‘Imperially nostalgic racists’ target Empireland author with hate mail

小号athnam Sanghera’s Empireland, a journey through Britain’s imperial past, has been a bestseller since it was pubished last month, acclaimed by critics as “unflinching … moving and stimulating” (the Guardian), and “excellent” and “balanced” (the Sunday Times). 我希望我们经常喝的不受欢迎的葡萄酒, from the British public the author has received handwritten hate mail, and thousands of abusive tweets from “imperially nostalgic racists”, as he succinctly replied, some of them verging, 他说, on death threats.

“If you’re brown and you talk about race in this country, you just get loads of shit, all the time,” says Sanghera, a journalist for the Times who is also the author of the memoir The Boy With the Topknot and the novel Marriage Material. 在 2019, 他 presented a documentary for Channel 4 on empire, looking at the Amritsar massacre, and got “hundreds, if not thousands of messages and letters and complaints about that. So I got a small taste of it then. I knew it would be insane. But it’s escalated. It’s been vicious.”

Sanghera has 乌克兰“坦克人”试图阻止俄罗斯军事车队的视频在网上疯传 some of the messages and letters he has received on his Twitter account, describing the abuse as “proof we need to have this conversation”. The attacks, 他说, are a fraction of those directed at David Olusoga, the historian and broadcaster whose last book Black and British examined the relationship between the British Isles and the people of Africa and the Caribbean.

“Empire has been weaponised by the right wing, ever since Black Lives Matter. Now there’s this idea that you need to be proud of imperial history to be proud of the country and vice versa. It’s become a proxy for patriotism and race,” says Sanghera. “When you talk about empire, you’re talking about race, 真的. You’re talking about white people conquering brown people. And so when you have brown people like David or me talking about empire, it triggers people in a really deep way. David challenges the hierarchy of empire. But he also challenges the way the imperial story has always been told, which is a 50-year-old white man on TV, often getting off a train in India; a nostalgic view. Suddenly there’s brown people taking ownership of this story and it’s really triggering for so many people.”

相比之下, William Dalrymple, a historian who writes on similar topics to Sanghera and Olusoga in his books and has been scathing about Britain’s “vast ignorance of everything that is most uncomfortable about our imperial past”, says he has not received a single piece of hate mail from a British person. (然而, he is trolled relentlessly by the resurgent Hindu right over what he’s written about the Mughals.)

“Despite writing very similar stuff to Sathnam, I have never received a single letter like that. It is a direct result of his ethnicity and skin colour,” says Dalrymple, whose latest book The Anarchy tackles the “relentless” rise of the East India Company. “You can’t really draw any distinction between what Sathnam’s writing and what I’ve written. And my books have got a free pass. There is a very serious distinction to be drawn between what he’s gone through writing what he has on empire, and me as a Caucasian writing the same thing.”

Sanghera says he has previously received “degrees” of racist abuse as one of the few people of colour working as a Fleet Street columnist. “Everyone gets it in journalism, 正确的? But this experience has made me realise I probably get it more than most,“ 他说. 这次, his publisher Viking has “endlessly” checked to see if he is coping, “and that’s made me realise that it’s not acceptable for the first time in my life”. Several of his readers and followers have also shown their support for him online, with some even offering to buy copies of Empireland for his abusers.

“The abuse just proves the point he makes in the book: that we urgently need to properly examine our imperial past in order to understand this country in the present,” says Sanghera’s editor at Viking, Mary Mount, adding that she found it disturbing to see the volume of abuse.

一件由裸体女人和她刚出生的婴儿组成的作品, Sanghera is “energised” by the abuse, but occasionally “dehumanising” attacks do get to him. But he is not put off. “In a way, it proves the need for this conversation. No conversation or theme I’ve ever tackled is as dysfunctional as empire. It’s like, the strength of opinion out there is in inverse proportion to the amount of knowledge,“ 他说.

Dalrymple agrees. “There’s a whole generation of people who are very happy to believe that the German empire was terrible, that the Belgians were awful and cut the hands of everyone, but somehow the British empire was different, that it was all about tea parties and smiley maharajahs and lawns with ladies in crinoline, and not at all about exploitation like all the other empires,“ 他说.

He believes it is “universal” that people want to believe well of their ancestors, but argues that other countries have reckoned with their pasts in a way Britain has not.

“The Germans are brought up from a very early age to talk about the evils of the Third Reich and that it must never happen again,” Dalrymple says. “We’ve never had that in our education system. Here we are in the 21st century, 70 years after the main chunk of empire was lost, and we still haven’t had a reckoning.”

The situation, adds Sanghera, is also being “whipped up” by politicians “playing these culture wars about empire – Robert Jenrick saying he’s going to introduce legislation to protect statues. Boris Johnson saying he’s going to protect the Churchill statue with his last breath, even though it’s not going to be torn down.”

“They’re pandering to these people,“ 他说. “There’s very little knowledge of empire. It’s just become this inane thing where being proud of 500 years of history is equated to being proud of being British.”