It's time to drop the 'Empire' from Birthday Honours

A plaque commemorating the 1919 Amritsar Massacre - where British soldiers murdered at least 379 people

A plaque commemorating the 1919 Amritsar Massacre - where British soldiers murdered at least 379 people - Credit: Adam Jones / Creative Commons

What does the British Empire mean to you?

As is made abundantly clear - though perhaps it ought to have been so already - by the recent book Empireland by Gospel Oak author Sathnam Sanghera, the British Empire was and remains responsible for much that is hard to stomach about this country's past. 

From the Amritsar massacre to our involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, it is beyond all doubt that we did some truly terrible things in the name of Empire. 

And as Empireland clearly and carefully argues, the British Empire's doings continue to influence insidious racism in the UK today. 

One of the ways this happens is that twice a year we give some of the most talented and inspiring people in the country a special set of awards - the New Year's and Birthday Honours.


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This year, and for the past few awards cycles, more and more recipients have spoken about the - at best - discomfort they feel to get a wonderful award which is marked by its uncritical connection to the British Empire. 

Amika George, 21, has been made an MBE 

Amika George, 21, has been made an MBE - Credit: Amika George

Amika George put this well when the Ham&High spoke to her after becoming this year's youngest new MBE. 

Amika - who readers may recognise from a feature back in 2017 when she first set up the organisation Free Periods while she was a pupil at Henrietta Barnett School - is a young woman of colour who's rightfully being garlanded for doing some incredible campaigning work. 

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But she had to think twice about accepting such a brilliant honour - because being associated with the British Empire isn't, and shouldn't be, a positive thing. She said that she "wanted to speak up about how we need to shake off our collective national amnesia about our past". She's right.

This isn't an argument for rewriting history, rather one for facing up to the things we know to be true. 

So, how difficult is it going to be to change that E so it stands for "excellence"?

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