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People of colour should not be grateful for colonialism

5 Apr , 2016  

By  -  
Amit is the co-editor of Consented

“Why are you so against the British Empire when it gave you much?” So goes the logic of any colonial apologist and the thinking of a lot of Britain’s white population. The implication is that people of colour walking around in England, speaking English, wearing Western clothing, studying at Western schools and universities have benefited from empire.

“Benefiting” essentially means that these people have been able to have a Western standard of living, which is the measure of success and progress in the minds of the post-colonial British population.

This line of thinking, even if it doesn’t appear to be so, is racist. To assert that anyone, but the imperialists, benefited from empire is factually incorrect and offensive. It is also an attempt to minimize the role that the empire played in providing British people, and by that I mean white British people, with untold levels of privilege. It also forgets the fact that Britain was built on the pillaging of other nations and justified by racial pseudoscience, Christianity and capitalism.

Who benefited from colonialism? It’s not hard to see: white people. Of course there were levels to this prosperity and a lot of British people were not affluent during the times of Empire but people such as David Cameron created and consolidated their family wealth off of the back of the slave trade. Without the consolidation of this wealth it’s possible that Cameron would never have been able to become Prime Minister. One way or another the slave trade helped him to get to this position of power.

But even if not all white people benefited from empire at the time, one way or another they all did within a global context and it’s called white privilege. The pervasiveness of the English language and the myth that their nation is great and modern are examples of this. Even aside from that, the fact that the world is structured with the West at the centre is difficult to dispute.

And whilst it is also true that I, being born here, have had certain advantages over those born in India, is not to say that I benefited from colonialism. Colonialism ripped apart the sub-continent causing my grandparents to leave the Punjab and relocate. I doubt they’ll be sending any postcards to the Queen thanking her for the great benefits of partition, nor will the survivors of the 15 million people who were displaced at the end of British rule, or the one million who died.

famine

Beleiving that people of colour should be grateful for colonialism plays into even more subtle forms of racism, ones that put Western standards of living at the top of a cultural hierarchy. Many people have been conditioned to see Western ways of living (skyscrapers, financial centres, Western schools, etc) as modernity and advancement. Such misguided beliefs overlook the huge advancements made to “modern” society by people of colour and people from outside the Western world (these are too vast to list).

Such misconstrued ideas of the West’s importance are also disingenuous and overlook the historical context of the time. Britain was not as wealthy as pre-colonial India. It only consolidated its wealth as a result of the colonial project and its related thefts. India under the Mughals, for instance, was the second largest economy in the world. So even by the standards of economic prosperity as a sole detriment of progress, India was ahead of Britain.

It is now well known that the loot stolen from the Empire built modern Britain. Not only did major families consolidate their wealth during this period but major British corporations did too. There is a good case for Barclays Bank to pay reparations. Liverpool and Bristol were literally built off of the slave trade and it is commonly accepted that the industrial revolution in Britain was financed by the illegal plunder of the colonies.

The British colonial project and the transatlantic slave trade were historically unique. They were unique because they were underpinned by what we now know as modern racism. This form of racism was inherently European and is what separates this type of colonialism from previous historical empires.

It separated the world into humans and unhumans. Let us not forget that celebrated war-leader Winston Churchill remarked of the Bengal Famine that killed 3 million people (in what some have described as a genocide): “I hate the Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” Such crude ideas and such a stark sense of cultural superiority were paramount during colonialism and still resonate to this day.

British people need to come to terms with the fact that they were the ones who benefited from the Empire both directly and indirectly. It must be understood that the Empire was barbaric, unique and laid the foundations for what we now describe as “racism”. They also need to stop pretending that people of colour have anything to be thankful about.

The idea that Britain left Utopias in its wake is a complete myth. Britain didn’t lay down democracy. Britain didn’t end the slave trade and in many ways Britain didn’t end its informal rule in the colonies. Britain was built off of the empire and to suggest people of colour living in Britain have benefited from it is ignorant at best.


16 Responses

  1. very strong words, very strong saying against the white world, aren’t you afraid ? They can come and kill you

  2. Zaid Shahid says:

    I appreciate this article so much. Specially given the continuation of the “benevolent oppressor” being so prevalent among SAsians due to colonial education. Colonialism is on going, still. I think we should continue to put it in present terms as well. The Empire is still alive, just changed faces and tactics.

  3. Otto Skorzeny says:

    Thank you so much for this. I plan to show this to anyone who says I should be grateful to anyone who says my German ancestors ought to be grateful that the Romans “civilized” them.

    • Lauren says:

      You realize this article literally isn’t about you, right?

      “The British colonial project and the transatlantic slave trade were historically unique. They were unique because they were underpinned by what we now know as modern racism. This form of racism was inherently European and is what separates this type of colonialism from previous historical empires.”

      i.e. this has nothing to do with the Roman empire and literally everything to do with racism against people of color.

  4. […] Source: Amit Singh, Consented […]

  5. Kerry Tibbetts says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a Native Caymanian from the Cayman Islands, and we also know all too well how we were treated in our country under the colonialism pact. I call it a pact, because that is exactly what it is to me. Our country needs to separate itself from the UK, and we need to do so quickly, our culture, heritage and our Native Caymanian people are dying out due to the burst of population explosions we are forced to participate in under the UK. I am all for independence or a free association as Bermuda has garnered for itself. The UK has said that we in the Cayman Islands will not get what Bermuda go, but as one of your commentators stated below, there are more of us than there is of them. Love this article, true words.

