Empire

The British Empire is, to state the blatantly obvious, a topic of great historical importance, and a sensative subject capable of arousing strong emotions. The British Labour Party has announced, in it’s “Race and Faith Manifesto” that, if elected, it will investigate the impact of British colonialism:

“Labour will conduct an audit of
the impact of Britain’s colonial legacies
to understand our contribution to the
dynamics of violence and insecurity
across regions previously under British
colonial rule.
We will also:
· Create an Emancipation Educational
Trust to ensure the historical injustices
of colonialism, and the role of the
British Empire is properly integrated
into the National Curriculum, to teach
powerful Black history which is also
British history”, https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Race-and-Faith-Manifesto-2019.pdf.

As a historian, Labour’s “pledge” to carry out an audit of British colonialism causes me great concern. Whilst there where (undoubtedly) injustices committed by the British Empire, and its impossible to deny that many of those involved in colonial administration believed in the superiority of white (and, in particular British rule, which would, by today’s standards make them “racists), this is not the whole story. As pointed out by Jeremy Paxman in this article, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9085936/Jeremy-Paxman-Our-empire-was-an-amazing-thing.html, Britain played a leading role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, it stamped out the practice of widow burning in India, it built infrastructure in the form of roads and rail, and left a legacy of incorupt administration.

I am left wondering who will conduct this audit of British colonialism. Will it be a cross section of highly respected historians (of differing perspectives), or historians who are (from the outset of their investigations) convinced that the British Empire was a wholly bad thing with few (if any) redeeming features? From the wording of Labour’s Manifesto, I suspect that the latter will be the case, with left-wing (perhaps Marxist) historians carrying out “research” which will (when published) be hottly contested by other academics.

In education its vital that children learn about the British Empire, warts and all. If, however they only learn about the warts (with no acknowledgement of the positive role Britain played in the world), what they will be receiving will be indoctrination rather than education.

Racism is an evil (and also deeply stupid for there is no evidence whatsoever that the colour of one’s skin plays any role in determining intelligence). We share a common humanity and its right that the role of black people in this country’s history is acknowledged and celebrated. However I do not believe that what Labour is proposing is the right way to go about it.

As always I would be interested in the views of my readers.

Kevin

7 thoughts on “Empire

  1. tidalscribe

    Even if it was a good idea how on earth could there be enough people and money to carry it out when we have to save the planet and sort out our country. These issues are already being dealt with and talked about from partition in India to the part played by slavery in commerce and aqusition of wealth.

    Reply
    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for commenting.

      You make an excellent point, namely that these issues are already being talked about. Having said, that, I do believe that children should learn about the empire, but they should not have a particular lperspective (the empire was all bad) rammed down their throats, for that is indoctrination, not education. In terms of education, anyone visiting the Liverpool Slavery Museum, https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/ism/, gains a good overall perspective on how my home town engaged in (and benefited from) the transatlantic slave trade. These matters are not being disregarded and are, as you say already being discussed.

      Best, Kevin

      Reply
      1. tidalscribe

        That’s okay – didn’t notice the typos. The Docklands Museum in Canary Wharf also deals with slavery. Yes children do need to know about the empire and why we’re happily and not so happily connected to so many countries.

    2. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for the information about the London Docklands museum. I work in central London but was unaware of the museums existence. I shall make a point of visiting it.

      Reply
  2. robbiesinspiration

    I think it sounds like a complete waste of national budget, Kevin. I agree that history must be remembered, but it should be in a balanced way as you have stated here. It is easy to twist history and give a very one sided view of how things happened in the past. I would think that Britain with its NHS issues and enormous national debt had better things to focus on that trying to correct issues from the past that are in no way correctable in such a manner.

    Reply

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