Sarah Dajani ’26
Queen Elizabeth II’s death brought to the world’s attention “unﬁnished colonial business.” As the face of a brutal, barbaric, barbarous colonial rule, the death of the queen should bring upon reflection, rather than mourning. For many in Africa, Asia, the Paciﬁc and the Americas this is exactly what her majesty’s death has done.
Since its colonial reign, Britain has legislated laws that prevent the return of stolen artifacts, like the Greek Parthenon marbles; the Nigerian Benin Bronzes of Oba of Benin, and the Egyptian Rosetta Stone. The British government still gives justiﬁcations that reflect a feeling of a burden of a civilizing mission, and of course, ingrained white supremacy. Pretexts like ‘returning the artifacts could endanger their state,’ still identiﬁes the nations – whose jewels are on the majesty’s crown and art and history is within the ‘global cultural hubs’ in Britain and throughout imperial Europe as savage, unsophisticated and in need of European enlightenment. Ironically, the British National Museum recently announced the theft of 2,000 artifacts from the safe haven, i.e., Britain. Many view this as an opportunity for Britain to sympathize with other victims of theft and ﬁnally return its stolen artifact.
To this day, there is no institutionalized understanding of the signiﬁcance of reparations and the importance of decolonization in achieving freedom and stability. The effects of European imperialism are constantly undermined and avoided. Demanding reparations is not just for Britain to hold accountability for civil wars, African diaspora in the Caribbean and global wealth inequality. Reparations free the oppressed from their own sense of inferiority and the conscious European from their own feeling of guilt. Unfortunately, reparations require a ﬁght and navigating a bureaucratic and, often, unfamiliar system made up by the colonists.
This past week, Britain returned more than 174 objects to the indigenous Anindilyakwa community in Australia. Back in 2013, The British government expressed ‘regret’ regarding the abuses that ‘took place’ in the concentration camps of the Mau Mau people of Kenya. Although the British government settled a lawsuit by three elderly Kenyan torture victims with a package worth of £19.9 million in compensation for colonial era torture. Despite these achievements, the language Britain still uses deflects accountability of what happened and still aims to seem as a beacon of culture and civilization. Meanwhile, the communities being ‘compensated’, like the Mau people, insist that the importance of these reparations is to acknowledge that they were never savages, but Freedom ﬁghters; thereby exposing Britain’s barbaric qualities.
The focus on Britain heightened and felt more relevant with her majesty’s anniversary and the news about the stolen artifacts, but nations are demanding reparations from all the different colonial and settler colonial powers. In Tanzania, Rwanda and Namibia , people are demanding the return of their relatives’ skulls. About 7,700 skulls were held by Berlin’s Charité hospital until 2011 for racist and discredited science on white racial superiority. In Sub Saharan Africa, France continues to meddle with the politics and control the economics of its former colonists, preventing economic sovereignty from flourishing. The pride in the historical achievements of these former colonies cannot be separated from their crimes in their colonies. Europe and its settler colonies still place themselves on an ivory tower of high morality; whether by accepting refugees and exploiting them, or interfering in West Asia and stealing its resources, reparations are only one part of decolonization.
Although this piece righteously centers decolonization as it relates to the oppressed, decolonization is of equal relevance for the oppressors. As the global majority complains about inflated prices and wealth inequality, it would be almost tangible to bring up the ‘compromise’ that helped secure the abolition of slavery. In the 19th century, Britain was not so reluctant to reparations, even taking loans to fund compensation of slave owners, in a convenient, yet expensive ‘mistake, instead of the slaves themselves. The Bank of England took out a loan to ﬁnance the £20 million compensation (£300 million in today’s money) to slave owners, a loan that was only paid off in 2015. The Bank of England clearly states “the strong links between ﬁnancial institutions in the City of London, the capital generated through the transatlantic slavery economy, and the compensation process during the 1830s.” Yet, there has barely been demanders and protesters objecting to the taxes that are poured into the wealthy for their crimes against humanity. The British system is in gratitude for the ignorance of its people about the crimes of Britain, to rebel against wealth inequality in Britain. Without institutionalizing the crimes of colonial powers in schools and education, we will never recover from the crimes of colonialism.
Here in the U.S., attempts to educate the citizens of the history of its history are heavily fought. Works like the 1619 project and critical race theory are seen as radical and corrupting instead of essential and redeeming. And this is where our role as privileged students lie in advocating for the denied rights of the silenced.