Divide et Impera – Divide and Rule.
In a professional capacity, my recent activities seem to want a more equitable world and they have similar themes around topics such as structural inequalities, patriarchy, white supremacy, anti-racism and decolonisation. It is this reason that I feel compelled to work through some of these topics on this blog post. The pandemic has affected many communities and more so in those that are disadvantaged, plus the anti-racism work brought about by the reaction to the death of George Floyd, the Black Lives Movement protest this summer, as well as and the move to a more inclusive and equitable profession and society in general. All these topics have definitely, and rightly so, been pushed up the agenda, discussion themes, organisational and personal missions of events and content I have consumed this month. Collectively, we still don’t have all the equitable answers but there certainly are lots of questions, and new marginalised stories being unearthed from some communities.
A more diverse and inclusive current generation of academics and professionals are researching, working and creating new stories to make sure that imperial, colonial structures, white supremacy and racism which underpinned power and control of places and peoples, societies and communities are now being rattled, dismantled and abolished. The most poignant discussions are not to overwhelm or dominate another culture, race, religion, place, people et cetera – it is simply to reclaim lost identities, re-balance and acknowledge that change is necessary…and happening now. It is a quiet revolution without guns, ammunition and brutality, but one of thoughts and actions based on evidence, research, compassion, empathy, discussion, understanding and respect.
Coinciding with Black History Month, essential television viewing this month was ‘Enslaved’ which looked at the 2000000 slaves that were killed on the ocean crossing alone in the Transatlantic Slave Trade over 400 years. Although I studied Caribbean history in secondary school in the Caribbean, I still learnt new facts about this horrible crime against humanity. We didn’t have a documentary like this when we studied the subject in the 1980s. Therefore, it was gripping and sad seeing the visual landscape and underwater shipwrecks as evidence that these atrocities happen in human slavery, and you despair at the brutality and conditions of enslaved people in these crossings. It was good to learn about some of the ‘trading’ stations on the African coast, slave rebellions such as the Maroons on Suriname, slave escapes from the USA to Canada, European-wide slave trade (I wasn’t aware that Danes also traded in slaves), and the African slave shipwrecks close by on the English coast around Devon.
African history didn’t start with slavery. African history was interrupted by slavery.
– Enslaved TV Series 2020.
The United Kingdom played a huge part in the Transatlantic Slave Trade but is most keen to forget it. As the recent departed US Politician John Lewis said in episode two of ‘Enslaved’ – “it is brushed under the carpet”. There is also a great article this week in The New Yorker entitled ‘Misremembering the British Empire’ which mentions brilliantly the amnesia, denial and pretentiousness that has whitewashed history. There needs to be a re-balance with remembering the slave trade and also the rich histories of African culture before slavery. You can ask most Black British who agree that this is not taught in detail in UK schools. British slave trade and slavery are skimmed over, not explored for greater understanding or empathy, with most suffering from amnesia and ignorance. There is no two ways on this – it was a horrible fact and African slavery used for capital, which built and propped up Britain with the riches and imperialistic power from slave labour from the colonies. The rulers, leaders and elite in Britain supported and knew all along that this inhumanity was happening…but did nothing to stop it until the abolition movement in the late 18th and 19th century.
Even in the 21st Century, the current tone of imperial might and successes are still reiterated today without balance and scrutiny which is harmful and causes devastation to communities and peoples. The nationalistic tone of Brexit has highlighted this blinkered way the UK thinks of Empire. …”Through the lens of pivotal moments in the post World War II world, this essay examines the breakup of the British Empire and how the vision of empire lives on, particularly in the context of global populism and a rapidly globalizing world. Brexit, the 2016 vote by popular referendum in the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, is closely tied to the identity forged a century ago, at the height of the British Empire”. Source: Populism and British Stories of Decline by Joe Murphy in The American Journal of Economics and Socialogy.
