Arts & Culture
New Podcast: In Search of Black History by Bonnie Greer – Audible Originals
Though there is religion… and a saint, Saint Maurice, whose image is found in several places, including a church in ski resort St Moritz (which is named after him). Saint Maurice was black, which for a third-century saint was unusual.
Maurice’s history is fascinating, subtle and unexpected. It reveals much about how leaders of the past have used diversity to indicate their authority. Saint Maurice may not even have existed, but he became a focus of pilgrimage, and in later centuries Frederick the Great co-opted Maurice’s image to show how powerful he was (the Roman Empire would have huge parades of people of different ethnicity to indicate the empire’s far-reaching power).
There are several such stories in Audible’s In Search of Black History With Bonnie Greer. Black history and experience is proving to be a fruitful area for podcasts: Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 explored how African Americans were crucial to US independence; Reni Eddo-Lodge’s About Race is as fantastic as you would expect; and Afua Hirsch has a podcast, We Need To Talk About The British Empire, coming out in February.
Greer chooses to go back further than most. The accomplished playwright and critic has been a trustee of the British Museum in her time, and a good chunk of her podcast looks at artefacts from there, what they truly are and how they arrived. Her purpose is to rejig our common, deeply held assumptions. So we learn that not all black people in Europe arrived as slaves, that legionnaires came from diverse communities, that the Roman Empire was held back from expansion past Egypt by the African Kushites, led by Kandake, a queen. Every episode contains a historical gem that makes you gasp; a seemingly small fact that changes how you think.
Occasionally, Greer’s presentation can seem a little slow; she has a habit of seizing on the last sentence an interviewee says, repeating it with emphasis, and then explaining what the person has just said, even though they just said it. But once you get used to this, and understand these shows as a type of lecture, then the pace becomes more relaxing. Greer clearly wants our shared history to be more than the tales of white guys’ exploitation and derring do – don’t we all! – and her delight in discovering that it’s much broader, diverse and surprising than we think transfers itself to the listener. Put it on your headphones to take your mind off the dullness of present-wrapping, and then surprise everyone at Christmas dinner with your newly learned amazing facts.
Listen to the audio book here