Awards of the British empire are often loaded with controversy for recipients from black and minority ethnic backgrounds (see: Benjamin Zephaniah turning down an OBE in 2003) and it’s no surprise really, since they’re literally descended from the military orders of the Crusades.
That’s not to say, though, that recipients can’t turn the awards on their head, as M.I.A. has done after being honoured in the MBE list of 2019. Posting on Instagram yesterday, the rapper wrote: “I'm honoured to have this honour…”
To be fair, M.I.A. has a pretty specific reason to receive the honour too: her mum. “She is one of the 2 women in England who hand stitched these medals for the last 30 years,” she adds. “After receiving asylum my mum and cousin took this job in 1986, because it was the only non English speaking manual labour she could find.”
“She spent her life in England hand sewing 1000s of medals for the Queen. No matter how I feel or what I think, my mother was extremely proud of the job she had.”
M.I.A. also highlights the significance of being Tamil and receiving the award. In a subsequent post she says: “The last time a TAMIL got a MBE was 1954.” In weird coincidence, that recipient died the year she was born and has (very nearly) the same last name, though he’s apparently of no relation.