An insidious form of holocaust denialism
June 18, 2020 8:55 AM   Subscribe

The Case for Reparations: Over 60 million deaths from man-made famines. A 20% drop in life expectancy in just 50 years. Centuries of slavery. A legacy of brutal deprivation and cruel dispossession still materially felt by billions to this day. But despite it all, 80% of Britons do not regret colonialism and 44% are actively proud of it. How is this possible? And what is there to be proud of?

On the vastness of what is owed:
So go ahead – I challenge you: chalk up the billions of hours that enslaved Africans worked on British plantations, pay it at a living wage. Tally up compensation for the 60 million souls sacrificed to famine for the sake of British surplus. Boost it all by 200 years of compound interest, and add that to the trillions lost during structural adjustment and the trillions more in stolen cash that flows through Guildhall. Try it. The numbers begin to swell. They rise like a chorus of voices from the forgotten corners of our past. They march like an army of ghosts who demand a reckoning.

And then it strikes you…. Then it strikes you that there is not enough money in all of Britain to compensate for these injustices. And you realize, that if Britain paid reparations – real, honest, courageous reparations – there would be nothing left. Britain would not exist.

And that is exactly what people find so terrifying about the question of reparations. It’s not that they fear the actual prospect of paying. It is that even just thinking about what is owed reveals the hard truth: that what is owed, is everything.
posted by Ouverture (44 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
That plundered wealth, what happened to it? What do we have to show for it? It was spent in vain. It was spent trying to kill each other. Britain went broke fighting the continent. It's just the crap cherry on top of the shit sundae of colonialism.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:09 AM on June 18 [19 favorites]


A great piece, thanks!
posted by snofoam at 9:11 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I strongly agree with Hickel's claim that the horrors of the Empire are under-discussed in the UK. In my schooling in England (1990 - 2004) the Empire wasn't discussed at length even once. (Though we spent a long time memorizing the names of Henry VIII's wives, for some reason.) It's a sort of national repressed memory.

This is why I cheer on those who want to pull down statues of Churchill -- it's a good way of forcing people to look at something they normally refuse to see.
posted by HoraceH at 9:37 AM on June 18 [15 favorites]


YES YES YES YES YES YES YES
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 9:38 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]




80% of Britons do not regret colonialism and 44% are actively proud of it. How is this possible?

We learn literally nothing about it at school.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:03 AM on June 18 [23 favorites]


+1 to nixon's meatloaf's comment. As one of the apparently-few British people who feel ongoing disgust about this country's history, I'm glad this side of the narrative is getting some airtime.

The number of white supremacists who have been out and about lately "protecting" all manner of statues and spouting nonsense about why they're doing this for monuments that have nothing to do with slavery or colonialism (like these people "protecting" George Eliot in Nuneaton) has only reinforced my sense that there's a particular weaponisation of "proud British history" that has nothing to do with knowledge of what actually happened and everything to do with clinging to a terminal narrative built on world-domination wank fantasies. The price of the good old days was brutal, more than any of the people who were exploited in the course of making them possible should have ever been forced to pay, and the fact that most people who live here now see that process as morally neutral towards positive is chilling but unsurprising given the small dog syndrome that stoked our dreams of conquering in the first place.

So much of British culture is predicated on an absence of empathy - stiff upper lips, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, cutting down tall poppies, shut up and take what you're given. The permeating, erosive negativity. It feels like a hard inner edge to our culture, historically reliant on self-policing as well as social policing, and I think this is what is butting up against pockets of growing desire for real tolerance and diversity (with vicious for-profit media with a specific agenda amplifying specific voices and this weird jeering Oxbridge version of representative democracy as force multipliers). This mindset strikes me as our most serious barrier to becoming a truly inclusive, psychologically safe society.

The preventable hunger here today is disgusting in itself, before we even begin to consider all of the preventable famines that Britain has also been responsible for.
posted by terretu at 10:36 AM on June 18 [27 favorites]


fascinating read. I especially appreciate his Q&A dismantling of many common reactions against reparations. got another book to add to the list...
posted by supermedusa at 10:42 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's bad and it's depressing.

