...people are becoming increasingly mobile, travelling both for pleasure and out of necessity, and increasingly it seems we're facing the prospect of a world without borders, of movement and flexibility. In Britain, we've witnessed people travelling desperately to find sanctuary, many who have wanted to reach British shores and make their home, if only temporarily, on British soil. At the same time, we've witnessed barriers being put up and resistance to this change; "there's not enough room" and "there aren't enough jobs" have been rallying cries from large swathes of society, and fear has overtaken compassion and empathy.
Alongside this understandable fear (understandable because we live in a system where we have been encouraged to prioritise competition and ourselves and be fearful of change and community and sharing), we believe that there is another force that stops many of us from welcoming our fellow humans to this little island we have decided to call home: a very British Empire State of Mind.
In terms of stark, simple, justice, when you do the historical 'maths', it would seem only fair and just that, after nearly 350 years of ruling a large proportion of the world, where Britain set up a global system of rule that extracted wealth from countries and reconfigured entire nations to provide raw materials to benefit Britain, that we would open our doors, borders and hearts at least to those countries ravaged by the country's historical greed.
However, this, we've found, is not the case. Instead of reparative justice, by and large Britain has been endowed with a state of mind that's proud of our history. At school, in the media, and even in many of the former colonies, the message has been consistently reinforced that Britain is a 'civilising nation' with a legacy of bestowing greatness on the world that continues today.
We're told and taught to believe that the British Empire was a benevolent mission to 'civilise' the world, with a golden legacy of development and improvement, rather than a self-interested venture to dominate half the world, pilfer resources, enslave people and expand our markets.
Throughout history this ‘British Empire State of Mind’ and resulting actions has led to the suffering of people the world over, the pilfering of resources and the destruction of our planet. The result today is this: globally we are witnessing increasing political and economic inequality and borders that are closed to people but open to money, and at home in the UK there is a pervasive and growing fear of immigration and xenophobia and racism.
Many argue that the British Empire ended in 1997 when the union flag came down in Hong Kong. However, we believe that the legacy of this empire lives on and with it a ‘British Empire State of Mind’.
Britain is, in reality, a tiny island with a population of around 65 million, but it still holds a very privileged position of power and influence internationally. You can see it our foreign policy today, and in our political discussions that we still think we're 'saving' the world with traditional British values; when we speak of giving 0.07% of the UK's budget to overseas development aid, we're so proud of ourselves, but we forget that we then take billions of pounds every year out of the African continent, for example, in resources, taxes and repatriated profit.
So why does this happen?
It's not like the evidence isn't there to demonstrate the impact of British foreign intervention. There are historical documents from colonial times that prove that the Empire was built for our benefit. And there re documents today from Department of International Development that prove that aid spending is done in our own interest, as well as countless evidence to show that we get more out of 'developing' countries than we actually give. We set up the current global economic system to benefit us and it continues to do so.
It seems, however, that not only do we refuse to acknowledge how much we, as Brits, have benefitted from the British Empire, which was built, by and large, on the backs of others, but that we stoically ignore it. Why is that? We're all readily scornful of countries like North Korea, where explicit indoctrination by the regime there has created a false dystopian nation built on lies and fantasy, where people are afraid to speak out, but we ourselves refuse to acknowledge the thousands of Mau Mau in Kenya who dies at the hands of the Empire, we complain about people 'coming here to take our jobs', but ignore the fact that back in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s people were invited from the colonies to come and work in the UK . Today the NHS would not exist without its immigrant staff.
Why does this matter?
In our opinion, it matters because we're all human and because we want to live in a world of equity, justice and compassion and empathy for others.
Alongside this desire, there is a recognition that we are facing a hugely uncertain future, where we, more interconnected than ever before, desperately need to work with our fellow humans around the world to build new systems out of the rubble of those that have taken us to the brink of destroying the planet, and each other.
Wonderful and creative alternatives to the current system exist and continue to spring up all over the world like green shoots through concrete, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that for these alternatives to take hold and spread, much work will need to be done to address and heal the suffering caused by the effects of the current system. Stress, intergenerational trauma, colonialism, slavery, patriarchy, climate change, environmental destruction, will all require much time and space for grief and healing as a pathway through anger and hopelessness to compassion and forgiveness.
A truth and reconciliation commission was set up in South Africa in the wake of apartheid and a justice and reconciliation process instated in Rwanda after the genocide, but grief and healing from the British Empire is rarely discussed; we want to challenge that.
The British Empire has impacted the world, and the lives of people around it, more than we might realise here on this tiny little island. We want to provide a platform for those living in former British colonies, and now on British soil to express how they feel the British Empire has affected their lives and the lives of their families and those living in and from the former colonies. We believe it's important to acknowledge and honour the trauma caused by the actions of Britain both past and present.