‘Anti-Wokeism’: The Right-Wing Attack on Decolonisation
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Sunday April 18 2021
A recent interim report by the National Trust (NT) found that 93 of its properties had direct links to historical slavery and colonialism. In light of this, the NT has been exploring means of decolonising the current curriculum, encouraging school children to write poems critical of the subject of colonialism while on school trips. Whilst this may have helped school pupils critically explore themes of decolonisation, it has also resulted in a limited number of members launching an ‘anti-woke’ campaign, accusing the report of being biased and attempting to rewrite British history and heritage.
This is just one battle in a series of running skirmishes within a right-wing media-led attack on what it calls ‘wokeism’. The Daily Mail, along with other right-wing outlets, reported on this incident earlier in the month, alleging that the ‘anti-woke’ campaign was launched to prevent the demonisation of British history and challenging the Black Lives Matter (BLM) bandwagon upon which it was accused of having jumped. The articles argued that the National Trust was criticised by organisations, which stated that it should focus on providing an experience to visitors without any intrusive interpretation. However, it represents another attempt by right-wing media to prejudicially frame their counter-narrative to decolonisation.
The very notion of decolonisation requires the integrating of several, often competing voices within the understanding of historical events, with the intention of providing an alternative account to an often ‘one-sided’ narrative taught within the UK’s curriculum. The importance of such an approach has been acknowledged by the likes of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the National Union of Students (NUS), who have called for a decolonised curriculum on topics surrounding black slavery and the victims of colonialism. Furthermore, academics and activists have repeatedly argued that decolonising the education curriculum is essential in providing a balanced discourse and fairer representation of history. Consequently, the concept of ‘anti-wokeism’ is inherently flawed as it accuses its opposition of giving a one-sided story with the intent to demonise the British empire and history. Decolonisation merely seeks to account for the many sides of an often ‘one-sided’ story – one that has been largely dictated and upheld by those with more historical power and wealth.
Meanwhile, amidst the allegations raised by right-wing media platforms, the NT and their report on slavery has been found to be well within the bounds and remit of charity law. The Charity Commission has cleared the Trust in this sense, providing legal clarity that the report falls within the charity’s objectives. Whilst this should nullify any allegations and premises of right-wing media outlets, the power of the ‘anti-woke’ narratives and those who promote it continues to distract from important and overdue conversations on the lasting implications of global colonisation and slavery.
Ultimately, the concept of ‘anti-wokeism’ represents a potent tool by right-wing media outlets to attack those who challenge systematic and institutional racism, including Islamophobia. As such, MEND urges Parliamentarians to commit to supporting academic freedoms and initiatives to decolonise education, whilst giving greater emphasis within the national curriculum to shared histories and the contributions of minority communities in building our society.