British Exceptionalism, particularly rooted in the mythology of WWII ("we fought alone!") is a key part of the culture. It's possible that Brexit, especially a hard Brexit, may put an end to this. But, I doubt it.

Essentially, it's a large number of people living in enormous denial.
posted by rolandroland at 10:47 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]


> It's possible that Brexit, especially a hard Brexit, may put an end to this. But, I doubt it.

The worse their living conditions get, the more tenaciously they're going to cling to their cultural memories of glory days, and the easier public opinion will be easier to stoke using that nostalgia. At least if post-Soviet Union Russia and post-Reagan US are useful precedents.
posted by at by at 11:03 AM on June 18 [10 favorites]


I think this is a really good essay and makes really important points. But comparing the vast numbers of dead from colonial misrule and atrocities to people who were intentionally and systematically murdered in the Holocaust is only a good analogy because of its stopping power. Actual Holocaust denialism is alive and well in the UK, and shouldn't be bolstered by conflating intentional genocide with unintentional mass-slaughter - even due to intentional misrule. I think he could make the same points without de-centering another set of victims.

I'm not saying this to diminish or belittle his main point, or to say that either group of victims is more worthy of honoring or restitutions - especially when there were far more victims of British colonialism and we're still seeing the repercussions today. But I do protest his word choice.
posted by Mchelly at 11:20 AM on June 18 [9 favorites]


That plundered wealth, what happened to it? What do we have to show for it? It was spent in vain. It was spent trying to kill each other. Britain went broke fighting the continent. It's just the crap cherry on top of the shit sundae of colonialism.

Well, we have a bunch of "world-class" museums and aren't particularly interested in returning most of the items ...
posted by Melismata at 11:26 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


that was an odd mix of excellent points, wobbly arguments* and a dash of sophistical wriggling (i suppose those are the three debate food groups)

can't disagree with his conclusions though. for most britons, the subject of the empire is approached (in education, pop culture, general historical osmosis) only obliquely, by reference or implication - people know about the victorians, know that britannia ruled the waves, have a vague awareness of the map being mostly pink and lots of mustachioed chaps shipping off to india, and that's about it. it pops up in the background, or as the setting for a teatime costume drama, or on the odd plaque. little wonder most think it sounds like a jolly good time.

* for example, the eye-catching figure of $24 in outflows for every $1 of aid is derived from research that is shaky at best
posted by inire at 11:27 AM on June 18


George Monbiot had an eye-opening column in the Guardian about what Briton's have never been taught about their colonial past. Much of the column focused on Kenya (a topic I don't know much about) but mention was given to other countries as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:59 AM on June 18 [8 favorites]


Actual Holocaust denialism is alive and well in the UK, and shouldn't be bolstered by conflating intentional genocide with unintentional mass-slaughter - even due to intentional misrule. I think he could make the same points without de-centering another set of victims.

From the famines to the slave trade, these were also intentional and systematic genocides. It is not de-centering another set of victims to acknowledge this horrifying reality of actual holocausts denied and/or celebrated by the vast majority of British people.

"Colonialism" is far too mild to describe these atrocities. Look at how even in this discussion, these horrors are bogglingly described as "intentional misrule". That in itself is an astonishing minimization and "de-centering" of what happened.

This should not be a contest of who gets to claim a term used to describe such horrifying crimes against humanity. I would rather have solidarity against all forms of genocide denialism than a competition.
posted by Ouverture at 12:19 PM on June 18 [31 favorites]


Yeah I am jewish and I certainly don’t speak for all Jews, but I think there is a very common focus on the “uniqueness” of the WWII Holocaust, when in fact one of the most horrifying things about it in my opinion is how common genocide is. It’s not denying the validity of one to discuss another. And to quibble over terminology rather than acknowledge the horrific impact of colonialism & imperialism is not only derailing, it’s a way of excusing it.
posted by arabidopsis at 12:24 PM on June 18 [27 favorites]


More and more, I've noticed TV documentaries in the UK that make some reference to the British Empire as being broadly malign. It is a start, albeit a small one.