  6. While white peasants have been treated to such luxury as free education, welfare and nursing. There has not been a trickle down effect in terms of financial wealth. I’m not sure who you have been talking too and while I’ll accept this is a heartfelt rant, which we are all entitled to do, it’s a massive sweeping statement to generalise in this report that believes it’s commenting or reflects the general white population thinking. Maybe at best the 80’s culture, but there has been a massive paradigm shift since then. Being divisive has it’s merits, but that’s what the colonists want. Clearly divide and conquer is still working on a cultural level to create a them and us attitude. Which is why consideration should be a top priority when speaking on behalf of whitey. The only way you are going to overthrow your oppressors is if commonality wins over the divisions created from diversity. It’s what we share in common that’s will help us to come together to fight the same enemy. Let’s not posture over who has had the worst raw deal, as no one can choose where their born. But we can choose to how we are managed into chattels or servitude. Yet this is impossible if we look to the past to build up the emotional response big enough to enable a fight. We need to concentrate on the present-day to recognise whom are our new masters.

    The 1%. And while they maybe mostly white, they are no good for anybody on this earth.

  7. Sarah says:

    Bitch, bitch, bitch. Get a life.

  8. jeremy mcentee says:

    When will you realise race is the dividing issue that keeps all common folk at each others throats rather than scrutinizing what is being done in his name
    Empires oldest trick is to divide and conquer.
    And before you all lay in ask take a look at what they did in Ireland.
    This is in reality a doctrine divised by the elite to keep us all down

  9. […] First thing that came up in my Facebook feed this morning: PEOPLE OF COLOUR SHOULD NOT BE GRATEFUL FOR COLONIALISM […]

  10. […] “Believing that people of colour should be grateful for colonialism plays into even more subtle forms of racism, ones that put Western standards of living at the top of a cultural hierarchy […] Britain was built off of the empire and to suggest people of colour living in Britain have benefited from it is ignorant at best.” (Amit Singh, Consented, April 2016) […]

    • João Camacho says:

      There are many ways to deal with problems. One of them was the expansion of Europe and their conquests. Britan was not different from Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Sweeden, Belgium or Italy. They all got a part of the cake in the New World. That expansion was done using a parnefellia of tools: race, religion, money, technology, repopulation, emmigration, new states, etc. It was one of the multiple possible ways that powers gave to people/ agents. It should be given back as a new philosophy of good living, neighbourhood, culture and new paradigms for life.

  11. emma says:

    I agree, partially.

    White people have been making business with the local elites for centuries…corrupted bureaucracies in ex colonies are a legacy of such affiliations. Therefore, I think that also this article is “racist” a bt fascist and populist…it takes for grant that white are all rich and black people are all poor and vulnerable. WHICH IS NOT the case. This kind of thinking brings to more racism and closeness…it doesn’t help to bridge any divide, rather it can result in drawing wider bounderies between ex-colonies populations and europeans.

    Today we are all mixed up, many families are made of different nations, religions cultures and colours here in the WHITE part of the world.

    Do you think really that the world is white against others?

    Personally I believe that poors (even we bastards whitish) women , children and elderly are more vulnerable despite their colour or religion…Look at nigeria, everybody is black, no whitish with power over there…but rich people are corrupted and aggressive anyway toward the poor, women and children.
    And, yes, there are historical reasons why things are awkward today. However, people have to choice what they want to be. There are ex colonies that are doing great others keep killing each others, be corrupted…

    we are already applying new paradigms. you can also join us.

    AH…also I would like to remind you that senegalese traders where knidnapping people in africa to sell them to white capitalists…

    and there were wars in africa also before europeans came over to exploit those people and territories.

    human beings can be disgusting always, it doesn’t matter which colour they are, AND FOR FEW BASTARDS (BLACK, WHITE, CHRISTIANS, BUDDHISTS, WHATEVER) MANY OTHERS ARE MISERABLES EVEN IF THEY DO NOT DESERVE IT.

    Greetings from Bruxelles.

  12. leonard says:

    Great words … We must get away from their so cold ideologies and go on. Especially African countries are still mentally colonised that they must wear ties for official functions. Must borrow from IMF yet they have untapped minerals. Buy prossed coffe yet it grows here. The list is endless. If we agree to unite and rebell against the west. They will come begging

  13. Plum says:

    Wow, it’s true.. What the article says… Nobody colonized another country to benefit them, and the colonized country did get exploited and subjected to cruelty. But if I take my own country India, how much more of the trickle- down of wealth was there before the British rule or after, despite having been the second largest economy in the world (that too under the Mughals who were invaders and not very different from colonizers) ? And while skyscrapers may not be the indicator of good life, and the British were out to exploit then and not do us any favours, did not the major part of infrastructure development happen during then? While I love our independence, did we use it in the best way possible for the last so many decades? I understand perfectly that any benefit that India had during colonisation, was merely a byproduct of the same and not intentional but did we benefit in real terms? If I am completely wrong (and I may be), I would love to have more knowledge about this factually. As of now, as a woman, I can’t help but think I have benefited from vaccination, a western education, being self sufficient with my own job and being able to marry when I was ready and the freedom that I get in a metro compared to a woman in a village in Uttar Pradesh. I think a lot of our views get coloured by our own personal experiences, that’s true though. While Churchill was a complete racist, can his remarks totally eradicate the conceptual issue at hand?

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