George the Poet has said he turned down an MBE because of the “pure evil” of the British Empire.
The spoken word artist, whose real name is George Mpanga, said he was prevented from accepting the title of Member of the British Empire because of “the colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa, entrenched across our geo-political and macro-economic realities”.
Speaking on his BBC podcast Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, he said: “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.
“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.
“George – people know me as this – the name of some old colonialist and you are so conceited it doesn’t even occur to you how lonely this is.
“What they did was pure evil and you can’t see it because that was your people.”
Mpanga, who was born in Harlesden in London and is of Ugandan heritage, added that he turned down the gong in May 2019, continuing: “Although much of my podcast is fiction, this is a fact.
“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.
“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…”
Mpanga’s poetry has won him critical acclaim both as a musician and a social commentator.
He was shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice category at the 2015 Brit Awards and he came fifth in the BBC Sound of 2015 poll.
In 2018 he was elected as a member of the National Council of Arts Council England.
Sharing the podcast episode on Twitter, he wrote: “I don’t hate white people, I don’t think the whole empire is pure evil, I just think rape is, and that’s what the British Empire did to my motherland.
“These are my feelings, you don’t have to take them on. But if you wanna learn more, here u go.”
Have You Heard George’s Podcast? is available now on BBC Sounds.