For a microcosm of the problem, you just have to look at English views of Ireland, our nearest neighbour, and our absolute unwillingness to realise that the Troubles had anything to do with us and our decisions, that Ireland is actually a separate country, or that Oliver Cromwell committed genocide and Queen Victoria's government starved millions.

We have a long way to go. What's taught in schools might help, but I think what's consumed in mass market culture will help more.
posted by plonkee at 12:25 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


[As another Jew chiming in, I want to say I had the same wince at the quote from the link and its use in the post title. I don't think that needs to be the topic of the thread and the focus here should be on colonialism, but the discomfort of transplanting "holocaust denialism", a very concrete, very current anti-semitic problem, into a figurative context doesn't feel great and I think it's fair to also acknowledge that in passing. Let's leave it at in-passing at this point, though.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:48 PM on June 18 [15 favorites]


but I think there is a very common focus on the “uniqueness” of the WWII Holocaust, when in fact one of the most horrifying things about it in my opinion is how common genocide is.

I think the WWII Holocaust is unique in a number of ways though: 1) the perpetrators were held accountable and 2) they paid reparations. And while neither can ever be enough for such monstrous crimes against humanity, it provides clarity on what justice can look like.

And remarkably, to dive deeper into this history also reveals the deeply connected nature of all our histories: Hitler was profoundly inspired by both British colonialism and American white supremacy:
Hitler and Goebbels were the first relativizers of the Holocaust, the first purveyors of false equivalence. “Concentration camps were not invented in Germany,” Hitler said in 1941. “It is the English who are their inventors, using this institution to gradually break the backs of other nations.” The British had operated camps in South Africa, the Nazis pointed out. Party propagandists similarly highlighted the sufferings of Native Americans and Stalin’s slaughter in the Soviet Union.

[...]

Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler’s regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy—an “everybody does it” justification for Nazi policies. Whitman, however, points out that if these comparisons had been intended solely for a foreign audience they would not have been buried in hefty tomes in Fraktur type. “Race Law in the United States,” a 1936 study by the German lawyer Heinrich Krieger, attempts to sort out inconsistencies in the legal status of nonwhite Americans. Krieger concludes that the entire apparatus is hopelessly opaque, concealing racist aims behind contorted justifications. Why not simply say what one means? This was a major difference between American and German racism.
One (paraphrased) line from The Act of Killing has stuck with me for years: war crimes are determined by the victors.

In America and much of Europe, this is what victory looks like.
posted by Ouverture at 12:52 PM on June 18 [20 favorites]


I would like to have this tattooed on my head Niall Ferguson's head:
From historians like Sven Beckert, Kenneth Pomeranz, Ellen Wood, Parthasarathi and Karl Polanyi, the evidence is clear: the Industrial Revolution was built on state violence, slavery and colonization. Britain’s economic rise depended on cotton, sown and harvested by enslaved Africans on land expropriated from indigenous Americans; depended on the theft of agricultural products from Indian farmers; and depended on the forced de-industrialization of Asia.
I studied economic development in Britain, c1500-1800. No colonialism, no slavery, no Industrial Revolution. They might have had cheaper pins and a bit more local food (thanks to some changes in manufacturing and agriculture), but the massive growth of places like Manchester and the overall increase in GDP is all colonialism.

And any of us who have inherited this wealth - whether in Britain or as colonials abroad in the Anglo-sphere - we owe it back.
posted by jb at 1:15 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


The main problem that I see with the idea of restitutions is the question of "how far back does one go?" India is a good case in point. The British Raj supplanted the fragmenting Mughal Empire (1526-1857), which itself defeated the Delhi Sultanate (1207-1526), a Muslim empire that was part of the centuries long expansion of Islam over Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms in South Asia starting in the early 900s. The invasions and their empires were in many ways far more destructive than British rule. Would the activities of Gandhi, a Hindu, have been tolerated in either of these empires? Would democracy and the idea of human rights have emerged from them?

