The award-winning British columnist and author Sathnam Sanghera spoke about his new book ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’ at the Richmond Literature Festival. This took place at the Exchange in Twickenham on Thursday 18th November.


Sanghera spoke briefly about his experience writing the book as well as the impact that imperial nostalgia has on modern British society. During his discussion with Professor Corinne Fowler (co-author of the project ‘Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted’), Sanghera shed light on the ways in which many aspects of society retain connections to the British empire and contemplated what it means to be British. 


Throughout his book, Sanghera frequently displays his frustration with the failure of the education system in effectively teaching children about the British Empire and the slave trade. In reference to the recent tearing down of the statue of Colston in Bristol, he remarks in his book that ‘many of us have learned more about British imperialism in a few months of statuecide then we did during our entire schooling’. An audience member echoed this frustration but also optimistically added how she feels that ‘our generation wants to educate ourselves through social media apps such as Tiktok’, and how these apps are useful in enabling movements such as Black Lives Matter to gain traction and awareness.


Following this discussion, Sanghera spoke about the reactions which he had received from the public about his writing which came in the form of handwritten letters, racist comments on Twitter and even death threats. When asked about how he chooses to deal with the abusive comments made on social media, he stated that he often chooses to reply as he feels that ‘writers don’t get much backup’ in comparison to other celebrities who receive online abuse, and therefore it is ‘important to stick up for [him]self’. 


As reflecting upon what it means to be British remains a current question in an era of Brexit and COVID-19, it is vital that we educate ourselves on the impact that the British Empire has and will continue to have on our society.