As a country, we have done as much as we can to distance ourselves from our colonial past.
Sure, we regret it – but only quietly. We have statues denouncing slavery in the trade’s former hotspots, such as Liverpool. Yet we equally uphold statues that celebrate key colonial figures. Even Oxford university – a setting meant to embody theoretical progress – has a statue to commemorate imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
Its a dangerous message. Quietly denouncing our former past in terrorising great areas of the world without much national shame or self-negotiation means our national image rests upon a unstable contradiction.
We are the champions of democracy but – whisper it – also former colonialists. The lack of any sovereign introspection can arguably explain the continuance of discrimination in our national identity.
There are many areas that need to be challenged; statues are obviously just the surface.
What is really needed is a change to our national thinking and image of our past. Not to sound like a regurgitation of ‘Children are our future’ but what better place to start than in the education system?
Learning about slavery – specifically our part in it – should be made mandatory in the British curriculum. Attempts have been made; 2008 saw it introduced as a permanent choice of the KS3 History Specification. Key word – choice.
Real change should be made to the curriculum. Slavery and colonialism should be taught.
This change was lauded as a revolutionary liberalisation of the education system. But arguably it was overemphasised. Slavery is still an optional lesson, one that many schools still choose not to teach.
Ignoring our colonial past to triumph our heroism in the world wars, as often happens, is dangerous. It is a misleading and outdated regurgitation of the past, one that offers no self-reflection or culpability.
The option is so rarely taken that, when it is, it is informal and unpolished, risking the true impact being lost. In short, making slavery a permanent but optional choice on the curriculum is a weak move, that does not give it the justice it deserves.
Real change should be made to the curriculum. Slavery and colonialism should be taught. Our country’s role and impact should be taught. How our national image continues to be tinged by its legacy should be taught.
And it should not just be relegated to history classes. Classics like ‘The Colour Purple’ should be made mandatory to stop the whitewashing found in the English spec.
Our history of slavery is a lesson that deserves to be taught, and a lesson from which much can still be learnt.