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25

Rhodocycles

On Rhodes Must Fall

0
terms
4
notes

by Nakul Krishna. really thoughtful one about decolonisation

, n. (2016). Rhodocycles. In , n. n+1 Issue 26: Dirty Work. n+1 Foundation, inc., pp. 25-33

28

I suppose this was what they call repressive tolerance. You could read what you liked — no one would stop you — but you would be met with incomprehension if you said anything that smacked of the New Left Review rather than the reliably liberal Philosophy & Public Affairs: “reify” or “heteronormative” or, indeed, “decolonize.” It was tiring to have to swaddle every utterance in layers of irony, to carry on as if the trouble with racists and sexists was their vulgarity, to go along with the idea that earnestness and stridency (“ranting”) were best left to the uncouth.

In the end, my assimilation into this attitude — three generations of collabo blood will tell — was easy. There was no need for an announcement; you just went quiet and got with the program, which was to make the world safe for social democracy with British characteristics. If you had a different program, you retreated to dark basements to read your Said or Ambedkar or Fanon and were never heard of again. For a while, it was fun to be in the mainstream and speak its language of liberty and equality. Everyone was quick, everyone was clever, most everyone was nice. I kept all my promises: I got my First; I kept off the opium; I did not rant. I would apply for a doctoral program and stay at Oxford for six more years.

—p.28 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago

I suppose this was what they call repressive tolerance. You could read what you liked — no one would stop you — but you would be met with incomprehension if you said anything that smacked of the New Left Review rather than the reliably liberal Philosophy & Public Affairs: “reify” or “heteronormative” or, indeed, “decolonize.” It was tiring to have to swaddle every utterance in layers of irony, to carry on as if the trouble with racists and sexists was their vulgarity, to go along with the idea that earnestness and stridency (“ranting”) were best left to the uncouth.

In the end, my assimilation into this attitude — three generations of collabo blood will tell — was easy. There was no need for an announcement; you just went quiet and got with the program, which was to make the world safe for social democracy with British characteristics. If you had a different program, you retreated to dark basements to read your Said or Ambedkar or Fanon and were never heard of again. For a while, it was fun to be in the mainstream and speak its language of liberty and equality. Everyone was quick, everyone was clever, most everyone was nice. I kept all my promises: I got my First; I kept off the opium; I did not rant. I would apply for a doctoral program and stay at Oxford for six more years.

—p.28 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago
31

Rhodes Must Fall was picked up in Oxford by student activists during my last term there, in response to a landscape just as marked as Cape Town by Rhodes and his money. They set their sights on similar goals: “the plague of colonial iconography,” the “Euro-centric curriculum . . . which frames the West as sole producers of universal knowledge,” the “underrepresentation and lack of welfare provision for Black and minority ethnic (BME) amongst Oxford’s academic staff and students.”

It was about more than a statue, of course, but the statue wasn’t incidental. Its continued presence, they write, “is incompatible with a community that posits itself as progressive, enlightened and intellectually honest.” That last bit is mischievous, raising the excellent question of what you’d expect the physical environment of Oxford to look like given everything it says in the prospectus. (The short answer: fewer statues of colonialists, and those that remain framed to reveal just what they thought and did.)

For the first time, I had a student in my John Stuart Mill class wanting to talk about the East India Company rather than the harm principle. It can be hard to know what to do when you get what you want. There were awkward conversations with other scholars of my vintage and older: Why had we been so quiet, so complacent? What were we scared of? And why did we, most of us, settle for the centrist-parties-and-think-tanks vision of engagement, for being seminar-room-only insurgents, for assuaging our political consciences with monthly donations to approved charities? It took effort not to get defensive, not to retreat into irony, to be happy that someone was saying out loud what I’d felt and had found unsayable.

The usual apologists appeared in the broadsheets with the usual arguments (it’s complicated; we gave them the railways; we shouldn’t erase history; who’s next once Rhodes falls?), and it’s impossible to go through the rote replies (not as complicated as all that; the railways weren’t a gift; whose history?; Winston Churchill, probably) without an acute feeling of déjà vu. More generally, the movement had the effect on the mainstream press of all student protests: consternation at the fact that the students were holding up placards and no attempt to read what was written on them (This Is Not “Rhodes” House, Make Rhodes History, Take It Down). Everyone was talking about universities as a way of not talking about colonialism.

—p.31 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Rhodes Must Fall was picked up in Oxford by student activists during my last term there, in response to a landscape just as marked as Cape Town by Rhodes and his money. They set their sights on similar goals: “the plague of colonial iconography,” the “Euro-centric curriculum . . . which frames the West as sole producers of universal knowledge,” the “underrepresentation and lack of welfare provision for Black and minority ethnic (BME) amongst Oxford’s academic staff and students.”

It was about more than a statue, of course, but the statue wasn’t incidental. Its continued presence, they write, “is incompatible with a community that posits itself as progressive, enlightened and intellectually honest.” That last bit is mischievous, raising the excellent question of what you’d expect the physical environment of Oxford to look like given everything it says in the prospectus. (The short answer: fewer statues of colonialists, and those that remain framed to reveal just what they thought and did.)

