Our Colonial History

I read something by the Irish Post yesterday. Some guy went on to Twitter, along the lines “what has the UK ever done to Ireland, that they feel this way about us?” And, of course, there followed this torrent of abuse. Not at all surprising, the history is widely known in places like Ireland, although British people themselves are largely ignorant. So this guy asked for what he got.

The Irish Post reported it. A British woman herself said that the Irish were “living in the past”, and should let bygones be bygones. There’s a point in that, I suppose. Other people readily reminded this woman that something like the Great Famine was deliberate genocide on the part of the British, but whilst I can have an awareness of the past, I don’t really want it to dictate the future. And, of course, I can widen the argument. Famous examples include the UK’s invention of concentration camps in the Boer War, or of something like the Amritsar massacre. It is one of those subjects where the deeper you dig, the more you uncover. Morants Bay, in Jamaica, for example. Something I learned about during a Black History Month a couple of years ago, was never taught from history books. The only possible conclusion is that the British past is very murky indeed.

That’s really where I feel I’m walking a tightrope. On the one hand, I know that bad things have happened. On the other hand, I, personally, was not responsible for any of them. I can feel that such things were wrong, but I can’t really feel guilt, just basically because these events were nothing to do with me.

I can quite easily take patriotism out of this. One nation controlling another nation is simply wrong, doesn’t matter whether one of them is the UK or not.

But for all I don’t/can’t feel any guilt, I am acutely aware that I have benefitted by events of the past. It doesn’t feel like it but I grew up in Liverpool, surrounded by magnificent buildings from centuries gone by. On the surface, we’re told that the wealth that built these buildings was Liverpool’s seafaring traders, although a fair amount was more bluntly due to slavery. Ill-gotten gains. Things like schools and hospitals, many of which sprang up because of individual benefactors, before the state took over. And don’t let’s forget that the USA was once a colony.

It is indeed a tightrope act. I’m against it, but I’ve benefitted from it. I don’t pretend to have an answer. What do you think?

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