The Faults Behind the Flag: How Can We Decolonize Britain’s Educational System?

We are the inheritors of the scars of Empire, but also the spoils of Empire. These words by Riz Ahmed struck me. Generations of imperialism have yet to wash away, but in our current education system, these scars are consistently ignored, and expected to fade on their own. 

The story behind the American flag is one founded on slavery, colonialism, and stolen land. Whilst there are still issues surrounding celebrations such as Columbus Day — which has increasingly been gaining official recognition as Indigenous People’s Day — the American media still recognizes that their flag is built upon Native Americans and slavery, and is celebrated through musicals like Hamilton or Oscar-winning films such as Twelve Years a Slave

However, the story behind British flag is one enveloped in lords and capitalism. The majority of period dramas refuse to have any Brown or Black characters due to the allusion that they “weren’t present at that time in history”; Dev Patel being the current and only exception to this typecasting. The British flag disregards its imperialistic history; imperialism being the most prominent factor in making Britain a politically and economically strong country in modern day, and this has manifested itself into our education system. 

Throughout history in school, we learn about the Tudors, the Crusades, the American slave trade, and World Wars, but never Britain’s prominent role in colonization. Even so, when learning about the Crusades or World Wars, it is very much angled through a patriotic lens, focusing on how great the British monarchy was, or how well the British soldiers fought. Growing up, I wasn’t aware that over 400,000 Muslims fought in the British-Indian army, or that the much loved Prime Minister, Churchill, was in fact a white supremacist who believed in racial hierarchies and eugenics.

Teaching has to go beyond the upper-class white male. It has to identify structural weaknesses within the curriculum that affects both teachers and students. Our system needs to analyze the effects of Britain’s colonial legacy; how political deportations by this government are the result of a racist society. The student-led “Fill In The Blanks” campaign aims to question what is really meant by the phrase “British values,” and how a lack of understanding of history creates discrimination and prejudice in our current world. This is what we need to be focusing our energies on — educating and recreating, dismantling age-old systematic structures to move forward into a future where children see themselves accurately represented in a history textbook. 

To live in Britain today as a young person of color means to live life with a double-edged sword. On one point is a question of my “Britishness,” and the other holds lost, forgotten, and stolen heritage. 

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