The distasteful word Empire is still used in national awards with the word for honouring persons in the UK, which really is backwards if these persons have to engage with persons from outside the UK. It is ignorance at the highest level. There is a great article I read which mentioned that if your heritage is from a post-colonial culture of anti-colonialism, rebellion and independence – the rejection of imperialism is natural as part of a contemporary psyche and freedom. This is explained for Americans, who have seen centuries of imperialism and colonialism. …”The United States was formed through rebellion against the British empire, but well after the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, resistance to that empire continued to shape America’s history. The civil rights movement, for instance, was not only deeply influenced by the thought and practices of the Indian anti-colonial movement, but it was also part of a wider anti-racist struggle in the era of decolonization that connected activists across Asia, Africa and beyond, mobilizing the global diasporas of Asians and Africans that colonialism had created”. Source: Prita Satia at Stanford Department of History entitled ‘We can’t tell Kamala Harris’s story without British Empire we can’t tell Americas without it either‘.
With this context in mind, you would be delusional to want to go back to that dark part of genocide, slavery and pillage that made people fight for their independence and freedom. The UK also seems to believe they were the ‘civilising force’, the best and only empire compared to their European counterparts, who started empires before the British. Posturing in true dominating style, empire is built on twisted power, influence, domination, destruction, looting and capital on the back and blood of other people and communities. The apex of this system also encourages and perpetuates white supremacy, which was used to control the new world order at the time. It really has no place in modern and equitable societies. There is no level playing field, structural equality or unity due to the divide and ruling structures that was used centuries ago to control the colonies. This is why we are experiencing so much racial and human discord at present – a true quiet revolution.
This month also saw an interest in stories of resistance, rebellion against slavery, and the fight for independence. I remember studying the Haitian Revolution 1791 in 1986-1987, whereby I had to write a eulogy for Toussaint L’Ouverture. Believe it or not – my eulogy was so good, the Caribbean Examination Council Board kept my eulogy possibly for preservation. In those days, I didn’t think about keeping a copy, so I can’t remember the words I had written. I remember my inspiration for writing the eulogy and making the actual hard copy headstone eulogy out of coloured paper, markers and a crinkle scissor.
Back to the present, it will always be great to see that the story of the revolution is brought up today to discuss rebellion by self-liberated Black slaves. The use of ancient voodoo and other African culture was also used to empower and fight for freedom. I also attended a virtual event today on the new book ‘Black Spartacus’ by Sudhir Hazareesingh, which discussed Toussaint being a devoted Roman Catholic but also there was the use of voodoo. A Black British friend recently described the Haitian Revolution as ‘our first revolution’ and I am grateful for studying Caribbean history in Trinidad, pedagogy starting with the ancient and first nations people who inhabited the lands there. It puts history with evidence, details and facts on the correct footing (pardon the pun) and in context. No wonder we are able to move away from an imperialistic perspective and create our own national pride. The same can’t be said for Britain’s imperial and colonial past in their UK history lessons. Is it too traumatic to teach about the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery in detail to young British children? Or to intentionally not covered the topic to keep the imperial status quo? Or to keep the military and capitalistic might?
Elle Magazine October 2020
In the academic and research world, there is pedagogy and student intervention work on decolonising education, universities, museums, places and research. In an open and fair world, especially digitally, there is no place for ego, imperialistic behaviour and power. I attended two virtual events which covered decolonisation – one at ‘Open and Engaged 2020’ by the British Library, and the ‘Festival of Ideas – Decolonising Knowledge’ for SOAS.
It was interesting seeing examples of decolonising research such as in language and context. Also the most horrifying was the use and study of Eugenics and the UCL Bricks and Mortal project on slavers, white supremists and persons with shady colonial pasts. …”Eugenics – the science of improving human populations through selective breeding – is generally associated with the Nazis, but in fact has its roots in Britain. It had its roots at UCL. The story of these origins is seldom told”.
Looking back at the slides now, this was such an eye-opening as well as mind-blowing event. From looking at the recurring themes of lack of diversity in books, professional research communities, the North-South global hemisphere divide, research content, acknowledgement and the recognition of indigenous original stories and representation. Some of the presentations showcased the Palestine open maps projects, indigenous tribes of the Americas and stories from varied voices, such as the herb that was consider a weed by Western professionals until corrected by a South African researcher. With the lack of variety, scrutiny and diversity in scholarly research and structures – there is an imbalance, incorrect and false truths of the world.
