate International Slavery Museum, which opened in 2007. This created widespread public attention to the fact that several streets in Liverpool actually are named for men once involved in the slave trade, and a member of the city council proposed changing all these names. Opponents of that plan seemed to have seized on the idea that this would require renaming Penny Lane, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. If Penny Lane would need renaming, then the whole plan must be shelved – or such was the general burden of the argument made.
Huntley and his associates began investigating the claim, and were able to determine that the name of Penny Lane had nothing to do with James Penny, the slave-shipper. The road can be found on maps dating back to the 1750s, before James Penny ever moved to Liverpool. It was not the kind of famous city street that would be named to honor a wealthy citizen. Rather, it was at the time a muddy path in the suburbs of Toxteth Park and Wavetree. Its name probably derives from Penebrine, the historic name of a property on the road, or perhaps from Penketh Hall in Toxteth Park.
At any rate, roads named “Penny” are common enough in England that there are some 20 of them, and Huntley’s research was comprehensive enough to convince the proprietors of the International Slavery Museum that Liverpool’s Penny Lane had no connection to James Penny. Janet Dugdale, executive director of the city’s museum board, issued a statement Friday saying that she and her associates had “concluded that the comprehensive research available to us now demonstrates that there is no historical evidence linking Penny Lane to James Penny.”
— RSM, June 22