George the Poet, the spoken word artist and award-winning podcast creator, has said he turned down an MBE because of the “pure evil” of 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.
But George the Poet said the “colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa” meant he was unable to accept.
He told listeners he initially said yes when a friend asked him whether he would accept. The friend then nominated him – but when the honour was formally offered, he felt “a burning sensation in my chest”.
He said: “I’d like to apologise to the friend who recommended me on my assurance that I’d accept, I didn’t know I would feel this way.
“I see myself as student, admirer and friend of Britain, however the colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa, entrenched across our geo-political and macro-economic realities, prevents me from accepting the title Member of the British Empire.”
He continued that while “the gesture is deeply appreciated, the wording is not”.
He added: “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.
“I do so with a belief in the integrity of the British people. I will continue to give my life to the improvement of British society. But I will not be told how to feel about my history.”
George the Poet, real name George Mpanga, was born in London and is of Ugandan heritage.
In May, he won five British Podcast Awards, including podcast of the year, for the first series of Have You Heard George’s Podcast? The BBC then snapped up the rights to the second series. Both are available on BBC Sounds.
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