Categories
Politics

The UK refuses to condemn its horrifying colonial past

Earlier today Boris Johnson published a series of tweets reminding us that he is still a racist and supporter of the criminal British empire – if you needed any more evidence. Here is a brief commentary on his statements.

Trigger warning: racism, racial violence, anti-semitism, war.

There has been SO much going on lately that I have wanted to address in writing, but I hardly knew where to start until the PM’s tweets today left me so frustrated that I simply had to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) to unpack a few of them and their complete inaccuracies.

As I’m sure you are aware, the recent surge in the BLM movement – prompted by the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month – has called attention to systemic racism in the UK as well as the USA. Protests have seen the defacement and even removal of statues that celebrate racist figureheads, whether that be slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol or ex-Prime Minister, raging white supremacist and genocidal maniac Winston Churchill in London.

Some Britons, either because they are misguided about British history and are genuinely very worried about protesting racist statues as a threat to societal wellbeing (I struggle to believe such a worry could actually keep anybody up at night), or because they agree with and celebrate these figureheads, have become quite upset about attacks on statues.

For example:

Sajid Javid retweets footage of the Colston statue being thrown into the Bristol Harbour, writing: ‘I grew up in Bristol. I detest how Edward Colston profited from the slave trade. But, THIS IS NOT OK. If Bristolians wants [sic] to remove a monument it should be done democratically – not by criminal damage.’ N.b. Democratic means had been attempted, repeatedly.

And:

Darren Grimes tweets a video depicting vandalism below Churchill’s name on his statue, reading ‘was racist’. Grimes writes: ‘Defacing a statue of Sir Winston Churchill to “own the fascists”. Morons. How did the police let them get away with this?’

However, I realise that there might be other reasons people support Churchill, and do not want to immediately dismiss them as evil and racist. Traditionally, within British media and in school history lessons, Churchill has often been lauded as some kind of selfless hero. Indeed, his Prime Ministership coincided with the end of WWII and, as he was leading one of the several countries that together defeated Hitler, he is seen as a saviour. Affording a more charitable interpretation of praise from Churchill’s older fanbase, I realise that their first-hand experience of the challenges of living during and after the war and their exposure to wartime atrocities would contribute to their positive image of him.

Nonetheless, the current PM knows better, but is unashamedly a fan of British imperialism. His thread today began as follows:

Boris Johnson’s tweet reads: ‘The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny. 1/8’

As many have noted before me, it is simply untrue that Churchill considered fascism and racism enemy forces. In fact, the opposite is true.

It doesn’t take much research (hence the lack of citations in this quick account) to reveal that in the British empire’s final years, Churchill abused his power to commit atrocities across several countries, most notably the famine he engineered in India (The Bengal Famine, 1943), in which 4 million people lost their lives, and the concentration camps he ordered in Kenya in his bid for African land (there are many, many more examples). This sounds pretty similar to the guy Churchill supposedly saved us from, right? Yeah, they were both raging fascists, and there’s quite a lot of overlap in the policies, opinions and crimes of Hitler and Churchill. In fact, they were fans of each other’s work before they clashed over colonies in Africa. So why do we consider one evil and the other a hero? Because he was on our side?

The idea that Churchill was a fighter of racism would be laughable if the truth wasn’t so utterly abhorrent. As the previous examples suggest, Churchill was very racist. In fact, there is so much evidence of this that it is hard to know where to begin.

Let’s start with the idea that he didn’t like Hitler’s attempts to exterminate the Jewish race. This was quite clearly NOT the motivation for Churchill’s role against Hitler in the war – that was all to do with protecting British ports in Belgium. In fact, Churchill was an anti-semite too. Despite being a Zionist, he suggested that Jews themselves invite persecution (How the Jews Can Combat Persecution, 1937.) Furthermore, he was a fan of concentration camps, advocating their use in Kenya and South Africa.

Just like Hitler, Churchill was an overt white supremacist, asserting that genocidal settler colonialism in the USA and Australia was not wrong, because indigenous peoples were replaced by ‘a higher-grade race, a more wordly wise race’. He justified the Bengal famine through his personal hatred of Indian people: ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’, and blamed their lack of food on them ‘breeding like rabbits’, when it was actually due to stockpiling and a lack of foreign aid. He called Kenya’s Kikuyu people ‘brutish’, Palestinians ‘barbaric hordes’ – the list goes on. He may have afforded some sympathies to Jews, but nonetheless believed in Social Darwinism and a hierarchy where white protestants were at the top.

