British Empire is still being whitewashed by the school curriculum – historian on why this must change
It is to erase the tremendous structural and symbolic violence that empire unleashed. To praise Britain’s role in abolishing the slave trade is only possible if we deny the various forms of economic, political, social and cultural violence that enabled the perpetuation of such a trade – in Britain and its empire – as well as the ongoing legacies of such forms of violence. To view empire as having “good” and “bad” bits also entails viewing the past in simplistic terms. And to claim students should only study the “good bits” of the past also begs the question: whose “good bits”, exactly?
It also assumes that to teach schoolchildren the “bad” bits is to make them ashamed of their country’s past. Yet as Germany has demonstrated, teaching children to interrogate difficult histories does not make them hate their country. It can serve, instead, to promote an “anti-nationalist nationalism”, in which the very tenets of nationalist thinking – including viewing the past in nationalistic terms – are critiqued.