There are key differences between British history and that of the settler colonies:
Britain was uninhabited prior to the crossing of the land bridge, there was no displacement of other people in order to settle here. Subsequent invaders and settlers were again, overwhelmingly white (with the exception of some black Roman soldiers, who like most white Roman soldiers, are not taught about). Until the post-war era, there were no significant groups of non-white people living in the UK on a comparable scale to that of the US.
Even if there were no more white people in the UK tomorrow, we would still mostly be learning about white people as the overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived in the UK have been white.
Much is made of the Blackamoors and Lascars and the lack of focus on them has been taken as an indicator of a deliberately racist history being taught. Yet the same argument could be made for many other groups such as Jews. It doesn’t require much curriculum time to point out that Britain was not 100% white for its entire history up 1948. For most of this country’s history the most important changes that took place were enacted by the monarchs. It is possible to understand the Britain of today without studying the Blackamoors and Lascars, it’s not possible to do so without studying Henry VIII.
Do I think that ethnic minority children were deliberately taught “white history” in the post-war era? No. I think that the people in this country simply taught as they had been taught. That the colonial era was glorified is unsurprising, as were the stereotypes of different groups because that is what most people had to go on. The idea that the choices on the curriculum were intentionally racist is one that I have seen no evidence for.
Until the 1950s and 1960s, I don’t see why the average white teacher in Britain should or would have cared about or thought much of the impact of the history they were teaching on people living in the colonies/ex-colonies just because they were/had been part of the Empire, any more than I spend time thinking about the Falklanders or Gibraltans. I’m not interested in condemning people for not managing to do what I don’t do myself. In advance of immigration, how could they have known what impact the history they were teaching would have?
Even when the first post-war immigrants arrived, it was not clear that they would stay or settle here. My parent’s attitude was the norm for Indian immigrants, they would come, work here and then move back with their children. It didn’t happen and it didn’t happen in part because of the children of immigrants like me, who did not see those foreign shores as a home to go back to.
BAME children did suffer from racism, low expectations and discrimination in the education system but over the past 60 years, this has not been a uniform experience. The failure of all ethnic groups has given way to the situation we have now, where it is simply not true to say that race alone is the major factor in why some groups succeed and others don’t in the education system.
In addition, it has not taken hundreds of years for the history curriculum to reflect a wider range of histories; it took 40. I would ask you to look again at the 1988 history curriculum. In some cases it took less time than that as schools, pre-National Curriculum, changed aspects of their curriculum in response to teaching ethnic minority pupils. Ignorance, as well as racism, played a part in the teaching of British history and the extent to which it was the former is indicated to by the fact that changes have been enacted.
If we want to learn about British history we just have to deal with the fact that most of it will be about white people. And yes I know that colonialism means the history of Britain is linked to its colonies but let’s not forget that does not just mean African nations and India, it means the US and Australia as well. It is still only a part of the history of this country, as well as the countries that were colonised. I was speaking to my brother about this only last night, the Indian history my mother taught us made it clear to us that there was more to Indian history than the Raj and India was not singularly defined by it.
We can not cover the whole of British history on the curriculum but to focus on the colonial era onwards is to leave children in this country ignorant for the sake of political correctness. It is narcissistic to insist that the British history that is taught reflects the current population rather than the actual history of Britain. Our joint history in this country simply doesn’t stretch back that far. If you need to see yourself reflected, look in a mirror.
The Black Atlantic narrative has insisted on shoehorning and conflating US and UK history (and at times South African history). There were no Jim Crow laws, no apartheid, no laws based on race that classified black and Asian migrants as second class citizens that I know of. No separate fountains or beaches. The “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” sign shows that prejudices existed that were not based on race alone. It is rarely taught that the Race Relations Acts did not repeal discriminatory laws because there weren’t any to repeal. Instead, they ensured protection under the law from discrimination as that was lacking.
It also does not serve the “white history” narrative that the people who were the most discriminated against since 1948 were not ethnic minorities at all but Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland, who were not even covered by the Race Relations Acts. The Protestant majority in Stormont would not enact it as they would have had to stop discriminating based on religion and they weren’t about to do that.
The insistence on Black History Month is in some quarters is nothing more than a means of transmitting ideological beliefs about race.
The harsh truth for the BAME in this country is that no one forced our parents and grandparents to come here, they were never kept here against their will, and neither are we. Our relationship with this country and the colonial past is different to that of black Americans, and that includes the fact that we are the beneficiaries of the colonial era that did cause so much suffering to others. This is not an easy legacy or even an easy thing to admit. But it is an honest admission.
If we are to understand the nation we live in we need to learn its history and not a deliberately conflated version of those of other nations which does little to enhance our understanding of the society that we live in, worse still introduces false ideas of the past which create barriers between different groups in the here and now.
In the next two posts, I will examine the role of political correctness and the regressive left in promoting identity politics and undermining the teaching of history in Britain.