An example: In 1737-40 the Persians under Nader Shah invaded India, captured and plundered Delhi. As retaliation for the killing of some of his soldiers after the city surrendered, on the night of 21 March 1739, he ordered his troops armed with guns and swords to attack residents of the city. Contemporary accounts (not British) estimated 20,000-30,000 civilians killed. The Persians plundered Delhi and India, removing the Peacock Throne to Persia, among other riches. Nader Shah and his troops left India, although they annexed northern regions. So much wealth was stolen from India that Nader Shah stopped taxation of his own kingdom for three years. The invasion also alerted the British to the weakness of the Mughal Empire, and set the stage for British expansion.

So the question is, should descendants of the people who perpetrated these injustices of provide restitutions? The descendants of the Mughal rulers? The Persians? Going further back, Islam expanded from Arabia to much of Africa and Asia by conquest. Should Arabs provide restitution to the descendants of those conquered peoples? Many of those areas had been under or Byzantine rule or successors to Roman rule. Should modern day Italians or Greeks, who might descendants of invaders from as far back over 2200 years to the Punic wars, provide restitution? Descendants of Genghis Khan now living in Mongolia--should they pay for the predations of the Mongols? Turks for the sins of the Ottomans? The people who kidnapped Africans and sold them to British slave ships were themselves often African. Should descendants of them provide reparations to descendants of enslaved African Americans? In the Americas, the Aztecs and Incas built empires by violence not by plebiscite, and the Spanish and Portuguese overthrew them with the help of Native allies. Descendant of those Aztec and Inca rulers provide restitution? Descendants of the allies of the Europeans provide restitutions along with modern day Spanish and Portuguese?

Another aspect of the case of India is the Hindu caste system. Was the British Raj worse than the caste system, which predated it by over 1000 years and continues to this day, albeit more benignly? Should upper caste Indians provide restitution to lower caste Indians and the the Untouchables? There's no doubt that famines affected the lower castes and Untouchables of far more the upper castes, never mind the everyday humiliations.

I don't have answers. It is just so very hard in the present to right the wrongs of the past in ways that themselves might create new injustices. Maybe the British can afford it, and the demise of the British Empire is much more recent than the Persian invasion. Would is it be fair to ask Mongolians to pay for the sins of Genghis Khan, say, or poor East Africans to pay for the sins of their forebears who enslaved their neighbors 200-400 years ago?

IMO, the average British citizen should not be held accountable for the British Empire. And while the Queen didn't create the Empire nor attempt to preserve it, she could certainly afford to part with some of the wealth of her family acquired from the former colonies to help people in them.
posted by haiku warrior at 1:31 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


The main problem that I see with the idea of restitutions is the question of "how far back does one go?"

Have you read the entire article? The author responds to many common counterpoints, including this exact one you have posted:
2. “There were lots of empires in world history: the Mongols, Rome, Japan and so on. If Britain must pay reparations, then we should demand reparations from all historical empires, and that is absurd.”

You certainly won’t find a defense of these past empires on my lips. I am a staunch anti-imperialist, and always will be. Give me a chance to broaden my argument, to critique empire itself, and I will gladly do so. But two points. First, the proposition in question has to do with Britain – that is what’s under debate. So this is a red herring. Second, the Mongols did not design a global economic system that remains in place today. Britain did – and this is precisely the core of my argument: that there is a fundamental continuity between the international economic system that was consolidated from 1600 to 1950, and the one that exists today.

There are some obvious signs of this. Who controls the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, the three key institutions that govern the rules of the global economy? Voting power in the WB and IMF is monopolized by a small handful of rich nations: the US, Britain, France, Germany, Japan. Meanwhile the global South, which has some 85% of the world’s population, has less than 50% of the vote. In other words, even if the vast majority of the world voted to change WB and IMF policy, they would not be able to do so.

What about the WTO? Bargaining power in the WTO is determined by market size, so economies like Britain virtually always get their way. In other words, the inequalities that were generated during the colonial era now structure who has power in the global economy. Inequality begets inequality. This is hardly surprising. Remember: the Bretton Woods institutions were founded in 1944, before the end of colonialism. That’s why colonies like India were integrated into the system on profoundly unequal terms. Indeed, that was the whole point.
posted by Ouverture at 1:38 PM on June 18 [34 favorites]


Would the activities of Gandhi, a Hindu, have been tolerated in either of these empires? Would democracy and the idea of human rights have emerged from them?

