Mary Contrary

Stephen Basdeo

UPDATE 23/05/2021: I shall now be moderating all comments prior to people being able to post them.

In the Communist Manifesto (1848) Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that, in a globalised capitalist world,

“the intellectual creations of individual nations become common property … and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”

When we glance at those words we find Marx and Engels to be correct with regard to the literature and culture that was produced in Anglo-Saxon and later medieval England: Whole swathes of scholars in the United States and Canada nowadays study the forgotten texts and sources of England’s distant past.

In general, the intellectual exchange of ideas between British scholars and American and Canadian scholars is fruitful and has led to numerous advances in scholarship.

But where there was once cordiality between scholars of different backgrounds and theoretical approaches, there is now only discord. As there is one person in particular who us quite nasty on social media!

I introduce you to Dr Mary Rambaran-Olm.

Rambaran-Olm completed her Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow in 2012 but is still a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto. Before this Mary completed an MLitt at the University of St Andrews. She has several publication credits to her name such as the translation of a prayer book and a few articles here and there.

Mary is mainly known, however, as a social media activist who runs a particularly toxic Twitter account (at the time of writing the handle is @ISASAXONISTS).

I was on the receiving end of several tweets the other day in which I was subject to a number of baseless accusations. If you read this Mary,—and I know you will at some point,—if you read this, I say: I may not have the money (nor indeed the time or inclination) to pursue a transatlantic defamation case against you from the UK but I can put the record straight and dispense truth to counter your lies and libel.

But you ask, what could I have possibly said to have angered @ISASAXONISTS?

The post that started a storm

Well, in a conversation about the British Empire on Twitter I made a remark that as Mary was Canadian she was a beneficiary of imperialism.

A screenshot is attached as evidence.

To any BA History student—or indeed anyone with the slightest grounding in history—this is an uncontroversial statement to make. The world we live in is a world that was shaped by the European colonial empires of the past: the British Empire, the French Empire, the Spanish Empire, and the Portuguese Empire.

To all people living in the Western World, I say: your life in a developed country is possible due to the fact that colonists from Europe made their way overseas in the past and established colonies.

We do not have to profess a love or admiration for past empires, but we should have no issue acknowledging their continuing legacies upon our modern world. To deny that imperialism has shaped our modern world is silly.

For someone living in a country like, say, Canada—a developed country that is a colonial creation—then the point still holds.

Rambaran-Olm took exception to this. She pointed out that “[her] roots are in the colonies.” Well, the British Empire was an empire which, at its height, covered one quarter of the world’s surface so many people in Britain and the Commonwealth Realms have roots in the colonies—much like myself: a gay, ethnic minority academic, with a Guyanese father, who lives in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

As the conversation took a turn to talking about roots, I pointed mine out to her.

To this she replied that I

“have my head so far up white people’s asses that [I] cant [sic] see straight. I’ve heard about how you speak about your roots.”

I would not normally soil my blog with such foul language—but I’ll make an exception!

Another remark I made was that I don’t blame modern Brits for imperialist atrocities committed in the past. This also appears to have annoyed Mary.

It is true that some people did come to my defence and in response to this Mary Rambaran-Olm decided to call me an “Uncle Tom.” This is a racial slur. It comes from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom is a somewhat docile slave who is sold from master-to-master and never protests—until he is beaten to death at the end. The term “Uncle Tom” has since taken on a life of its own—it signifies a black or ethnic minority person who is supposedly in thrall to his “white” oppressors.

It is indeed an unpleasant slur.

After this I decided not to respond.

In which Mary Rambaran-Olm decided to use a racial slur against me

Mary got mad and made baseless accusations against me.

And yet I remained calm and never replied.

I should not be surprised that Mary is ever ready to resort to racist remarks. After all, this is the same Mary Rambaran-Olm who regularly retweets and even recommends the writer Steven Salaita. This is also the same Steven Salaita who said that antisemitism is now “something honourable”. Yet Mary the “anti-racist” activist wants you all to read his work. It’s an odd sort of anti-racist activism when you’re in league with anti-semites. But I’m sure Mary has her reasons.

But let us examine some of these unfounded accusations against me.

Firstly, Mary made the quite bizarre accusation that I once made a racial slur against—wait for it—my own father!

Quite why I would ever make a racial slur against my father, Mary did not say. But when you’re clutching at straws as Mary evidently was, then I guess her only solution was to concoct some truly baffling story about me.

But to support this accusation she turned to Florence Scott, a Ph.D. student at Leeds University. I have never actually met Florence Scott, but Scott said they knew that I once had made a racial slur against my father (Scott could not provide a time or a date though, which is odd—generally if you’re a scholar and you make a claim, then you should have some evidence to support it!)

But again I stayed silent and this only enraged Mary even more.

