Revising and Re-voicing a Silenced Past
Transformative intentions and selective silences in a public apology to British child migrants
Focusing on Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s apology to British child migrants in 2010, this article proposes that public apology, as a moral and political act, is a compelling site for examining attempts to redefine and redress previously silenced pasts. Postwar child migration has been something of a silenced chapter in British history. In my research I examine one such child migration scheme, namely a project which sent select British children (aged 4 to 13) to colonial Southern Rhodesia—today’s Zimbabwe—between 1946 and 1962. Through this case, I discuss two intertwined aspects of the transformative intentions of apologizing. First, the apology aims at amending the relationship between the apologizer and the victims and at remodeling the recipients’ political subjectivities. Second, the apology discloses distinct, but contradictory, understandings about the relationship between past, present, and future. It emphasizes the continuous effects the past has in the present, but simultaneously purports to create a temporal break with the past, marked by a moral transformation of the state. However, although the apology aspires and has potential to give voice to those previously silenced and to re-articulate a more legitimate version of the past, its framing eliminates the broader historical context of the Empire. Thus, while partially overcoming silences, the article suggests, the apology also reproduces and reinforces others.
Copyright (c) 2019 Katja Uusihakala
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