Additionally, the piece forcefully responds to this bizarre defense of colonialism:
Democracy? British rule was dictatorship! Africans and Asians struggled and bled for the right to vote in their own countries. Property rights? The whole point of colonialism was dispossession—securing the rights of the colonizers to the property of the colonized: land, gold, diamonds, taxes, even the bodies of the colonized themselves. Rule of law? The object of colonial legal codes was to deny equal rights to colonial subjects. And India’s railroads were used to pump resources—grain and timber—out of the hinterlands to the ports for British use.

Even if we accept that useful things were shared during colonialism – universities, for instance – that is not the same as saying they were a benefit of colonization. Colonialism is not a necessary vector for the transfer of knowledge or technology. Britain has long enjoyed the Arabic numeral system, algorithms, and even algebra itself, without ever submitting to Arab invasion. It takes a warped mind to believe that the best way to share ideas with other humans is to colonize them.
And:
Even if there was a kind of “net good” that came out of colonialism, that is not a defense that would be admissible in any court of law. Imagine if we were trying a man for murdering one of his children, and his defense was that he was good to his family most of the time, fed and clothed them, and even sometimes bought them nice things. Such a defense would obviously be absurd. Indeed, even if the man had treated his family like royalty, this clearly would not compensate for the fact that he murdered his child. We would never say of such a man, “Well, overall he was a good person, so let us leave him alone.”

Only a jury committed to preserving the absolute rights of patriarchy would ever acquit such a man on these grounds. So too, only those who on some level presuppose European supremacy would ever acquit Britain on the grounds of some kind of “net good” argument.
posted by Ouverture at 1:45 PM on June 18 [25 favorites]


Well, we have a bunch of "world-class" museums and aren't particularly interested in returning most of the items ...

Well that's that. Forget using established wealth to create a fair and equitable society, the WASPs grabbed the Rosetta Stone and everything's just ducky.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 2:13 PM on June 18


The main problem that I see with the idea of restitutions is the question of "how far back does one go?"

If the main argument you have is one that is addressed in the article at hand and you have no rebuttal (and in fact fall back on a vague "who can know?" type shrug), you should seriously reflect on why it was important for you to make your comment.
posted by tocts at 2:17 PM on June 18 [11 favorites]


[One comment deleted, leaving a previous comment for the context of its replies but that wasn't great either. Coming into this thread to stake out a well actually it's complicated and what about these other countries position feels like declining to engage with the actual topic in favor of whatever you feel like talking about and you need to cut it out.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:54 PM on June 18


Gang, cortex has quite politely pointed out that I've come across as a big jerk with my comments. I sincerely apologize for causing offense. Seriously, this is great post with an interesting discussion, and I don't want to spoil it. I'm out with my tail between my legs.
posted by haiku warrior at 4:07 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


But really, this is not about the money. This is about something far more important… this is about the story. The real reparations we need are narrative reparations.
I agree that "narrative reparations" are necessary and long overdue, but it seems to me like dismissing financial reparations, as the author does, comes from a place of privilege and that it's really not his place to dismiss them. It's also not my place to dictate what reparations should be, what forms they should take, so it may turn out that honestly owning and teaching the most accurate version of events available is what the people most impacted would agree on. I'm just pretty sure that should come from the impacted people and not those who dealt the impacts.
posted by notashroom at 5:54 PM on June 18


It is also not my place to dictate what reparations should be. That said, it always gives me pause when people who are expressing a desire that past wrongs be addressed are quick to throw out that obviously monetary reparations aren't the point.

At the best of times it comes off as a dodgy rhetorical trick -- a calculation that you probably can't convince the skeptical of monetary reparations, so you'd better concede that immediately to have any hope of convincing them to even agree that something wrong was done.

