Advanced search

To be wary of hatred directed towards the British Empire

(704 Posts)
Bumpitybumper Fri 18-Sep-20 07:14:56

With the rise of movements such as BLM, there seems to be a growing hatred towards the British Empire and a keenness to point out all of the flaws and terrible things the empire and key individuals within it did. I too am horrified when I think about the role that the empire played in slavery and events such as the Irish Potato Famine. As these things become better publicised then there seems to be a growing school of thought that this is a white or at least British people problem that we must somehow atone for and feel guilty about. The British Empire has been cast as the ultimate villain and something we must be ashamed about.

My concern though is that lots of countries around the world have had empires and inevitably when these countries held lots of power, they acted in ways that we would now regard as morally reprehensible. The Mongol and Roman empires for example, were extremely cruel and many empires sort to brutally stamp out religious or cultural differences and gain control. Equally empires have brought about advancements in technology and improved the living standards of millions of people around the world.

Am I therefore being unreasonable to suggest that it is only fair to look at empires holistically and through the lens of the time they operated in? Of course the wrongdoings and horrendous acts mustn't be hidden, but equally they should be given context and positive acts shouldn't be erased either.

OP’s posts: |
Boom45 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:19:25

I dont think you can compare empires from thousands of years ago to recent examples of colonialism, either in terms of its legacy or the relevance to people living today.

GCAcademic Fri 18-Sep-20 07:19:35

What “positive acts” are you thinking of?

Porcupineinwaiting Fri 18-Sep-20 07:20:51

Sounds like "whataboutary," to me. If you are British or from a country colonised by Brirain, then it's perfectly fine to think about and, if you choose, be angry about the British Empire without worrying at the Roman's or whatever.

Its rubbish to say the Empire was necessary to bring technology or medical care or education to others parts of the world btw. There are other mechanisms that could have done that, like trade.

Fallada Fri 18-Sep-20 07:20:53

Alas, the idea of the British empire is not purely historical — it, and the myth of British exceptionalism, are still colouring the push for the monumental act of political self-harm that is Brexit, and the Famine is of far less relevance than the British government tearing up an international treaty it signed only months ago and imperilling the GFA and peace on the island of Ireland.

It’s not purely about past atrocities.

newsyoucanuse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:20:59

The issue is it isn’t being looked at critically at all, if anything the British Empire seems to be held up as something great, something to be proud of.
And as far as I can tell. British children ( outside of Northern Ireland) have not been taught about the near genocide committed by the British government of their subjects in Ireland during the famines. Most English people I know have no clue that it was a ‘false’ famine.
Then you have this ignorance repeated For India, Africa, Palestine etc etc etc

Cassilis Fri 18-Sep-20 07:21:44

Wow, I hope we have a resident Mary Beard who can tear this to shreds.

If the only bad thing you can list is the Irish potato famine then your history isn’t so good.

OwlBeThere Fri 18-Sep-20 07:21:45

YABU to compare something that only ended in the 1960s with things that happened in the 13/14th century and 5th century, yes.
The ‘good’ parts of the BE are very well documented. Now it’s time to even that out with the absolute horrors it perpetrated.

newsyoucanuse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:22:41

Go on, give me one positive act from the British government during the famines in Ireland. Having studied history properly - holistically- while most U.K. kids we’re learning the order of the kings and queens of England, I can tell you that there aren’t any.

Dailyhandtowelwash Fri 18-Sep-20 07:23:14

Is this a new thing? Our colonial heritage was a thing of shame when I was a teenager, and had been before I knew about it. Decades ago.

YABU. You’re viewing it through your own lens of what is beneficial.

ANoTail Fri 18-Sep-20 07:24:34

The fact is, we still benefit in this country from the effects of the British Empire, while other countries still suffer from the effect the empire had on them. YOU don't need to feel personally guilty for it but you can at least recognise what this country has done in fairly recent history.

newsyoucanuse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:29:22

OP you’re aware presumably that the effects of the Empire are still causing huge problems today?
India/Pakistan -Northern Ireland -South Africa a
I could go on, or you could crack open some history books written in the last 30 years.

Leafyhouse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:29:52

I'm with you on this OP. This current trend of 'revisionist history' is a new arena of ignorance. I think you can't judge historic events using modern values. I often wonder what we're doing right now that will be condemned by future generations.

Boom45 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:30:45

Also. You cant separate out things like slavery or the famine in Ireland (and all the other places in the world deliberately starved either for economic or political reasons by the British) like they were isolated aberrations of a benign system. They were deliberate and necessary for the empire to function and to flourish. Those "positive acts" you dont want us to forget were only possible built on the wealth plundered from other nations and the death of people around the world.

