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History in the unmaking: how the government department that brought the Windrush scandal downplays slavery in its citizenship handbook

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 28 July 2020

Arthur Chapman.

July 21 this year was a day of historical reckoning, of sorts, for the British government’s Home Office.

On the one hand, the Home Secretary apologized for the ‘unspeakable’ treatment of members of the ‘Windrush generation’ at the hands of her department and promised ‘a genuine cultural shift’ including ‘mandatory training for Home Office staff on the history of migration and race in the UK.’ On the other hand, the Historical Association posted an open letter signed by 175 historians, protesting about the distortion of British Caribbean and imperial history in the Home Office’s official ‘textbook’ for those taking the UK Citizenship Test, Life in the United Kingdom: A guide for New Residents.

As the historians rightly contend the 2013 edition, still currently in use, is ‘fundamentally misleading and in places demonstrably false’ in its representation of the history of slavery, the slave trade and decolonisation. The narrative, they argue, is not only factually inaccurate, it is also selective and written in a way that obscures the agency of the enslaved and the colonised in the developments it narrates. The text, they conclude, ‘perpetuates a misleading view of how we came to be who we are.’

The old Customs House, Lancaster, built in 1764. Lancaster was the fourth largest slave trading port in Britain in the 18th century

This is no trivial matter. The booklet is published by a department of state (the Home Office), commissioned by ministers, and used in a state-mandated test (more…)