Spoken word artist George the Poet has said he was offered an MBE but turned it down because of the “pure evil” committed by the British empire.
The poet, whose real name is George Mpanga, commented about it in the final episode of Have You Heard George’s Podcast?. He said that he would not accept such an honour until the UK took significant steps to mitigate some of the consequences of its colonial history.
Mpanga, who is of Ugandan descent, said he initially told a friend he would accept the award if he was offered it, but when they nominated him and he was selected, he felt a burning sensation in his chest.
He said: “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."
Born in Harlesden, London Mpanga, has won critical acclaim 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.
He apologised on the podcast to an unnamed friend who he said had recommended him for an MBE on his assurance that he would accept, saying that he didn’t know that he would feel this way.
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 geopolitical and macroeconomic realities, prevents me from accepting the title Member of the British Empire.”
Mpanga said that the gesture was deeply appreciated but the wording was not. Adding that it would remain unacceptable to him until Britain takes institutional measures to address the inter-generational disruption brought to millions as a result of her colonial exploits.
George, who studied politics, sociology, and psychology at Cambridge University, thought he was on course for a career in public life before he discovered rapping and performance. His word pieces have soundtracked a number of high profile vents and videos, including the BBC’s royal wedding coverage in 2018.