Other accusations included Mary calling me a racist—although she could not point to any racist thing I’ve ever said. As if this was not enough, I was then accused of campaigning to stop “racist statues” from being pulled down.

Racist statues!!!— this is as much as a surprise to me as it is to you!

I have never campaigned for supposedly racist statues to stay up or come down. I did, however, serve on Leeds City Council’s Statues and Monuments Review last year. I gave my time freely to this committee as I thought it was an important civic duty.

I had been asked specially to contribute my time to this cause by a local councillor because of my expertise in the culture of the British Empire—specifically the cultural history of imperial “heroes”—and my own background as a “grandchild” of the British Empire. The minutes of these meetings are all public record and can be accessed on Leeds City Council’s website—if anyone finds anything racist in them, please do point it out! (I believe the hyperlink above should take you to the recommendations that not only myself but other academics in Leeds, alongside a POC Alderwoman named Alison Lowe, came up with).

This is more of Mary’s lies and falsehoods.

Failing to provide evidence for the racist statues, Mary then said that I am racist because I failed to control the actions—presumably through my powers of mind control—of other people who chimed into the conversation. I did not see anything racist in any of the tweets that Mary exchanged with other people—not that I would be responsible for anything anyone else tweets anyway. But again, people are free to look for themselves at the responses; having exchanged but four tweets with Mary over the course of the evening before making a resolve not top reply I humbly absolve myself of any wrong doing.

This image, from Gilbert Abbot a Beckett’s Comic History of England, doesn’t really have anything to do with the post at hand and I’ve inserted it merely to break up what was a wall of text. On the other hand, when Mary Rambaran-Olm launched her vicious attack by firing her Twitter broadsides at me, and enlisting the support of her 11,000 strong army of sycophant followers on Twitter, then I must say perhaps the image of a man in the pillory is apt: I was figuratively pilloried for saying the “wrong” thing.

Furthermore, I am not a member of any “group” which harasses or “doxxes” scholars.

I believe Mary here is referring to a Facebook group called “Medieval Studies: State of the Field.” It is a fully public group which any reader can check out for themselves if they so wish. It has over 400 renowned scholars from all over the world and I have not yet encountered any racists among them. As for members of the group being “incels,” I’m not sure how true this is–many of the members seem well-adjusted people with happy family lives.

There was another accusation as well: that I am

“A constant critic of C[ritical] R[ace] T[heory].”

Well, I put it out here now that I have on occasion voiced criticisms of critical race theory, just as I have voiced criticisms of other theoretical approaches in literary studies. No single theoretical approach is beyond criticism and if you’re a scholar who thinks that the reverse is true, then you should not be a scholar for you are a fundamentalist who is blinded by ideology.

The one charge against me is perhaps that my use of the word “beneficiary” gives too positive a gloss on imperial legacies, for which, as I am a mature adult, I apologise.

But let us draw a line under all of this. I have only a few more things to say.

Mary: You are a bully. You are, to use one of your favourite phrases, “toxic.” You may in time regret what your actions, not only towards me but to the countless other scholars you have bullied.

Furthermore, the cause of encouraging diversity, and the amplification of ethnic minorities’ voices, becomes meaningless when you seek to restrict or dismiss debate and diversity of thought amongst same ethnic minorities. This is especially the case when you seek to demonise, belittle, and dismiss those ethnic minority voices through the utilisation of the racist rhetoric (like “Uncle Tom”) that we all aim to eliminate from society.

Lest you bring up the accusation that I am somehow “punching down” (a pointless put-down at the best of times), I would remind you that out of us both it is you who are the senior scholar here, having passed your PhD long before I did.

I began this post by saying that “Where there was once cordiality between medieval scholars of different backgrounds and theoretical approaches, there is now only discord.” Therefore I urge you Mary, in the words of St Francis,

“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.”

Mary, please stop abusing people on Twitter.

Corrections: a previous version of this post alleged that Salaita had a job offer withdrawn because of antisemitism. This was incorrect and has been withdrawn.

Categories: History, News

3 replies »

  1. Interesting that the response to this is to assert all over twitter that you are doxxing her parents. Have I missed something?

    • By the way, I’ve never met you, but I’d nonetheless like to express solidarity. I was good friends with one of the major players in this crowd once, but was accused of being racist because I once had the audacity to suggest that democratic progress sometimes involves encouraging people with different politics and opinions from one another to pull in the same direction at the same time, and that this generally requires persuasion rather than browbeating. It turns out, though, that anything less than total submission is a demonstration of unforgivable wickedness.

      As regards doxxing, I note that one of them is now circulating a version of your CV.

  2. Interesting.
    After reading this, I went to see Dr Olm’s twitter. I didn’t see anything about you but quite a few things regarding the Israel/Palestine situation that seemed to cross the line into Anti-Semitism.
    As they say, scratch a racist, find an Anti-Semite.