The shallowness of superiority

The following snapshots provide some intimations of the futility of claiming superiority. Looking for work as a school teacher, I rang the education office in Singapore. A languid English voice told me to come back in a year’s time. When I rang a senior teacher, a friend of the family, he told me to report to a particular school the following day; it needed a teacher immediately.

Within the same period, I met an English administrator in a social situation who had a Chinese wife. While he held his position, his English colleagues ostracised the couple socially.

A young woman, whom I suspected worked for Australia’s security agency, spent a little time with some senior British administrators in Malaya. She told me that she did not find the colonial community to her liking because of their values and behaviour.

A few years later, in Australia, a diplomat friend came back from a posting in Malaya with a most peculiar accent. He had not realised that he had copied the speech sounds of the British colonial class.

However, in the 1980s I worked briefly with a most charming and erudite English academic who had held a very senior position in British Africa. That changed my views about the colonial British. I had previously been influenced by my elders and their use of the term ‘upstarts.’

I then met 2 retired British colonial officials, who were employed in the federal public service. I found them and their wives to be nice people. Any sense of superiority they may have had was not perceivable. We socialised successfully with some warmth. This was a most useful lesson for me.

More recently I met an English fellow-retiree whose family had been colonial officials. He became upset when, in a casual conversation, I told him how we colonial subjects had viewed our unwanted rulers from Britain. He accused me of being prejudiced! When I sought to find out what it had been like to be colonial rulers, he avoided further contact. That was in spite of being told that we anti-colonials are not anti-British.

Another contact, through church attendance, told me how the Africans he had helped to rule had thanked the British as they left. I could not tell him that the thanks may have been for leaving!

Since no one likes to be ruled by interlopers, I remain prejudiced. I have no sympathy for those of our former rulers who may have felt discomfited by being de-throned, with a loss of a claimed superiority.

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