I have recently begun a project to explore my own identity. Ancestrally, my heritage and my culture come from somewhere in Germany, Britain and Ireland, but I am so many generations removed from my homelands that I feel no connection to them whatsoever.
At the same time, I have no connection to the land of my birth. I was born here, raised here. I waved the flag on Australia Day, bowed my head on Anzac Day, and went to the footy with my friends and family. I checked the boxes. I am Australian.
But not really.
I am a colonist. And my culture is so paper thin, that I honestly have no idea who I am.
And I suspect, deep down, every colonist descendent in the world knows this feeling.
It was this feeling that got my curiosity up, that made me want to dig. And although I don’t have all the answers yet, I have managed to narrow my questions from the more existential who am I, to the far more useful why am I.
I had a hunch that if I looked for similarities between the cultures that formed in British colonial countries, I would find patterns. And found them I did.
I want to share them with you now, and I want to see if you come to the same conclusions I did. I want to talk about eight cultural traits, that seem to form the foundation of every colonial identity.
But first, let’s quickly define which cultures we are talking about here. We are specifically talking about English settler colonial countries, the United States of America, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.
These countries may appear different on the surface, but at their core they share almost identical cultural DNA and seem to follow the same cultural patterns as each other, despite the fact the countries are spread all over the world.
The overall fundamental point they all share, is their cultures and traditions are effortless to join and uphold. This I believe is the fundamental requirement for the sustaining of colonial culture. It is also why it is impossible for colonial cultures to grow or dig any deeper. They must stay surface level.
Why? Well let’s go explore that together, shall we?
1. Sport obsession:
Every country in the world, celebrates sport, but only colonial countries make it their primary cultural trait, a grand-final or playoff series will always be the biggest part of the year in a colonial country. Sport celebration is effortless to join in on. Colonists, immigrant, Indigenous People, and tourists alike, can all effortlessly join in, because it has no depth, it is just surface level fun. There is of course nothing wrong with this, but its kind of weird that it is our PRIMARY culture, right?
Every colonial country celebrates barbeque as a cultural trait. Australia famously made an entire generational marketing campaign around ‘throwing another shrimp on the barbie.’ Barbeque is celebrated as being cultural in every colonial country because, once again, it is the absolute base level attempt at community culture, literally, there is nothing more primordial than people sitting around a fire. This is not culture, this is basic human connection.
3. War glorification:
At its heart, every colonial culture began with violence, from genocide of native peoples, to wars of conquest or in defence of empire. War celebration and soldier glorification is the closest thing colonial countries come to hallowed and sacred beliefs, but once again it is all surface level, it never asks any questions about why we were genociding people or invading sovereign countries (Why exactly was Australia invading Turkey again?) It only ever remembers the extremely generic framework of ‘those who died for our freedom.’ But if we ever looked at our war worship with unsentimental eyes, we would find that it gets to very dark truths, very quickly.
4. Fake made up backstory:
Every colonial country has a cover story for why it exists, Australia was the penal colony full of tough convicts that eventually built a nation out of their prison, America chaffed for freedom and wrote The Constitution to ensure it, South Africa was ‘saved’ from the tyranny of the French and Dutch. All of these are fairy tales, designed to cover the genocide and slavery of the British Empire that was the real birthing of these nations. But that is a super downer, so we make up these cheery origin stories so that the immense slavery and genocide can remain a footnote in our history books.
5. Bloated nationalism:
Colonial countries are very familiar with the term, ‘fake it til you make it’ as they all seem to compensate for any real culture, with jingoistic nationalism, I don’t have the statistics, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would bet that colonial countries have more flags per capita then anywhere else in the world, and they never pass on a chance to wave them (see the previously mentioned sports games).
6. Indigenous tokenism:
Colonial cultures love to use Indigenous symbolism to promote the nation’s image, every government office is full of Indigenous Art, totems, and symbols. This is done as a sign of respect we tell ourselves, but really this is only about making colonial people feel better, and it is entirely for show. Because these symbols remain exactly that, there is no real power given to any Indigenous representation, to the extent that even the legal ownership of Indigenous land will always be thrown away the moment a mining company ‘lobbies’ a politician to do so. Every colonial country only incorporates Indigenous culture to the extent that it helps legitimise the colonial status quo, anything beyond that, will always be mercilessly suppressed.
7. Fake displays of unity:
Every colonial culture is filled with buzzwords for unity, ranging from ‘American Dream’ to ‘mateship’ these terms are intentionally vague, meaningless, and undefinable. This is so people can project whatever they like onto them, they sound great and become vernacular in our culture, but only because we want to believe they are true.
Also side note, the next time someone raises justifiable protests against the status quo, for example, against climate destruction or systemic racism, get a stopwatch and time how quickly the media and government throw ‘mateship’ and ‘unity’ under the fucking bus.
8. Fetishisation of law and order:
Every colonial country is filled with historical people who ‘tamed the land’ this narrative is presented as some heroic undertaking of man vs wild, but in reality it is just code for the genocide of native peoples, but more than that, it is about putting a sense of legality to the genocide. This is where we run into one last buzzword, possibly the most evil word colonial countries have ever rallied behind, ‘civilisation.’
It is the core belief that fuels every part of our surface level culture. The violence that shaped our nations must always and foremost be legitimised and never questioned. So instead we turn our police into heroes, ever notice how colonial countries are always churning out cop shows? Have you ever wondered why, of all genres, our TVs are inundated with cop shows?
The narrative of the police being the line between savage barbarism and peaceful society is wholly engineered out of the notion of a superior ‘western civilisation.’ And the root of this narrative begins in the legitimatisation of the genocide that formed our colonial nations. Indeed, this is precisely why we have a perverse need to uphold ‘western civilisation’ for if all the genocide was not for that, then what was it for?
Incidentally this is also why we glorify outlaws. We love outlaws because they provide a great narrative fiction for the cultural relevance of ‘law and order.’ We tell ourselves the overbearing police force exists to stop white criminals, and we need some examples so we can believe that, over the reality of massive racial oppression and genocide cover. Hence our outlaws become cultural heroes too.
So there it is, all our cultural cards are on the table, and they are one weak hand indeed.
So let’s get to the truth.
The reason our culture has to stay surface level is because it is built on lies. America did not begin when the Constitution was written, it began with genocide and slavery. Australia did not begin with a larrikin filled penal colony, it began with genocide and slavery, South Africa didn’t begin with ‘civilisation’ under Cecil Rhodes, it began with…you get the idea.
Genocide and slavery are the basis of every single British colonial country.
That is the reality our vapid, surface level culture tries to throw a flag over and wave furiously enough that we may forget the bodies beneath it.
But the bodies remain, as does the truth.
Our refusal to challenge or move on from the lies that form our identity is why we stay mired in mediocre white supremacy and unfettered capitalism. Colonial culture is surface level because to ask questions or to look for deeper meaning is to also admit that our identity is based on lies.
The truth is we don’t know who we are, we have never known, and unless we are willing to look at ourselves and our history with honest hearts, we will forever be waving flags at sport events and memorials to wars long since over.
While we ignore what truth we may have known, what greatness we could have achieved.
Watching the world move on, as we remain the petty little colonies, that refuse to grow up.
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