Deconstructing the decolonisers

An intellectual Robin Hood reclaims British history for those most underserved by elite narratives


This article is taken from the August-September 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

To decolonise the curriculum or not to decolonise the curriculum, that is the question. In his latest book, Against Decolonisation: Campus Culture Wars and the Decline of the West, Doug Stokes turns his analytical eye for international affairs inwards to give a damning indictment of the “decolonisation” movement. Just what does its agenda of dismantlement spell for UK universities, and the integrity of the West as a whole? Stokes emerges as an intellectual Robin Hood, reclaiming British history for those who are being most underserved by those “educated” elites who push narratives of social justice and white guilt — that is, the white, working-class people of Britain. 

Against Decolonisation: Campus Culture Wars and the Decline of the West, Doug Stokes (Polity, 14.99)

Ranging through “identity politics” and “social theory”, “racism on campus” and “manufactured moral panic”, Stokes deconstructs the deconstructionists, asking what their icons’ true motivations are for dismantling the West. He challenges the decolonisation movement’s presentation of “whiteness”, slavery, systemic racism, microaggressions and racist mathematics, ultimately to pose the little-asked question, “If we do deconstruct the West, who or what will replace it?”

“The call to ‘decolonise’ British history and its institutions has become one of the most important ways to acknowledge the alleged legacy effects of transatlantic slavery,” says Stokes. An institution or individual chooses to profess their original sin of racism before the mob in the vain hope that in scourging themselves they will be spared reputational and financial ruin by the Grand Inquisitor of unconscious bias. 

The aim of decolonisation is purported to be “diversifying academic sources” to include research and ideas from around the world — from an eclectic range of cultures and systems of thought, not just those developed in Europe and the Anglosphere. This is certainly the rationale I was given after decolonisation elbowed its way to the front and centre of the curriculum at the University of Cambridge. 

I took an undergraduate degree in English but, by the end of the three-year course, I had not studied Milton or Coleridge, Wordsworth or Shelley, nor Keats or Collins or Dickens. These writers were replaced by black, female and “queer” writers, often for no other reason than that they are black or female or queer. I don’t object to the inclusion of “diverse” writers because they are “‘diverse”. It’s not that they’re unworthy of a place on the curriculum (although some were). It was that I was expected to receive their work as sacrosanct, even before reading it. 

Their diversity is an external representation of their inner moral purity; to critique them is to belie your own racism and homophobia. Either you’re too ignorant and corrupted to recognise their purity and uncorrupted wisdom, or it is that you intend to oppress them with your supremacist censure. Indeed, I was told I should not — could not — criticise the writing of Martin Luther King and Mary Wollstonecraft in the same manner or intensity as I criticise Hobbes and Nietzsche because the former deserve my sympathy and the latter do not.

Foucault takes top floor, whilst Shakespeare has been relegated to the basement

These changes are less instigated by university staff than by a small cabal of university students. They decree what is taught and how it is to be taught. In my instance, they had the library restructured. Foucault takes pride of place on the top floor, whilst Chaucer and Shakespeare have been relegated to the basement. The committee coordinating these efforts asked students what they could do to further and better the “decolonisation” of our curriculum. I replied, “You’re not trying to decolonise the curriculum, you’re trying to re-colonise it with your own ideas.”

Stokes interrogates more than 350 primary sources to prove that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is less missionary in ambition and more conquistador — although someone is definitely being screwed over here. He brings a level of forensic intensity missing from the fast-paced, click-bait, commentary world without losing any of the dynamism. 

He tracks the origins of the decolonisation movement from the “oppressor-oppressed” dynamic of Marx, to the eternal subjective power struggle proposed by postmodernists such as Derrida and Foucault. He makes the distinction that few others do when accounting for “wokery”: the replacement of the objective, and the materiality of class, with the subjective paradigm of identity.

Stokes puts in the hard graft to make these theorists say the quiet part aloud. At best, “decolonisation” intends to debase the value of Western achievement; at worst, it sees the West’s “foundational whiteness” as a “malign influence” and a “form of mental illness”. Yes, really. Stokes reveals Kehinde Andrews as saying that “whiteness”, and its corrupting influence, is hardwired into British society and “induces a form of psychosis framed by its irrationality, which is beyond any rational engagement”.

Amongst my favourite moments is Stokes’s takedown of “microaggressions” as “a classic case of emotive reasoning”. “‘I feel that something was racist, and my feelings are evidence of that racism. Therefore, the act was racist [ … ] In a very real sense, microaggression theory is an unscientific and uncharitable form of clairvoyance.” Microaggressions “code everyday interactions” with “self-confirmative” paranoia. Certainly, CRT seems to attempt the resurrection of ghosts with conjuring words. It is an ingenious analogy — reminiscent of 16th century witchcraft accusation.

If Stokes can be criticised, it is that he sometimes fails to emphasise the obvious — perhaps because the irony undergirding progressive criticism is so palpable as to be self-evident. Take, for example, this unsurpassable irony: the progenitors and propagators of the decolonisation narrative are using Western paradigms of reason and logic, Marxism, and postmodern theories of knowing and selfhood, to shame, tear down and delegitimise the “supremacy” of Western thought. 

Those critical of CRT and DEI policies have been gaslit for a long-time

Another subject Stokes does not broach is his own experiences with students, decolonisation or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy at the University of Exeter. At first I saw this as a drawback. Only a handful of people are forthright in condemning illiberalism in UK universities. Fewer still, whether out of fear or shock, have been able to detail the specifics of cancel culture in the wild. However, in an age where opinion takes precedence over fact, the stark absence of a “my truth” narrative will be the making of Against Decolonisation — its popularity and longevity will come from an audience grateful for such non-indulgent straight-talk.

For those who are already sceptical of the “decolonisation” movement and its two-faced claims, the contents of this book will be no revelation. It will, however, confirm that their suspicions about the DEI policies of their workplace or the “resources” circulated in their children’s classroom are well founded.

Stokes verbalises what has hitherto only been sensed amorphously because, whilst statistics bear out that the UK is one of the least racist countries in the world, the media and self-interested “Munchausen by progressive proxy” lobby groups have tried to convince the masses otherwise. This book will equip readers with data to reject unconscious bias training and accusations of “white privilege” with grace and authority. 

For those who still believe the decolonisation movement to be a force for benevolence and equality, Against Decolonisation will be truly earth-shattering. Stokes exposes the decolonisation movement for what it is: a faction of fashionable activists relying upon racist tropes and magical thinking to delegitimise the achievements of Western philosophy and industry, regardless of historical fact. Those critical of CRT, DEI policies and the “decolonisation” movement have been gaslit for a long-time. Stokes has just struck a match; the result may well be explosive. 

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