BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Saturday, 3 August, 2002, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
Colonial history is British history
Dr Robert Beckford
As Jamaica celebrates 40 years of independence, the BBC Two programme, Blood and Fire, examines the struggles involved.

Here, leading theologian and academic Dr Robert Beckford, who presents the programme, argues that Britain must re-examine its own role in the process.


Like many people, I've spent the last week watching the Commonwealth Games.

Manchester has done the nation proud in its organisation and support of the proceedings.

I'd be the first in line to commend everyone involved in making it a success.


Today's commonwealth was yesterday's empire.

Surprisingly, the one defining moment that made the event come alive for me, was not Wednesday's spectacular last day of athletics but a conversation I had with a primary school male mentor.

He asked me to describe "the commonwealth". Trying my best to keep things simple, but also politically correct, I replied "all the countries Britain used to own".

It was an accurate if somewhat unsophisticated response. Today's commonwealth was yesterday's empire.

And for African Caribbean people such as myself, yesterday's empire was my ancestor's rape, murder, torture and exploitation.

Horrors

Contemporary notions of the commonwealth conveniently ignore the day-to-day horrors associated with empire and colonisation.

Ok, I know it was a thing of the past, but the consequences are still very much with us.

The greatest export of colonialism in the Caribbean was not bananas or sugar but British racism.

Negative portrayals of black people forged in the 18th Century associating blackness with physical prowess, low intelligence and immorality have simply been reworked and recoded in contemporary Britain.


The greatest export of colonialism in the Caribbean was not bananas or sugar but British racism.

We can't change the past but we are responsible for how we deal with its impact on our lives today. So why do we shy away from this subject?

Colonial history is not a popular subject for general inquiry partly because of what Professor Stuart Hall calls a selective historical amnesia at the heart of our national consciousness.

Take for example the sometimes blanket coverage of documentaries on World War I and World War II on terrestrial, cable and satellite television compared to the general absence of British history that happened in the many colonies "overseas".

A former colleague of mine used to say the British apprehension towards the colonial past (even the most well intended) is partly the result of an irrational fear of opening oneself to a history of shame.

Bill Clinton

But surely taking colonial histories seriously might just provide us with new ideas and practices for building a more equitable and just society. This is true for all involved.

For some time black and Asian commentators and activists have pointed to colonial history as a reservoir of survival and liberation strategies.

In recent years, cultural studies departments have been churning-out books on "critical white studies", many of which propose that white identities would be enriched and advanced by a serious engagement with the underside of the history of whiteness.

Embracing and investigating colonial history with its stories of subjugation and resistance will never be an easy project to undertake.


Bill Clinton was unable to please everyone when he re-visited the politics of slavery.

Even slick Bill Clinton was unable to please everyone when he re-visited the politics of slavery.

During one tour of Africa he was berated by the America Right for acknowledging America's huge economic gains and criticised by the African leaders for refusing to give a full apology for it.

But as any good theologian will tell you, individual or corporate healing requires an honest appraisal of the past in order to move forward into a healthy present.

Blood and Fire - Jamaican Independence as part of the Jamaica series on BBC 2 during August is one attempt to explore and embrace colonial history.

Independence movement

The programme traces the rise of the independence movement in Jamaica in the late 1930 to full independence in 1961.

Controversially, the programme questions the political and philosophical basis of independence through an examination of neo-colonialism.

On one level Jamaicans continued to be economically and politically exploited by larger and more economically advanced nations as soon as the Union flag was taken down and the green, gold and black flag of Jamaica raised in its place.

Jamaica's history demonstrates we can't talk about the "end of empire" without acknowledging how the empire lives on in a variety of benign and malignant forms.

Dr Robert Beckford is the director of the Centre for Black Theology in the Department of Theology at the University of Birmingham.

He is the author of God of the Rahtid: Redeeming Rage (2001). Blood and Fire can be seen on BBC Two at 7pm on Sunday, 4 August.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Dr Robert Beckford
"Jamaica was the dropping-off point and auctioning centre for slaves"
Dr Robert Beckford:
Independence had brought the island back to financial slavery.
See also:

30 Jul 02 | Country profiles
06 Jun 02 | Americas
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes