The Post-Colonial Hangover

Churchill, the Constitution and the Future of Colonialism in Australia

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Words || Priyasha Prasad

I was weaving. It was important, as much as I could remember. The matriarch and I were sitting in the shallows. She told me about how the sea speaks to us. How it tells us stories, signals us, warns us. I didn’t believe her. The sea began to churn, and as it settled, I saw white. Tall white men ambling towards us. Amidst the screaming I began to scramble to my feet, and was struck down with a blade. One more strike.

Then I woke up.

I cried for a while from the force of that dream. I had so many questions. Why was I having a dream about colonisation in 2019? Why is my subconscious afraid of history? At least, colonisation is all in the past, right?

My subconscious fears are simply a psychological manifestation of an effect known as the ‘Post-Colonial Hangover.’

Basically, colonisation has transformed into this societal weight that suppresses ethnically diverse groups that were directly affected by colonialism. It manifests itself at every scale, from legislation to everyday interactions, and without reformation, will continue to disproportionately affect marginalised groups. 

We only need to look at our perception of history to see it in effect. Your history books probably told you that Winston Churchill was a war hero, an exceptional leader and the key to Britain’s success as a nation. What it left out was every racist, genocidal sentiment and command he made to ensure Britain stood tall on the corpses of entire cultures. Churchill showed no remorse for the genocide of indigenous peoples as he testified in the Peel Commission in 1937, “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” 

He advocated for the use of chemical weapons to spark fear in indigenous populations, stating, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.” Hmm.. remind you of anyone? I am definitely not the first person to draw that parallel. Leo Amery, a member of Churchill’s own War Cabinet, “couldn’t help telling him that I didn’t see much difference between his outlook and Hitler’s, which annoyed him no little.” 

I don’t know what to tell you Winston buddy, when your OWN people are comparing you to the genocidal white supremacist that you’re trying to defeat, you’ve stooped to a whole new low. To be charitable, he preferred using tear gas and other non-lethal gases to “spread a lively terror” that would “leave no serious permanent effect on most of those affected.” He was indignant to say the least when informed of the drastic death toll of the Bengal famine that he himself had aggravated. He childishly wrote in the margins of a report to British officials, “Why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?” 

Churchill insisted that starving India needed to continue to export rice, whilst redirecting wheat ships for stockpiling. Why? Because he could. Or more likely, because he couldn’t care less. “I hate the Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” Which again, doesn’t make much sense since India has been a religiously diverse nation for centuries. This Churchill isn’t so textbook friendly now, is he? Our history is bleached to make war ‘heroes’ like Churchill look good, but it is not black and white.

Unfortunately this floods into the present with massive legal ramifications for marginalised groups in Australian politics. Our constitution as it stands allows the Commonwealth Parliament to pass racially discriminatory laws and does not acknowledge the long-standing presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. What about the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act you ask? Easy. It can be disabled through more legislation when convenient, and has been on three separate occasions, the most recent being the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). The Racial Discrimination Act is simply a façade the government has strategically draped over their systemic racism. 

Australia is a country that endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples yet abides by a constitution that directly violates this international law. We’re a country that keeps face on the international stage, but back home we’re happy to ensure that marginalised groups stay marginalised by legalising racist prerogatives. NTER was enacted in 2007 and has taken many faces to appease the media, such as the “Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory” policy that is still in place today. The constant rebranding of racist intervention in the Northern Territory is affecting around 73 indigenous populations, and for them, these policies and elegantly worded legislations all look the same. It’s the face of discrimination, and we’d do well to recognise it. 

So where to now? Well, a good start would be a reform to the constitution. Close these loopholes that allow racist legislation to pass. On a smaller scale, let our voices be heard. In articles like these, in conversations with your mates, on stages, in councils, in boardrooms. It would be refreshing to not have to hear, “You’re being dramatic,” “Stop exaggerating,” or even, “Don’t you think you’re taking it too far?” whenever I, or another person of colour calls out racism when it happens, as it happens. It takes a lot of courage to speak up, and to be shut down like that doesn’t do anyone any favours. Be aware. Don’t let your race, your community, and your socio-economic status be blinders to the post-colonial hangover that is weighing on marginalised groups. Slowly, but surely, we’ll work towards an uplifting and accepting future in spite of our colonial foundations. Perhaps then, my nightmares will go away.

I do need to acknowledge that I speak from a place of privilege. Unlike my parents, I was born in a first-world country that gained its independence in 1901. Yet even 118 years later, the lingering ‘hangover’ of colonisation is imbedded in the systemic and societal structures of modern Australia.