For the first time, I had a student in my John Stuart Mill class wanting to talk about the East India Company rather than the harm principle. It can be hard to know what to do when you get what you want. There were awkward conversations with other scholars of my vintage and older: Why had we been so quiet, so complacent? What were we scared of? And why did we, most of us, settle for the centrist-parties-and-think-tanks vision of engagement, for being seminar-room-only insurgents, for assuaging our political consciences with monthly donations to approved charities? It took effort not to get defensive, not to retreat into irony, to be happy that someone was saying out loud what I’d felt and had found unsayable.

The usual apologists appeared in the broadsheets with the usual arguments (it’s complicated; we gave them the railways; we shouldn’t erase history; who’s next once Rhodes falls?), and it’s impossible to go through the rote replies (not as complicated as all that; the railways weren’t a gift; whose history?; Winston Churchill, probably) without an acute feeling of déjà vu. More generally, the movement had the effect on the mainstream press of all student protests: consternation at the fact that the students were holding up placards and no attempt to read what was written on them (This Is Not “Rhodes” House, Make Rhodes History, Take It Down). Everyone was talking about universities as a way of not talking about colonialism.

—p.31 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago
33

“Decolonize” is a big idea, but it does not yield, by itself, a systematic political program. Nor need it. Nothing wrong with starting on one statue and seeing what comes of it. The thing for the less engagé among us is to listen and learn what we can. Universities are resilient creatures and have several advantages over the students who challenge their ways: the students have exams and relationships and hangovers to deal with; their degrees end, their student visas expire, their loan repayments start. Sometimes the next cohort carries on; often it forgets, or moves on to different things. These are perennial facts about student movements, but they do not make them pointless. They only invite us to look for tests of their success in something other than outright victory: in the traces they leave on those who take part in them, what secrets they expose, what indignations they provoke, what solidarities they help to form, what energies they unleash.

—p.33 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago

“Decolonize” is a big idea, but it does not yield, by itself, a systematic political program. Nor need it. Nothing wrong with starting on one statue and seeing what comes of it. The thing for the less engagé among us is to listen and learn what we can. Universities are resilient creatures and have several advantages over the students who challenge their ways: the students have exams and relationships and hangovers to deal with; their degrees end, their student visas expire, their loan repayments start. Sometimes the next cohort carries on; often it forgets, or moves on to different things. These are perennial facts about student movements, but they do not make them pointless. They only invite us to look for tests of their success in something other than outright victory: in the traces they leave on those who take part in them, what secrets they expose, what indignations they provoke, what solidarities they help to form, what energies they unleash.

—p.33 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago
33

If Oxford is worth reforming, as activists must believe it is since they’re not demanding that we tear it down and start from scratch, then it must be because it can be reformed, that this can be effected by argument and persuasion. But we should keep our expectations low. Oxford — and the mainstream British political culture it feeds — is formidably well armored with defense mechanisms and comforting fables. The easygoing liberalism of Oxford life, for all that it implies of right-on attitudes and Guardian readership, is somewhat stretched when dealing with anger, censure, and the call for reparation. Its institutions of student welfare can’t help translating what are at base political demands to the kind of things a well-meaning bureaucracy can deal with: more therapists, a couple more black writers on the syllabus.

In such circumstances, moral arguments by themselves have about as much effect as telling a brat to go stand in the corner and think about what he’s done. There won’t be a redemptive gesture, just a series of accommodations with history, some of them honorable, some squalid, most of them mercenary. No one should be holding their breath for an apology.

But if Oxford must keep its statues of dead imperialists — and it will, for a while yet — it had better be up to something in all the silence: bringing the rest of its physical environment into line with its professed principles, making the question of its own complicity in the history of empire itself the focus of sustained academic attention. What Oxford will not do — and quite literally cannot do without gutting itself — is divest itself of its relations with power. [...]

—p.33 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago

If Oxford is worth reforming, as activists must believe it is since they’re not demanding that we tear it down and start from scratch, then it must be because it can be reformed, that this can be effected by argument and persuasion. But we should keep our expectations low. Oxford — and the mainstream British political culture it feeds — is formidably well armored with defense mechanisms and comforting fables. The easygoing liberalism of Oxford life, for all that it implies of right-on attitudes and Guardian readership, is somewhat stretched when dealing with anger, censure, and the call for reparation. Its institutions of student welfare can’t help translating what are at base political demands to the kind of things a well-meaning bureaucracy can deal with: more therapists, a couple more black writers on the syllabus.

In such circumstances, moral arguments by themselves have about as much effect as telling a brat to go stand in the corner and think about what he’s done. There won’t be a redemptive gesture, just a series of accommodations with history, some of them honorable, some squalid, most of them mercenary. No one should be holding their breath for an apology.

But if Oxford must keep its statues of dead imperialists — and it will, for a while yet — it had better be up to something in all the silence: bringing the rest of its physical environment into line with its professed principles, making the question of its own complicity in the history of empire itself the focus of sustained academic attention. What Oxford will not do — and quite literally cannot do without gutting itself — is divest itself of its relations with power. [...]

—p.33 by n+1 7 months, 2 weeks ago