At the worst of times it comes off as unconsciously agreeing with the mindset of those who are against redressing historical wrongs in any way. That mindset -- that the past can't be changed, and that the enormity of what was taken can't be addressed and thus nobody can be expected to do anything now -- is an insidious one, and I don't think we do those who have been harmed any favors by not confronting it head-on.
posted by tocts at 7:19 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


Ouverture - I don't agree with haiku warrior's conclusion, but I just wanted to mention my discomfort with the part of the article you quoted when responding to him:

2. “There were lots of empires in world history: the Mongols, Rome, Japan and so on. If Britain must pay reparations, then we should demand reparations from all historical empires, and that is absurd.”

You certainly won’t find a defense of these past empires on my lips. I am a staunch anti-imperialist, and always will be. Give me a chance to broaden my argument, to critique empire itself, and I will gladly do so. But two points. First, the proposition in question has to do with Britain – that is what’s under debate. So this is a red herring. Second, the Mongols did not design a global economic system that remains in place today. Britain did – and this is precisely the core of my argument: that there is a fundamental continuity between the international economic system that was consolidated from 1600 to 1950, and the one that exists today.


I appreciate that the author is drawing attention to Britain's culpability in colonialism, and making a case for Britain paying reparations. But he doesn't need to diminish the long-lasting effects (including political, economic and cultural structures) of other empires and other colonizers to make his point. I don't think it would hurt his argument to acknowledge that there are other historical empires and other colonialists (the Dutch in Southeast Asia, France in Africa and Asia, Japan in East Asia and Southeast Asia, for example) that have had similar long-lasting impact up until the present-day, and that they should pay reparations as well.

(He also talks about present-day voting power in global institutions - the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO (I would add more; these are the three he cites) as a further rebuttal to that argument - yet Britain is not the only power in that small group of rich nations he mentions that has a whitewashed history of establishing and cementing its position there through its exploitation and subjugation of other nations (and other peoples, other races).)

Those same 5 arguments he lists and argues against are also often used to sanitize and excuse other colonizers' actions and present-day impact, and rewrite narratives. I understand that he wants to keep the focus on Britain (and broadly speaking it is sensible to do this when addressing an audience that is very unaware of the history and issues he cites), but when other colonizers and empires are brought up in dialogue I would hope he take more care to avoid erasing and dismissing the traumatic impact and present-day effects of other colonizers, in the course of his efforts to underscore Britain's culpability.
posted by aielen at 7:20 PM on June 18 [5 favorites]


I found the sheer number of beautiful old buildings in London hideous because walking around, it was clear where colonial wealth had gone. It was a very strange experience, especially with that classic of looted wealth the British Museum. Seeing Maori artefacts there was visceral racism. I have an interest in colonial history from the other side and to see the staggering wealth difference in infrastructure was painful.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:30 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


& on narrative reparations vs monetary reparations: both are important!  But personally, if I absolutely had to choose (although I don't think we should choose, or see them as mutually exclusive), I would say narrative reparations are more important than monetary reparations - because I think narrative reparations can eventually drive and generate monetary reparations with greater long-term effect, but not the other way around. 

And (I think the writer also addresses this at the end of his article) - it stings (or rather, to put it bluntly, re-traumatizes) to receive money under a framework/narrative of "pity money" or "charity money" from "previous" oppressors. Controlling and imposing a narrative in favor of the "previous" / "past" colonizers is in effect present-day ideological colonialism.
So many domestic, regional and global policies have been shaped and continue to be formed based on such unjust and unequal narratives. The "independence" treaties and "official" withdrawals have been declared, the physical presence of human colonists may no longer be there, but that ideological and cultural imperialism still continues, is still here, still drives multitudes of political and socioeconomic decisions, and continues to shape our individual identities today in its favour.
posted by aielen at 8:57 PM on June 18 [8 favorites]


I appreciate that the author is drawing attention to Britain's culpability in colonialism, and making a case for Britain paying reparations. But he doesn't need to diminish the long-lasting effects (including political, economic and cultural structures) of other empires and other colonizers to make his point. I don't think it would hurt his argument to acknowledge that there are other historical empires and other colonialists (the Dutch in Southeast Asia, France in Africa and Asia, Japan in East Asia and Southeast Asia, for example) that have had similar long-lasting impact up until the present-day, and that they should pay reparations as well.

