The Oxford Union provoked outrage on Thursday evening by advertising a drink for sale named ‘The Colonial Comeback!’ at their weekly debate, ‘This House believes Britain owes reparations to her former colonies’.
At least two versions of the flyer advertised the cocktail. Of those seen by Cherwell, one was accompanied by an image of two hands bound in chains, which has been interpreted as suggesting the figure of a slave, and the second by a map of former British African colonies.
After pictures of the former were widely shared on social media, the flyers advertising the cocktail were immediately withdrawn. While the Secretary would usually read out the name of the night’s cocktail in the chamber before the debate, Cherwell understands that on Thursday evening Nikolay Koshikov omitted to announce it.
Zuleyka Shahin, Union Treasurer, also made a statement to the Chamber apologising for any offense caused, saying, “I would like you to know that I was not involved in the decision-making process,” adding that she would be “following this up”.
Since images of the cocktail have been widely shared, there has been a huge backlash on social media. Annie Teriba, founder of Oxford’s Black Students’ Union and Wadham SU’s People of Colour Officer, commented, “Apparently, it’s okay to kick back in the Union bar relishing in a ‘Colonial Comeback’ cocktail. I am horrified that the Union thinks it’s okay to trivialise centuries of oppression and racist violence in the form of a refreshing drink.
“For some students, including myself, colonialism is a hard pill to swallow, especially as its legacy continues to visit violence upon black bodies. I shall be expecting an apology and explanation from the President for allowing the bar of an institution I paid money to join to be decorated with colonial pornography.”
Aliya Yule, Women’s Campaign Officer, also reacted with anger, telling Cherwell, “Colonialism is not a joke to be made into a cocktail name. Colonial history is one in which Oxford University is heavily implicated, institutionally and through individuals such as Cecil Rhodes.
“For the Oxford Union to then ‘jokingly’ use this name for a cocktail shows a careless disregard for students whose lives and family histories are tainted with the violence of colonialism. Unfortunately, I would not expect much better from the Union.”
The speakers for last night’s debate include HE Hon Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, Jamaica’s High Commissioner to the UK, and Sir Richard Ottaway, former chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. It has been noted that all the speakers for the proposition were people of colour, while all those speaking for the opposition were white.
Brenda Njiru, a member of Secretary’s Committee, posted her response in a Facebook status, commenting, “Tonight I was horrified to see these posters at the Oxford Union bar. They were being used to promote the cocktails for tonight’s debate on ‘This House Believes Britain owes reparations to its former colonies’. I cannot fathom how one would deem it acceptable to display images of a marked up slave, with the caption ‘Colonial Comeback’, in an attempt to make light humour of the atrocities being debated tonight.
“As a member of the committee, I’m thoroughly disappointed with the Union and I demand an explanation from the relevant powers as to how such an advert was printed. Furthermore, I am disappointed that there was no statement made either by the President or Vice-President, during their business, on a matter that caused upset to members of the Union.”
A statement on the Oxford Union Facebook page said, “The Union would once again like to apologise for the cocktail last night. We let a lot of people down: the cocktail and its flyer were entirely inappropriate, and offensive. We must ensure that this never happens again.
“The individual responsible has apologised and deeply regrets their actions.
“All future cocktails will now be brought to the Standing Committee each week to ensure they have been seen and voted on by the committee, to avoid such an incident ever being repeated.
“This situation should never have arisen. We apologise sincerely.”
It is not clear who the responsible individual referred to is. At the time of publication, the Oxford Union could not be reached for comment.