A social rights activist has handed back her British Empire Medal claiming the award ‘reinforces the hostile environment’ as well as ‘institutional and everyday racism’.
Anisa Morridadi from Birmingham received the BEM in 2013 for services to education and young people.
However, Ms Morridadi said she was inspired by the Black Lives Matters movement and could no longer keep the medal.
Anisa Morridadi from Birmingham received the British Empire Medal in 2013 for services to education and young people. She accepted the award despite feeling uncomfortable about the history of the British Empire
Ms Morridadi, pictured, received the honour for her work with young people in Birmingham
As a result, she has written to the the region’s Lord Lieutenant John Crabtree, to explain why she feels it is necessary to return the medal.
Ms Morridadi is the founder and chief executive of city social enterprise Beetfreeks.
Ms Morridadi explained that she was grateful for the people who nominated her for the award, but was also concerned by its links to Empire.
She said: ‘I accepted this believing I could use the platform to make a change.’
However, in the past seven years she has reconsidered the position, especially due to the work of the Black Lives Matter movement, who she describes as ‘inspiring’.
She said their activists were willing to risk everything – including their lives, careers and freedom – in the battle for justice and equality.
She wrote: ‘I can’t stand for this too if I don’t actively reject the honours system.
‘Celebrating and memorialising the Empire through awards and celebrations has real life impact now; it reinforces the hostile environment, institutional and everyday racism.
She admitted she had been considering returning the medals since the day she accepted it.
‘I’ve been considering returning the BEM since the day I accepted it but I now have the courage to say it.’
The rights and wrongs of accepting honours has been a challenge, with prominent celebrities and activists rejecting awards.
Benjamin Zephaniah turned down an OBE in 2003, writing: ‘Benjamin Zephaniah OBE – no way Mr Blair, no way Mrs Queen. I am profoundly anti-empire.’
George the Poet turned down an MBE because of the ‘pure evil’ of the British Empire. He said while he ‘deeply appreciated’ the gesture, he did not want to accept the honour because of ‘the colonial trauma inflicted on the children of Africa’.
Film maker Ken Loach said of his offer of an OBE in 1977: ‘It’s all the things I think are despicable: patronage, deferring to the monarchy and the name of the British Empire, which is a monument of exploitation and conquest.’
Others to have famously rejected honours include David Bowie, John Lennon, Nigella Lawson, Danny Boyle and French and Saunders.
Ms Morridadi, who works with young creative people in Birmingham to connect them with businesses and government agencies to help give them influence.
She said: ‘We’re interested in getting young people their share of power in order to work with business, government and funders to build the institutions of the future.’
Ms Morridadi said the honours system is not representative of British society, especially those form Black, Asian and minority backgrounds, claiming only six per cent of honours go to BAME people.
She said: ‘We need a new system of recognition and honours for service to public life that is divorced from Empire and colonialism. As statues fall, so must the other antiquated symbols and emblems that do not represent the country we live in today and definitely not the one we are building for tomorrow.
‘We need better education for young people on British history and heritage. Not whitewashed. The full picture should be understood and acknowledged including the history of Commonwealth so that we can explore what it means to move forwards. I am still learning. I have so much more to do and to understand. This is something I intend to reflect on and push actively through my role on the Legacy and Benefits committee of Birmingham2022.’
She is backing calls to make black British history compulsory in schools.
John Crabtree, Lord Lieutenant for the West Midlands, and holder of an OBE, said today he respected Ms Morridadi’s decision.
‘I know and have huge respect for Anisa and for what she does. She was a very worthy recipient of the British Empire Medal but I fully respect anyone’s individual view on receiving the award, or not.’