How the whitewashing of British history has ingrained racism into our society

Umaima Khan explains how racism is deep rooted in history, yet often glanced over and never properly acknowledged. Khan argues that an accurate account of history is required in the national curriculum in order to combat racism.

Racism did not come into existence with the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. It has firm roots in the abduction of the first African from their homeland who was then put aboard a ship ready to be sold to the highest bidder. A barbaric cycle which continued for 400 years. 

The present-day bigotry targeting British Asians carries a similar sentiment to the words of Winston Churchill. He has been quoted as saying “I hate Indians, they are a beastly people with a beastly religion”. Surprisingly, these words have not made into high school textbooks. They have instead been silenced by the following “we will fight them on the beaches….”.

History provides identity. It allows us to garner an understanding of present societal development. Unfortunately, in Britain selective parts of history have been magnified and plastered across school textbooks. The segments being which glorify the white contribution to the world. The history textbooks do not reflect the pupils who are present in the classroom.

I remember my history lesson on World War One failed to mention that an estimate of 700,000 soldiers from the Indian subcontinent (modern day Pakistan, India & Bangladesh) volunteered and served with distinction in the Middle East, Persia, Italy and other frontiers- my own grandfather was one of them.  The largest volunteer army to serve the empire. 11 Victoria crosses were won by soldiers who came from the subcontinent. Khudadad Khan from 129th Baluchi regiment was the first to be bestowed. A name you can only find if you go and click on the fourth page of a Google search. He and many other nameless soldiers who came from colonies to fight for the crown -often upon the promise of better economic prospect- deserve and warrant a commemoration of their sacrifice. 

For the past couple of years, this idea of British Asians not integrating with British culture has been propelled by certain parts of the state and society. By calculatedly dismissing the above truth, the British state has alienated the community from their connection to Britain. Further neglect of history will only damage our country.

By starting a conversation in classrooms, you plant a seed of curiosity in the pupils, who will carry these questions home and engage their parents in the same. Change is not going to be radical… it will be steady and often painfully slow but admitting the problem and recognising the wrongdoings of the past will be a welcomed first step on the journey.

Slowly, we are seeing the forgotten part of history being dragged back out, from the statues it was swept under. The British society is in dire need of an open conversation around the fortunes and developments of cities – such as Bristol, Glasgow- which were funded by the grotesque slave trade, the racism exerted towards past colonies , the contributions of the colonies in shaping of modern Britain.

2020 is shaping to become a poignant period of our lives. I find my peers engaged in conversations that I had not observed before. The BLM movement started across the Atlantic and rapidly became a global drive exposing the institutional racism prevalent worldwide. Therefore, it is important now more than ever to present an accurate account of history in the national curriculum: the good, the bad and most importantly the ugly.  

By Umaima Khan

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