If you note one of my earlier responses, I point out that this applies to the rest of Europe and the United States as well. My particular interest in British reparations is both deeply personal and pragmatic: it is the country closest to the United States in both its general culture and imperialist legacy.

As for Japan, I am very curious as to why Westerners are so obsessed with non-white countries and what these countries should do with regard to reparations, especially when...they already did it.
posted by Ouverture at 10:10 PM on June 18


Ouverture - I'm not a Westerner. And my relation to this topic is also personal. I am from countries that were, coincidentally, colonized by both Britain and Japan. Generations of my family have been affected by both countries.

I do not want to get into a debate about whether you think Japan has made reparations - I've seen (and experienced) how this kind of discussion goes in previous Metafilter threads, and I do not have the emotional energy or mental energy to rehash or repeat this debate again. I can tell you that there are many East and Southeast Asians who would disagree with you, and who feel that (aside from the issue of monetary reparations) that narrative continues to be whitewashed and developed in favor of the colonizers. I don't feel anger towards the average Briton or Japanese person (and some of my family are Japanese, as well), but it does hurt when I encounter remarks from people insisting that reparations have already been made, with flippant Wikipedia links.

I wish I could say more, but I don't have the bandwidth to continue to engage with this here. All I can say is it is personal to me too; it is that personal that I don't want to go into detail about it on Metafilter. And I hope you can understand on some level, given your own background.
posted by aielen at 11:32 PM on June 18 [9 favorites]


Few points to add to the entire conversation rather than simply pulling out sentences from the comments to respond to:

1. I highly recommend William Darymple's The Anarchy in addition to Tharoor's work already linked above. I have both books, purchased affordably in New Delhi, and am still plowing through Darymple's. Here are snippets from the book review wrt the alleged Empire of the Brits and its legacy and impact, even today.

The difference between these two images is the distance travelled by William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, a graphic retelling of the East India Company’s “relentless rise” from provincial trading company to the pre-eminent military and political power in all of India. The company’s transition from trade to conquest has preoccupied historians ever since Edmund Burke famously attacked it as a “state in the disguise of a merchant”. Building on foundational research by CA Bayly, KN Chaudhuri and PJ Marshall among others, a new cohort of scholars writing in the wake of the financial crisis (Emily Erikson, Rupali Mishra, Philip Stern, James Vaughn) have studied the company as a forerunner of modern multinationals, intertwined with the modern state and “too big to fail”.
[...]
It was contemporary Indian chroniclers who called this period “the anarchy”, due to the waves of invasion and civil war that shook Mughal power and allowed a host of regional actors – of which the company was merely one – to gain ascendancy.
[...]
Dalrymple steers his conclusion toward a resonant denunciation of corporate rapacity and the governments that enable it. This story needs to be told, he writes, because imperialism persists, yet “it is not obviously apparent how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess”. And it needs to be read to beat back the wilfully ignorant imperial nostalgia gaining ground in Britain and the poisonously distorted histories trafficked by Hindu nationalists in India. It needs to be read because with constitutional norms under threat in both countries, the defences seem more fragile than ever.

2. My second point is simply to observe to both aielen's point and Ouverture's - that we are all three descendents of the colonized, and I have had the karma to be born to bridge both your cultures, so bear with me for a moment as I ramble like the toothless granny i'm turning into - I was born in West Bengal, the name itself a legacy of the tearing asunder, once more, of the Bengal and its wealth in a last ditch attempt to destroy what little remained of its wealth - famously the jute mills were on one side of the border and the fields that grew the raw material on the other. Calcutta was the poorest most impoverished remnant of the glittering eastern capital of empire and trade when I was born and whether it has yet recovered from wilful destruction still remains to be seen.

Moving to Malaysia (and later singapore) in 1970 meant I experienced the early day of industrial development of the asian tigers first hand but the memory and legacy of Japanese occupation (not to mention the racial divisiveness of the British colonial legacy) were still far more fresh during the 70s than they are now.

Wikipedia is the last place to turn to for any valid inputs and insights on these matters, it is itself turning rapidly into a hotbed of political rewriting of history, and scandals are emerging everyday.

