I occasionally find myself strolling through the streets and terraces of the city of Adelaide while gawking at its sparse colonial and neo-gothic architecture. While doing so I’m often reminded of the youthful charm of this quaint town which clumsily identifies as a city. As a British expatriate in Australia, I am drawn to the city’s statues of Queen Victoria, Colonel William Light and King Edward VII as reminders of Australia’s shared history and long-lost connections with the British Empire. Pathetic and somewhat conditional of the hapless romantic I am, I am comforted by these connections to my native country. They show that the British Empire is not some literary apparition confined to the pages of history books; the Empire was a very real thing which informs our present, for better or for worse (often it’s both).
The ongoing Black Lives Matter narrative – permeating across America, the UK and now Australia – has sought to dismantle this heritage, only speaking of oppression, racism and mass murder whenever the words “Britain”, “America” or “Empire” exit someone’s lips. To the movement’s adherents, “white” colonialism only ever did one thing: kill and exploit. While the legacy of colonialism is certainly plagued with atrocities, one should avoid the perils of reductionism; often history serves as a reminder of the complexity of humanity’s vices and triumphs.
The vices which currently dominate discourses surrounding British and American history are not unique either. Instances of slavery, mass-murder and imperial conquest can be found throughout history, perpetrated by many different cultures and ethnicities. With this in mind, it is hard not to be uneased by the ongoing culture of Puritan self-flagellation from “white” people in the face of the BLM movement. Reducing civil society into a dialogue of race is a gross defacement of the communitarian project, yet people’s hands have been forced by the identitarians who have poisoned the well.
These pervasive attitudes have not stopped at destroying public discourse. They have also entered the halls of many of our institutions, including our universities and schools, which, some might testify, had their dams surreptitiously burst years ago.
“Decolonising the curriculum” is the term most famously attributed to this invasion of education. Institutions, particularly in Britain, have committed to changing their long-standing curriculums in order to address the history of colonialism. It was recently revealed that many top private schools are to follow suit as well. The question then must be asked: what does decolonising the curriculum actually mean?
I had trouble answering this question myself, so I perused the internet in search of answers. Across many opinion pieces, articles and documents, I found one point of continuity to this movement: the lingering question, “why is my curriculum white?”. This question, generally speaking, is asked by activists and students alike in the face of Euro-centric university and school curriculums. Such questions have incited calls to action from student unions, with some going as far as to demand that philosophy courses don’t focus on the likes of Plato, Immanuel Kant, René Descartes and others.
Those demanding such changes are in effect demanding to bask in their own ignorance; most of the philosophers listed never attempted to justify “white” colonialism or Empire, and many of their ideas are crucial to understanding philosophy itself. These calls are less so demands for meaningful and effective reform than they are petulant cries from the self-entitled.
If one were to read Kant or Kierkegaard’s work, they would find infinite wisdom in place of Western colonial bigotry. It is only by virtue of their “whiteness” that they are to be belittled, because those who whimper about studying at “white” institutions want their bloated sense of importance satisfied.
It is not enough that they are treated cordially in one of the most tolerant societies in the world – they must shape the curriculum to their liking and diminish the “Euro-centric” past. For these people, it is curious that European countries should be bound by a Euro-centric past. There is no doubt that these urges have been ushered into the mainstream by an increasingly globalised world.
Other demands to decolonise the curriculum have focussed on increasing the amount of BAME ideas and figures that Britons are taught – a welcome change, as long as it doesn’t provide reasons to remove important Western history from the curriculum. It is vital that Britons and Westerners are taught their country’s ills as well as triumphs and are given access to differing voices. My resounding scepticism suggests that this won’t happen, as the demands shown by the decolonisation movement suggest an ideological and anti-factual slant which seeks to undermine the very nation they stand upon.
It will be interesting to see how far these institutional changes go – after all, it is the Black Lives Matter movement which is currently dominating public conversation. I reserve the right to some hope, as it was recently found that only a fifth of UK Universities are to succumb to the decolonisation demands. Nevertheless, the same movement which is justifying the mindless desecration of historical statues shouldn’t be underestimated. It should be up to civil society – complete with all of its differing colours and opinions – not a petulant cultural hegemony, to decide how we teach our future generations.
Photo by Valentin Rechitean on Unsplash
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