British History

This morning, when, presumably I could sleep in, I was up at 0530, just like always.


Last night at reading group, we were talking about the phenomenon that, growing up in Kenya, we were taught British history, rather than the history of the country we were actually living in. The book we were reading – Decolonizing the mind – asserted that this was a conscious and intentional effort to stamp out the cultural identity of the colonized people.

While it may be possible that some people actually thought about that as a goal, I think that the truth is simpler, and, probably worse. It wasn’t that they were actively trying to stamp it out, it’s just that their arrogance didn’t permit them to see that there was anything there.

I remember asking a history teacher (I think it was a Turi, but it may have been at NA) why we were learning British history, rather that the history of the land in which we actually lived. There were two answers that I got on various occasions which stuck with me. One was a sort of perplexed “well, there’s no record of African history, so there’s nothing to teach.” The other was the more arrogant one, something like “British history *is* the history of the world.”

It was, if this makes any sense, a rather humble arrogance. It wasn’t beligerent, it was a simple congnitive assent that British culture was the most important, correct, and relevant view of the world. They weren’t so much saying that other cultures were unimportant. It was far worse than that. The other cultures simply didn’t register to them at all.

And, now, of course, this is apparently the US attitude to most of the rest of the world. I’ve long joked that US foreign policy can be summed up as: “What?! There are other countries?!” We assume that folks in other places are either just like us, or at least really want to be. And the ones who don’t are somehow suspect.

Sort of a “L’etat, c’est moi”, but at a global scale. “Le monde, c’est nous.”