Shakespeare and Donne created thousands of words between them – its a British trait that we can be proud of. Let’s find new words for our time .
This government’s war on woke includes opposing the ‘decolonisation’ of museums, history teaching and challenging statues. Those of us who want to tell the whole story and not focus on just one angle may have created a problem for ourselves. The heart of the problem may rest in the word itself. I agree with the aims of ‘decolonisation’ but can we suggest a more descriptive and optimistic word that describes what we aim for?
The problem with the word ‘decolonisation’ is that it is a negative… so it can be interpreted as wanting to ‘erase ‘history. I don’t want to erase history I want to expand it. I don’t want to ‘cancel’ the story of the campaign to abolish slavery and the role the Royal Navy played in stopping the transatlantic slavery. That is a PART of the story that needs telling. But can we understand the true meaning of that bit of our history without telling the whole story? If we don’t teach how some Englishmen started the Transatlantic Slave Trade and how we grew rich on it, or what it meant to be a slave – the importance of abolition can’t be properly appreciated. Part of the story is describing the uprisings in the Caribbean and how they were brutally put down leading to many slaves committing suicide because it was a life not worth living.
I don’t want to stop talking about WW2, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Normandy invasion, the SOE etc but that too isn’t the WHOLE story. Why were the Indian and Kenyan soldiers shipped home and not allowed to take part in the victory celebrations? At one time, there were more Indian soldiers fighting in WW2 than Brits. Can we really understand HOW the war was won without telling the WHOLE story of the imperial project? Why are we a multicultural country? Why are most of the South Asian ancestry Brits originally from the north of India? Why are so few from Tamil Nahdu and Maharastra? The answer is that we partitioned Punjab and Bengal and caused the biggest ethnic cleansing the world has ever seen. That disruption causes the emigration. But the story ends well. Most South Asians have prospered. So why not tell the whole story?
Hong Kong is a city to be celebrated. I’m sure most Chinese don’t want to put the clock back so that it wouldn’t exist. But to understand its history we have to know that its foundation was the Opium Wars. Is there a word we can invent which embraces an expansive vision.
My recommendations include the Ibis trilogy which links the British Empire, India and China. A true understanding of history reveals common stories seen from different perspectives. Its a great read too!
Stories of women like me who married men of colour when racism was rife are rarely if ever told. My story is intertwined with my Indian born husbands but my story is also valid and shouldn’t be cancelled.