At the SOAS virtual event ‘Decolonisation – not just a buzzword’, it was an art verbatim video with the sentiments, anecdotes and thoughts that were similar ones to those that are resonating in anti-racism discussions I have participated in recently. Due to the remit of SOAS, they are working aptly and proactively to address decolonisation. …”It begins with the assumption that global histories of Western colonial domination have had the effect of limiting what counts as authoritative knowledge, whose knowledge is recognised, what universities teach and how they teach it”. Source: SOAS https://blogs.soas.ac.uk/decolonisingsoas/about/
It was interesting to hear one French speaking Belgium student said that when he was in India, there is distrust for him (possibly as a white European ex-coloniser coming to steal knowledge) when he wanted to view ancient manuscripts in Indian. This student sounded in awe of the rich Indian items still to be discovered and explored. Though distrust by Indians perhaps is a culmination of years of abuse, destruction and removal of Indian manuscripts during colonialism. The knowledge kept in ancient manuscripts is vast and comprehensive, as my ancestors have ensured we were told in Asian, and African, oral traditions and ceremonies. It was great to hear harsh and truthful global perspectives of imperialism, colonialism, racism, biases and international views from current academia at SOAS.
I have written about my Indian heritage on my blog before and therefore there are myriad ways of looking at the world, as well as hanging on to the intersectional of indigenous traditions, religion, culture, race and identity as a British-Indo-Caribbean married to an European. This week it was a real privilege for me to visit the British Museum to see the ‘Tantra: Enlightenment to Revolution Exhibition’, and I am able to understand my Indian heritage a bit more. Not everyone from the diaspora can do this though as mentioned too by one of the students at the SOAS event, and as mentioned by me on social media a few weeks ago. In this exhibition, it is great to learn about Goddess Kali and her role in anti-colonialism. To be honest, we were told in Trinidad that her puja is dangerous, savage and powerful, which may have been tainted by imperialism, and intended to control the religious practices in the Caribbean as well as India. However, Kali puja was totally acceptable in Kolkata (previously known as Kalikota and Calcutta), and they used her imagery in revolutionary ways by indigenous Indians against British rule to instil fear and to empower. Goddess Kali is certainly Badass!
We should be proud to have such ancient and powerful feminine images and forms in various Goddesses, and Navratri is a great as an auspicious time to remember the feminine form and cosmic energy. We held prayers at this time in my home in the Caribbean. I liked understanding the belief in feminine power and that women have Shakti all the time. Also the Tantra counter-culture of the 1960s was great to see – from John and Alice Coltrane, The Rolling Stones to artwork. John and Alice Coltrane were fans of the higher consciousness of these traditions and knowledge obviously. These arts forms have accepted and moved with the mutually respective times to fused cultures in new innovative art.
It is great to learn about provenance and to see decolonisation in context to items held in museums that were once part of imperialistic acquisitions, treasure hunts and domination.
Another common thread recently was land acknowledgement of indigenous and first nation peoples, which I witnessed at professional events and discussions including both by the British Library and SLA. This really shows up pretentiousness, falsehoods and insensitive rhetoric from colonisers that still insist on dominating with their imperial ‘brand’ to this day. It has been decades whereby ex-colonies have achieved self-determination, independence and freedom. The post-colonial shift are by nations and citizens who have matured with new self-identities. I am not that naive – I also know that there is reverse racism and bias in all people. We really need complete balance, truthful and fair understanding of history and colonisation now. We need to peacefully revolutionise and abolish the white-centric power struggle and structural inequalities that still exist in western societies, institutions, organisation, countries and the media. Or at least know how to best deal with it. Perhaps to even ridicule inequalities and colonisation as a message, as reiterated by a student at UCL, and by other freedom revolutionaries in the past.
I conclude with a statement: I was born on Caribbean indigenous land, which belonged to ancient tribes, and now live on Briton land (once colonisers if my homeland) – which makes an odd but balance view of the world. Going forward by the events this month, it is time for some post-colonial truth and equality. Prejudice, structural racism, inequality and dominance are prevented on our watch.