BY EFFIE DEANS
I have been asked to help decolonise the curriculum where I work. I take this to mean I must remove all subjects that benefitted from colonisers or colonialism, all writers who were involved in or benefited from the slave trade or indeed all books that nice people in 2021 should disapprove of.
My first task is to remove all books in Latin, because Latin was the language of Empire, colonisation and oppression. The Romans colonised Britain and most of Europe and they owned slaves, indeed they enslaved lots of Ancient Britons, though rather fewer Caledonians, for which reason we ought to demand compensation from the Italians.
So out go Virgil, Catullus, Augustine and Aquinas and much of what was written prior to about 1800.
Next, I will remove all books in Scottish Gaelic. This language descends from Middle Irish and only arrived in what is now called Scotland because the Scotti colonised us. When the Scottish arrived in Scotland from Ireland it is likely that they had slaves and oppressed and enslaved some of the indigenous inhabitants of Scotland. For this reason, Scots should demand compensation from Ireland for 1500 hundred years of occupation plus we should demand reparations from each other for enslaving each other.
It’s worth remembering too that the people who built Scara Brae and Stonehenge did not speak Celtic, so the Scotti, Iceni etc were also colonisers, oppressors, enslavers and genocidal brutes.
However, it was not merely the Scotti who colonised Britain, it was also the Angles, the Saxons, the Jutes, the Vikings and the Normans. They too captured Ancient Britons and made them into slaves and worst of all drove them westwards to occupy Wales. So, we will have to get rid of all of the books written in the languages of these colonisers and their descendants. Unfortunately, this involves getting rid of not merely the German and Scandinavian books, it also necessitates getting rid of the French books and worse still the English books. After all English is just a modern form of the oppressor language Anglo-Saxon.
Greek was the language of the oppressor in Ancient times being used to colonise from Iberia to Crimea. So that means we will have to get rid of Homer, Plato and the New Testament.
Hebrew was the language of Moses when his people colonised Caanan. So, I’m afraid the Old Testament will have to go too, not least because other inhabitants of the region also have a long history of enslaving, blinding
Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;
Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him
Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves
Above all we must not be like the Philistines.
Russian will obviously have to go, not merely because Russians owned slaves (serfs) until 1861 but also because the Russian Empire expanded from Muscovy all the way to Vladivostok and colonised millions of non-Russians in the process.
We don’t have that many Arabic books, but they will have to go too after all Arabia spread its language and culture all the way from Spain to Indonesia and certain rather well-known Arabians from history owned slaves.
Unfortunately, the Confucius Institute and all of the Chinese books they have given us are going to have to go. China colonised not merely Tibet and Xinjiang and, in the process, set about eradicating the indigenous languages and cultures there, it also colonised Taiwan and Inner Mongolia. So, no more Chinese books for us.
Japan won’t fare any better having colonised Korea and Manchuria.
By this stage we are left with a few books in Basque and Polish. It seems impossible to find any other country that hasn’t colonised someone else. But then I remember that Poland only exists because it was originally colonised by the Slavs from Central Asia, so the Polish books have to go too.
In order not to use the language of any oppressor the first task will be to teach students a language of someone who hasn’t oppressed anyone. Then we will translate all of the oppressor books that can still be read without too much contamination of our new found purity. The task then is to find a language that is completely decolonised.
The choice narrows down between Navaho, Basque and Swahili. Our main problem is the limited number of people who speak both Ancient Greek and Hebrew as well as Basque, Navaho and Swahili. But disaster strikes. Having gone to great lengths to translate books into languages that have not oppressed or enslaved anyone we discover that people who spoke these languages have at various times owned slaves, moved to places that they were not previously or replaced people who were there before. So, our great efforts to speak Basque, Navaho and Swahili are for nothing.
We think about translating each book into a made-up language such as Esperanto or Klingon, but we are faced with an apparently insurmountable problem. How can we teach about scientific discoveries and mathematical breakthroughs which came about because of people who benefited from either slavery or colonisation? However perfect Newton might or might not have been he could not have discovered what he did if Britain hadn’t colonised and enslaved other people.
We are unable to use anything whatsoever from North or South America, unless it is from Native Americans, but it turns out that even Native Americans are not native, because their ancestors colonised North and South America by walking across the land bridge which once connected Alaska with Asia.
Perhaps if we turned to Africa for a place that had never colonised anyone and which had only ever been a victim of slavery. But unfortunately, we discover that the whole of humanity is descended from African colonisers who spread from there to everywhere. Worse we discover that rather a large number of Africans were involved in the slave trade and that African Americans are more likely to be descended from slave owners like Thomas Jefferson than any other Americans. This leaves the metaphorical descendants of Jefferson and Sally Hemmings to claim reparations from each other and themselves.
We find that those people in Britain most likely to complain about colonisation have themselves colonised certain British cities by replacing the indigenous people, culture and languages with their own. This is usually called multiculturalism. But while the plantation of Ulster clearly oppressed the Irish, did it not also bring with it multiculturalism? And if Protestants oppressed in Ireland, why didn’t Catholics oppress in return when we had the plantations of Glasgow and Liverpool? To be on the safe side we must remove books about all of them.
Decolonising the curriculum continues until the last vestige of oppression and repression is removed. All the tainted books are piled up in front of the library. There is no more philosophy, no more medicine, no more law, science, mathematics or indeed anything else that is connected with colonies, colonisers or slavery.
As I look on the pile of burning books from the library, I consider the three books that remain. No one was able to read them because they used alphabets that to us were mere squiggles. One might be Georgian, the other Greenlandic and the third Geʽez, but no one can be sure.
We have only a limited number of courses next year but at least we have decolonised the curriculum.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.