MadameMinimes Fri 18-Sep-20 07:31:48

I’m not sure I follow your logic. The idea that we should only teach the issues with the British Empire if we also teach about problems in other empires is just a bit strange. The curriculum can’t cover everything and the main focus of the curriculum in England is on British history. The reason the British empire features so heavily should be obvious. Of course it should be contextualised but the idea that it was just a different time and people didn’t know what they were doing was wrong is just not correct. As a history teacher my job isn’t to teach simple but incorrect narratives that help British people not to feel guilty about the empire. Incidentally, I don’t think we should feel guilty about it. It’s not like we had any say in something that happened before we were born. However, we do have a duty to acknowledge the damage it did and the extent to which our country still benefits from its legacy today. Shying away from the truth because it’s uncomfortable is not right. I also don’t agree with celebrating “positive” aspects of the empire that colonised peoples neither asked for nor wanted and which they more than paid the price for.

Dailyhandtowelwash Fri 18-Sep-20 07:33:16


I'm with you on this OP. This current trend of 'revisionist history' is a new arena of ignorance. I think you can't judge historic events using modern values. I often wonder what we're doing right now that will be condemned by future generations.

Ironic to talk about ignorance. History is about interpretation of the past. There is no agreed set of events and views. It is constantly about ‘revision’. To suggest that there has been no previous criticism of the British Empire demonstrates an utter lack of knowledge or awareness. And there’s a real dog whistle to be heard on this thread.

Straven123 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:33:43

There is a lot of colonialism or events similar to colonialism but Britain gets singled out because it had the biggest empire.
It was French colonialism which lead to the Vietnam War, Namibia has just rejected offers of Eu 10 million in reparation for genocide in the early 1900s of indigenous people by the Germans colonists, the French were fighting in Algeria in 1950s, I think it was.

Doesn't make anything better but feeling got at for things that happened in the past won't build empathy, more annoyance imv.
The Germans killed millions in the holocaust which was recent but somehow that isn't raised as much as it wasn't colonialism.

newsyoucanuse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:35:14

This current trend of 'revisionist history' is a new arena of ignorance. ‘

Is it revisionist to tell the truth? 40 years ago I had NO idea of the British part in slavery - it was pinned on the Americans. British slave ships and sugar plantations didn’t get a mention.
My mother’s generation were taught the history of the British Empire as a source of pride - because half the facts were missing. It’s not revisionist to look at a subject truthfully.

Cabinfever10 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:35:37

Yes all empires are bad (massive understatement) however the British empire was the largest empire the world has ever known.
I would also say that it was that it was one of the most brutal empires, I suggest that you look up the East India company and the Hudson Bay company. They are 2 of the best examples of the harm caused by the British empire.
Oh and I am white and can accept that the very least we owe the people of our empire is an apology

Dailyhandtowelwash Fri 18-Sep-20 07:35:45

The Germans killed millions in the holocaust which was recent but somehow that isn't raised as much as it wasn't colonialism.

Words actually fail me.

Aloneagainornot Fri 18-Sep-20 07:36:27

You are being totally unreasonable. The history of British empire is built on slaughter and slavery. Learning more about it doesn't make me feel guilty as I hold the notion of empire in contempt anyway and it is not something I feel I belong to although I am British born. My in laws have a different view largely stoked by daily mail. They see BLM as over the top and unwarranted (in the uk). I couldn't disagree more. As a white person I've had numerous racist viewpoints aired in front of me as the assumption is I share that viewpoint - I don't and it'seems about time our black sisters and brothers are properly heard. I know there is a pernicious racism in this country and us white people need to educate ourselves.

newsyoucanuse Fri 18-Sep-20 07:38:03

The Germans killed millions in the holocaust which was recent but somehow that isn't raised as much as it wasn't colonialism.‘

That’s a joke right? You don’t think that WW2 and the rise of the nazis and holocaust is probably the one historic event that every kid in EVERY country learns about?
You don’t think there are many films, tv shows, docs, books about the Nazis and the Holocaust?? Compared to one in the British empire? Or any colonialism for that matter???

Dailyhandtowelwash Fri 18-Sep-20 07:38:40

There were acts of appalling brutality in other empires and other countries are dealing with their own legacies. If people looked outside their own island maybe they wouldn’t feel quite picked on. hmm

Mittens030869 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:39:50

* Is this a new thing? Our colonial heritage was a thing of shame when I was a teenager, and had been before I knew about it. Decades ago.*

^This with bells on.

sst1234 Fri 18-Sep-20 07:40:16

This left wing self loathing based on historical events does nothing to change the real issues facing the oppressed today. And the fact that it’s done in the name of ethnic minorities by placard waving white people, just looking for a ‘cause’ is quite frankly more offensive than the cause itself. If you think people from ethnic minorities live their lives feeling resentful about the empire, then you are seriously deluded. Same with BLM, it has been hijacked by Marxists, and others feel compelled to join in. You can be anti racist and not get taken in by this nonsense to advance a different political agenda.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in