Tag Archives: colonialism

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

Enid Blyton Removed From School Library

I have happy memories of my grandfather reading Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five as I sat on his knee. As a child it never crossed my mind that Blyton’s books could be construed as being racist. Today however a number of reprints of the author’s works have been published with certain words and passages having been amended to avoid giving offence. Today’s Daily Mail has an article concerning a school who removed Blyton’s books from it’s shelves, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2519806/Enid-Blyton-Famous-Five-childrens-classics-axed-school-win-race-equality-award.html. If you read the entire article it becomes clear that most of the books which where deemed to be unacceptable have been replaced by versions with the language which some deem offensive, having been removed.

Racism is ugly and it is right and proper that children are taught that all ethnic groups possess equal worth and everyone, irrespective of their origin should be treated with respect. Having said that, would it not be possible for teachers, parents etc to explain the historical context in which Blyton was writing to youngsters, explaining that words and phrases which where once deemed acceptable are now (rightly) not so deemed. Blyton as with Kipling was a product of her time. Even great authors such as Dickens used language which we now view as unacceptable, for example his reference to “the jew” in Oliver Twist. I love Dickens, Kipling and Blyton, however to say this does not imply that I or any other reader shares their views on race or any other issue. We need, as I said above to judge authors in accordance with the historical context in which they wrote. Obviously it is easier for adults to make such judgements but, with sensitive and appropriate explanation it ought to be possible for children to continue to enjoy The Famous Five.