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The Kudzu Infestation of History

State of the Union: Racialized politics covers everything it can, even historical episodes that don’t have much to do with race.
(Cris Foto/Shutterstock)

Newstead Abbey is running a bizarre exhibition in which Lord Byron’s ancestral home is interspersed with some of the most mind-numbingly nonsensical contextualizations of history, managing to be simultaneously banal, inane, and toxic. 

A mahogany desk has a placard asking rhetorical questions similar in profundity to those of a drunk first-year art student at a third-tier university, such as “how many slaves sweated?” and what was the “climactical change?”


A context added to the statement under Thomas Wildman’s purchase of the estate from Byron included musings on questions such as “how can you inherit a plantation?” and “whose land was it at the beginning of time?” 

A silver teapot belonging to Byron was presented by some singing teacher from the Nottingham Trent University project monikered “Lord Byron’s debt collector”; the display argues for “reparation” to all those who were owned by the British empire. 

It is, of course, nonsensical, especially for a place associated with Byron, one of the greatest liberal Romantics, someone who quite literally gave his life for the cause of freedom.

Any reparation debate should include a cost-benefit calculation accounting for all that the British empire invested in premodern societies in the forms of law, infrastructure, and institutions. It should also account for counter-reparation to those who gave their lives to eradicate slavery and piracy, especially to the Royal Navy. The debate should conclude with a one-time payment alongside a one-time plane ticket for repatriation to the payee’s ancestral land of choice. But none of that will, of course, happen. 

What is happening is this semi-literate and ahistorical “contextualization” by unoriginal and midwit surplus elites appearing like cancerous pustules on anything beautiful, pristine, and civilized. As Emma Webb observed at the recently concluded National Conservative Conference in the U.K., “Recently, the Oldham Council demolished a beautiful Victorian church because they said that, if they didn’t, it would get vandalized. They are the vandals! Those who are supposed to be caretakers of our inheritance can’t be trusted.”


I was thinking of what “contextualizations” remind me of. And then I realized: They are similar to kudzu vines. 

Kudzu looks green and is easy to mistake for a natural, beneficial, and healthy plant. It is not. Its parasitical vines latch onto healthy, fertile trees, choking and slowly killing the mother organism. Worst of all, they are seriously harmful to the ozone layer. In short, they have all the superficial characters of nature, just as “contextualization” has all the superficial sophistication of a serious debate, wisdom, and historicization. Both are, however, toxic to everything healthy around it. 

One can save a plant by hacking off the kudzu vines at the base with a chainsaw and then burning the cut vines with copious amount of triclopyr. 

If one needs to save our cherished patrimony, something metaphorically similar must be done soon.