Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

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Anyone wishing to better educate themselves right now about white colonial history and black colonised history – which are of course just two sides of exactly the same coin – would do well to read the magnificent novel by Nigerian Chinua Achebe called Things Fall Apart.

Set about 150 years ago in sub-saharan Africa, it’s the story of the destruction of a heroic, imperfect warrior named Ikonkwo. In the 1960’s, Things Fall Apart was the first African book to reach a global audience. Ikonkwo’s community is undermined and ultimately destroyed by racist, proto white-supremacist missionaries. Spoiler alert: Ikonkwo and lots of his people die in the end, because of the white Europeans.

Things Fall Apart is one of the books that marked a massive transition in world literature. From this point onwards, English was no longer an English language. The book was written and published as many of the white empires were falling, and at a time when the global population was said to have quadrupled as all of those who had previously been designated ‘natives’ finally became ‘men’.

This book might even help people in Orkney and beyond to understand why it is profoundly wrong, in the current context, to pleep that ‘all lives matter’; to understand why the murder of Lee Rigby has nothing to do with what is going on this week; and to see why we shouldn’t be focussing on injured police horses, looted shops, or defaced monuments. All of these are profoundly minor diversions from the one compelling key issue of our times: Black Lives Matter.

 

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