Britain needs to purge colonial past

19th Jun 2020
Britain needs to purge colonial past

(Photo credit: Pixabay/CC)

As Britain is rapidly heading for a likely no-deal Brexit to supposedly reclaim its historic eminence, the country is suddenly being confronted over its colonial past. Perhaps ironically.

Local authorities are being asked to review monuments and landmarks to ensure that they reflect the diversity of their communities. Among them, London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced that he is setting up a commission to consider which legacies should be celebrated and kept.

The overdue reflection about Britain’s heritage comes after anti-racism protesters tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, while graffiti was daubed on a statue of Winston Churchill because of his alleged racist and white supremacy views.

While Labour councils across England and Wales begin to review monuments and street names in their towns and cities, the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan was already being removed from the quayside of West Indies docks in London. Outside Oriel College in Oxford, thousands of demonstrators gathered to demand the removal of a statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes.

The sudden soul-searching also led the likes of Netflix, BBC iPlayer and BritBox to remove such programmes as Little Britain from their archives. Such has been the extent of the Black Lives Matter movement spreading to the UK and worldwide.

These unprecedented events follow the inhumane murder of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd in the US, subsequent mass protests and the heavy-handed response, including from President Donald Trump.

Unlike no other in a succession of Black deaths, the murder struck a chord with protestors holding solidarity demonstration all around Britain.

The message has been that enough is enough. Racism in the US has existed since the colonial era, much like in the UK.

Through nonviolent protest, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s made a modicum of progress by breaking the ugly pattern of enforced segregation — though little more. Is there any coincidence, why the US President lives in the White House and the seat of Government in Britain is in Whitehall.

The UK may be one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world, but minorities have been failed by a succession of race relations legislations.

Under Labour, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act of 2000 may have seemed one of our most progressive, but it has proved to be one of the most meekly enforced laws on the statute books.

It was born out of the MacPherson Report, which found that the police service was “institutionally racist” following the gross mishandling of the Stephen Lawrence case.

Discrimination against the country’s ethnic minorities remains ripe, much of it against the three million Muslim communities, which has increasingly become the target of hate.

Successive governments have failed BAME people, be it the Windrush scandal, the draconian measures targeted at them in the shape of terrorism legislation or discriminatory use of police Stop and Search powers.

The prejudices within British culture require a revolution within itself. It does not help when Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is accused of being a racist himself and refuses to order an independent inquiry into the extent of Islamophobia within the ruling Tory Party.

The position is even more uncomfortable when his Government shows distinctive fascist tendencies, much like his ally in Washington. The clear impression is that neither leader seems to accept that they are accountable to their respective legislative bodies if not to their people.

The Black Lives Matter movement emerged in amid the coronavirus pandemic that is producing what is being termed as a ‘new normal’ behaviour. No one should be really surprised that taking the brunt of the deadly disease have been BAME people, often in the frontline, too often sacrificing.

Suffice to say, Black people were also found to have been twice as likely to be fined by police over the lockdown as white people. What has been shown is that Britain has yet to come to terms with its imperial past nor purge its excesses. Its role in the slave trade is but an element.

Likewise, at the time, Europeans and Americans tried to justify their economic exploitation of Black people by creating a ‘scientific’ theory of white superiority and Black inferiority. The consequences of which still linger in both sides of the pond as so starkly illustrated by the remaining monuments.

The University of Liverpool has agreed to rename one of its halls of residence after a group of students called for the removal of the name of leading statesman and former Prime Minister of the 19th century, William Gladstone.

It is but another example of what needs to be done in the new climate arising from the pandemic. The movement could prove at least as big as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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