Boris’ second tweet reads: ‘It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial. 2/8’

So why is Churchill – a barbaric and inhumane excuse of a person, never mind a Prime Minister – considered a hero (by so many, including our own current PM!) when he was no better than Hitler? At least Germany, generally-speaking, utterly condemns this horrendous part of its past and seems to approach it fairly objectively in its own schools.

Boris’ use of the word ‘opinions’ in the above tweet is an interesting (read: despicable) way to describe extreme racism, white supremacy, and penchant for genocide.

The third tweet reads: ‘We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. 3/8’

This part utterly confuses me. This seems to be a popular defence of racist statues currently – the idea that they teach us about our past. As many have said before me in recent days, there is absolutely no need to have a statue to teach a history lesson and, moreover, this obviously doesn’t work (how many of you knew about Colston before he was chucked in the Bristol harbour?).

However, Boris takes this stance a step further by saying that removing statues actually ‘censors’ history. There are multiple things wrong with this statement. Firstly, how on earth does a lack of a statue equate to censorship? This is such a bizarre logic – how many millions of events are NOT memorialised in huge bronze or stone figures that, somehow, people still know about? Would Boris describe these events as ‘censored’ because of the lack of vanity displays? My head hurts trying to make sense of this. Removing a statue does not delete history, like The Beatles in that odd film Yesterday. It simply means we are no longer publicly celebrating arbiters of evil, right in front of people who are still hurt by the systemic racism they enforced.

Secondly, censorship IS a big problem in the way we learn about history here, as I have already suggested. Our school curriculum provides a completely biased and misleading account of how the UK has acted on global stage, as well as neglecting or erasing histories of many racial groups. Boris, that is the point we’re trying to make. While I’m at it, please sign this petition to teach Britain’s colonial past (as well as any others that might not have reached their target quota).

You might have seen that, in fear of damage at further protests, some statues have been nicely wrapped up to keep them safe and sound:

Image from Cityam.com.

So, the statues are being carefully looked after, which is more than we can say for UK victims of racism.

However, many more statues of other relevant figures can be found using this handy map. There’s also a petition to remove all statues of slavers, here.

And remember, the removal of Colston’s statue was not in vain:

A tweet by Hasan Patel reads: ‘BLM protestors took down Edward Colston’s statue 56 hours ago. Since then Belgium has taken down King Leopold II, London’s taken down Robert Milligan, Liverpool Uni will rename its halls, Plymouth will rename a square and memorials for Windrush have been planned. Protest works.’

To reiterate: protest works, and it is our duty to continue to fight for justice and raise silenced voices whenever and however we are able to.

Image from BLM protest in Manchester, 6th June 2020.

To conclude: as many signs at recent BLM marches declare, the UK is NOT innocent and, while this wave of protests was sparked by events in the US, racism is just as prevalent here. Why?

  • because Britain colonised America in the first place, literally creating white supremacy.
  • because we were one of the principle founders of the Atlantic (Transatlantic) slave trade.
  • because Britain HIDES its colonial and slaver past.
  • because our government endorses Trump and the systemic racism in the US, too.
  • because systemic racism is similarly evident in our criminal justice system.
  • because implicit bias is evident in healthcare, education and politics.
  • because Black people and other ethnic minority groups lack fair representation in Parliament, in education, on television, in films, in books, in magazines, in ANYTHING.
  • because racist comments and micro-aggressions are rife.
  • because every Black person living in the UK has experienced racism. LISTEN to them (if they have chosen to take on the mental and emotional labour of sharing their experiences).

On that note, I will end this little ramble, but urge anyone reading to continue the fight.

‘In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.’ – Angela Y. Davis.

By Matilda

Hello! My name is Tilly (Matilda) and I am a 21-year-old student at the University of Sheffield, studying Politics and Philosophy. My blog is heavily influenced by these subjects, as well as by the arts in a larger sense. I enjoy making and consuming art - whether that be drawing, painting, poetry, or film.

My creations are from the perspective of a #spoonie. My invisible illness is ME/CFS, and I sometimes write about that too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s