The British Empire Games begin this week, celebrating the might and influence of the crown across the dominions. It will be held in Birmingham, home to hundreds of thousands of the children of empire expected to be the smiling subjects waving in adoration. Rebranding the event does not hide the fact this is a celebration of empire. Nations are questioning the point of remaining in a union of ex-British colonies. Whose only purpose seems to be to bolster the esteem of the former Mother Country and give the British royal family something to do.
The Birmingham games were mired in controversy from the start line. Organizers were so out of touch that every single one of the original executive team and all but one of the board were White… in one of the most diverse cities in the country. An open letter from community figures eventually forced the recruitment of more board members. Still, a sour taste was left in the mouth. None of this was helped by another open letter written in 2022 condemning a perceived side-lining of Asian cultures in the games. Not only is the racist nature of the event an issue, but as with all such White elephants, we have been left with failed infrastructure projects and lots of traffic. I am honestly surprised the Queen’s baton made it around the city, given the hostility towards the so-called Commonwealth Games.
To add insult to injury, we are now meant to celebrate a gigantic statue of King Kong being recreated in the city to celebrate the games. The original figure made a brief appearance in 1972, and the current organizers somehow convinced themselves that the town has since been yearning for its return.
King Kong is like the Commonwealth, a rebranding of racism to make it more palatable. Movies like Birth of Nation were openly and unapologetically racist. In contrast, King Kong transformed the threat of the Black man into a gigantic ape. It is not a coincidence that in the 1933 movie, the only Black people are “savages” on skull island. Nor that Kong is obsessed with a White woman and rampages through the city in primal lust to possess her.
The sight of a gigantic Kong statue is not going to bring happy feelings to much of the city. Since it was announced, I have been fielding angry phone calls and even had a visit to my house to complain. I’ve already written the Psychosis of Whiteness book, and I struggle to think of a better example than the organizers thinking it was a good idea to have a King Kong park to celebrate the British Empire Games. But as offensive as the statue is, it is the perfect symbol for the event.
The British Empire was a monstrosity, a racist beast masquerading as a benevolent force for good. But, of course, King Kong pretends it is all in good fun, an innocent monster movie to entertain the crowds. But just as there is no saving Kong from its racist origins (although seeing him fight Godzilla came close), there is no redeeming the Commonwealth as an enterprise or the games as a spectacle, for as I wrote about the Olympic movement, it’s just as racist as ever.
A gigantic Kong represents the elephant (or rather gorilla) in the room regarding the empire. The only responsible action from the athletes would be a total boycott. The British Empire Games has no place in Birmingham or anywhere else. This is not the 1968 Olympics, where the iconic Black Power salute from Tommy Smith and John Carlos meant they were permanently shunned from the athletic community. Or the first time, athletes will be permitted to make political statements during the games without fear of being penalized, so get ready for a lot of taking the knee. But some of those knees bending on the platform will be the same ones prostrating themselves in front of the monarch when the honors list comes out. Unfortunately, the reality of the British Empire Games is that it is a racist spectacle parading as entertainment. There is no better place to watch the debacle than under the shadow of King Kong.