Following the publication of Empireland, Sathnam Sanghera received thousands of abusive messages from what he has called “imperially nostalgic racists”; people outraged that a second-generation immigrant might dare to question the legacy and atrocities of the British Empire. The historian William Dalrymple – despite detailing the same atrocities and complex beginnings of the East India Company – has received none. Is this proof of our need to understand the dysfunctional way much of Britain still thinks about Empire? How much do we really know about the reality of Empire? Has Britain, unlike other former colonial powers, ever really reckoned with its past? Is the problem really one of ignorance; or are we as a country unwilling to confront some of the uncomfortable truths? How should we teach the British Empire, its complex history, and the legacy it still leaves today?
In an era where the Empire is the new front of the culture war, with debates about statues raging, how can we have serious conversations about the British Empire without being accused of being unpatriotic? Instead, how do we show that you can love Britain, without being blind to its faults?