A memory of imperialism

We were sitting around the kitchen table talking about the violently aborted holiday in France, and my mother said, reminiscently, that her mother hated the Irish; an odd sentiment seeing as how the whole of the rest of my family is (protestant) Irish, including my maternal grandfather as well as my father. But my maternal grandmother was a Scots-English woman, and she hated the Irish. She thought they were dirty, dishonest, and violent.

I asked my mother why this was so, and she finally explained. When she herself was about three, and her mother was pregnant with the third child, their father was in India (he was a judge there) and she needed somewhere to live in England. So she rented a house big enough for all of them in Ireland and was astonished to discover the natives hostile and ungrateful. Whyever could this have been? Smart readers will be ahead of me at this point: the year this pregnant Englishwoman decided to holiday with two small children in Southern Ireland was 1921 …

It really is one of the oddest features of imperialism that the ruling class think it is evidence of a poor character in their subjects if they are not loved, even in the middle of a war of independence.

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2 Responses to A memory of imperialism

  1. Rupert says:

    I’m in post-imperialist (arguably) Hong Kong at the mo, and we were talking about this with our very nice, British-educated and employed (did journalism at Cardiff University, currently works in Beijingstoke) PR minder, Yingying. At the time that the lease on HK was running out (and the British decided that, no matter what thoughts on the subject they’d previously had, it would be a damn fine thing to introduce the inalienable human right of democracy to the territory) there was a substantial body of opinion among the occupying power that the HKers would be sad at the passing of UK rule and the subsequent abandonment to the Chinese.

    Of course, virtually nobody in HK thought any such thing, or even in those terms. Glad to see the back of us, and more than confident that they could manage the Chinese – the Chinese, for heaven’s sake – whom they regard as somewhat backward.

    (The conversation ran on for a while, as freely and merrily as it would with anyone. Until someone mentioned Taiwan: “Oh, I don’t do politics”)


  2. A lot of that is the normal self-delusion of the upper classes — the lower orders love their kind, gentle masters and so on.

    What’s bothered me for years is the assumption that hostility towards former or current masters is morally equivalent to hostility towards former subordinates/servants/slaves. Kingston, Jamaica, for example is often described as a hotbed of racism (though not usually by white Jamaicans), as if a history of colonialism and slavery were something that should be shrugged off.

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