The Commonwealth is an extension of the British Empire under the disguise of liberal multiculturalism. It placates us with its promises of “unity” and “equality”, whilst the wealth it purports as being universal remains concentrated in the hands of the beneficiaries of Empire. As Kojo Koram would say, it is an enduring symbol of “Uncommon Wealth”.
When we speak of wealth, we do not just speak of financial or material wealth, but also the spiritual wealth and richness that we, and all people from colonised countries, have been denied. People are well aware of physical colonisation (the colonisation of territories), but what is often left understudied is the effects of colonisation on the mind. Colonialism has distorted our understanding of ourselves, our histories and our identities, has threatened elements of our culture and heritage, and has literally subjected people to intense psychological trauma through forcible displacement and conflict. At its root, colonisation is about dehumanisation, and unfortunately, these dehumanising narratives can become internalised by the people subjected to them, which has massive psychological repercussions.
The Commonwealth and its empty symbolism remains a distraction from the legacies of pillaging, decimation, violent erasure and partition that the British Empire left behind. The Commonwealth does nothing to address contemporary global wealth inequities, or the psychological scars that remain across our communities and across generations.
We write this statement as two individuals with heritage from “formerly” colonised, Commonwealth countries: Pakistan and Cyprus respectively. Naturally, our lived experiences will differ, as those with heritage from the Commonwealth are not homogenous. Yet our commonality remains that we have been and continue to be colonised through imperialist means, and we are still seen and treated as less than. Both our communities were dehumanised, racialised, used as pawns in British civilising missions, and both our communities continue to suffer the lasting effects of British divide and rule.
We reject this call for “unity” under the terms that colonisers have set for us. We instead envision a solidarity amongst colonised Global South communities, that looks towards healing and liberation. We will never be free under coloniser frameworks or institutions, and so we must cultivate our own.
by Fizza Qureshi + Anastasia Gavalas