George the Poet: 'Why I turned down an MBE'
The spoken word artist George the Poet has said he turned the offer an MBE earlier this year because of the “pure evil” perpetrated by the British empire.
He made the revelation in the final episode of his BBC Sounds series Have You Heard George's Podcast?, in which he discusses the legacy of colonialism. A recipient of an MBE becomes a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
The poet, whose real name is George Mpanga, said he would not accept such an honour until the UK took meaningful steps to mitigate some of the consequences of its colonial history.
Earlier this year his podcast won a clutch of awards. Speaking on his BBC podcast, he said he declined the award, having initially indicated he would accept it because of his family’s reaction. “I turned down an MBE. A friend asked me if I would accept it, I just saw my parents’ faces and without thinking I said ‘yes’ and then I took a minute and reflected, reflected on my status and I felt a burning sensation in my chest,” he said.
“Your forefathers grabbed my motherland, pinned her down and took turns. They did that every day for a couple hundred years and then left her to treat her own burns. Now all of her children are born with a set of unique concerns and gaps in the information that we really do need to learn and none of us know why, why we got absorbed by a ‘higher entity’, why I have to fight for my identity.”
The artist, who was born in Harlesden in London, graduated from Cambridge, and is of Ugandan heritage, has won critical acclaim as a musician and a social commentator. In 2018 he was elected as a member of the national council of Arts Council England. He apologised on the podcast to an unnamed friend who he said had recommended him for an MBE on his assurance that he would accept, saying: “I didn’t know I would feel this way.”
Mpanga said: “I see myself as student, admirer and friend of Britain. However, the colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa, entrenched across our geopolitical and macroeconomic realities, prevents me from accepting the title Member of the British Empire. “The gesture is deeply appreciated, the wording is not. It will remain unacceptable to me until Britain takes institutional measures to address the intergenerational disruption brought to millions as a result of her colonial exploits.
“I have no issue with other black people who have embraced this title – I encourage variety of thought across our society and within my community. I encourage future generations to seek the relevant information to make an informed decision. What do the words British empire mean to you? I love this country but I do so with transparency.”