The fact remains that as long as history, as written by the alleged winners, and its dissemination, controlled by whose voices are heard and seen, remains centered on the white supremacy that dominates the globe, begun over the past few centuries of rapine and looting, we will continue with the legacy of divisiveness - even of thought and opinion - as seen in this conversation thread.

It is this domination of voice and value and legacy that must be overturned for authentic conversations on restitution and reparation, not to mention acknowledgement and acceptance, to proceed forward for a healthier global future.
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:30 AM on June 19 [12 favorites]


And, call it whatever you like, but Churchill deliberately created the conditions for at least 3 million Bengalis to starve to death, "swollen bodies floating down the Hooghly", a state sanctioned famine that my maternal grandfather survived, and during which my mother was gestated. Her health has never been good.

"Winston may be right in saying that the starvation of anyhow under-fed Bengalis is less serious than sturdy Greeks, but he makes no sufficient allowance for the sense of Empire responsibility in this country," he writes.

Some three million Indians died in the famine of 1943. The majority of the deaths were in Bengal. In a shocking new book, Churchill's Secret War, journalist Madhusree Mukherjee blames Mr Churchill's policies for being largely responsible for one of the worst famines in India's history. It is a gripping and scholarly investigation into what must count as one of the most shameful chapters in the history of the Empire.
posted by Mrs Potato at 2:34 AM on June 19 [5 favorites]


British financial institutions that benefited from slavery such as Lloyd’s of London should go further than saying sorry for their role in the Atlantic slave trade and atone for their sins by funding Caribbean development, the region’s countries said. Exclusive: 'Sorry is not enough', Caribbean states say of British slavery apologies

“We are not asking for anything as mendicant as handing out cheques to people on street corners,” Beckles told Reuters from Jamaica. “The issue of money is secondary, but in this instance the moral discharge of one’s duty does require in a market economy that you contribute towards development.”

There was no immediate reply from Lloyd’s of London to a request for comment.

posted by Mrs Potato at 3:49 AM on June 19 [6 favorites]


but I think there is a very common focus on the “uniqueness” of the WWII Holocaust, when in fact one of the most horrifying things about it in my opinion is how common genocide is.

I think the WWII Holocaust is unique in a number of ways though: 1) the perpetrators were held accountable and 2) they paid reparations. And while neither can ever be enough for such monstrous crimes against humanity, it provides clarity on what justice can look like.


As a half-British, half-American Jew, it's always seemed fairly clear to me that the Holocaust does get a kind of special status in those countries because the US and the UK get to position themselves as heroes who bravely fought against it and won. There's no benefit in minimising or excusing the Holocaust because we managed to end up more or less on the right side of history that time. (There are plenty of British and American Nazis who want to do it anyway, of course, but that's why it doesn't get more traction than it does).
posted by BlueNorther at 11:12 AM on June 19 [8 favorites]


Well, its rather obvious now that karma is a bitch and the UK and the US are going to end up on the wrong side of history if the current trajectory of "ineptitude" doesn't change track fast.
posted by Mrs Potato at 11:33 AM on June 19


Well, its rather obvious now that karma is a bitch and the UK and the US are going to end up on the wrong side of history if the current trajectory of "ineptitude" doesn't change track fast.

Well, let's face it, the wrong side of history seems to be where we're most comfortable .
posted by BlueNorther at 6:00 PM on June 19 [3 favorites]




Here's the ThreadReader version in case anyone wants it- it's very much worth a read.

https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1272486694571442177.html
posted by BlueNorther at 7:40 AM on June 20


Thanks for that Twitter thread; it lays everything out so clearly and succinctly.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:21 PM on June 20


How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism.
Boris Johnson has put forward his adviser Munira Mirza to lead a new commission on racial inequality. However, her appointment undermines the commission before it has even started. Mirza has previously expressed scepticism about the existence of institutional racism in the justice system and has suggested that anti-racist “lobbyists and activists” have corroded public trust. She has also suggested that Britain does not have a “serious problem” with racism.
posted by adamvasco at 11:31 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


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