I fully support the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. I do not support the intended desecration of statues such as Winston Churchill.
What's the difference? Well, Churchill was racist. Sadly it wasn't an unusual mindset of the day. Consider an old and pervasive Western fear that is encompassed by the two words "yellow" and "peril". I don't even need to tell you who that was aimed at, for you probably already know. So, yes, Churchill was racist - comparing some Zulus (for example) as "savages and barbarous peoples" - and some might say, he was also quite mad.
However he isn't known primarily for his racism. He is known for a daring escape during the Boer war, a grand WW1 assault against the Ottoman Empire that failed in spectacular style, and - of course - the reason that most British people know him. A selection of "We shall never surrender" style speeches that may well have been his "finest hour".
Compare this to a man who made his wealth trading people stolen from Africa and shipped to the New World, as slaves.
I don't really need to write any more about Colston. Churchill might not have been the greatest man around, but what he did for the country during the war makes him a person worthy of honouring with a statue. Was he perfect? Certainly not. There isn't one statue erected that is of a perfect person. But on the whole, Churchill and those like him should be seen as flawed but generally beneficial people.
Colston, on the other hand, traded the lives of blacks. There's no way to nicify that, there's no way to excuse it through modern eyes, and the only reason that a statue of Colston should exist is in order that his deeds not be forgotten. It certainly has no place of honour.
Aside: It looks as if Colston's statue is destined to be placed in a museum, where there can be a more balanced narrative regarding the good he did for the city of Bristol, and where exactly that wealth came from. This would be a good outcome, as simply tossing him into the harbour (as deserved as it was) does risk having the whole thing be forgotten ten years from now.
So, where do you draw the line? I would say if you're going to have a go at properly evil racists, then you should direct your attention towards those who have directly contributed to the deaths of blacks (Asians, natives, etc etc).
Do not waste time on attacking everybody who might have expressed a racist opinion, because might I suggest that you start with your own parents? My mother, as I mentioned in the past, grew up in a time of Driving Miss Daisy. When blacks were expected to sit at the back of the bus. Where leisure facilities were not open to people of colour (or Jews). This was normal. It wasn't right, but it was how things were.
I'd like to think that we live in a more open and accepting world, where that sort of behaviour is understood as the way things were, but not how they are now. Where it isn't weird for mixed race couples to marry. Where the only thing that matters about your doctor is whether or not they're a good competent doctor and not whether or not they're white and/or male.
And, yet, we in Britain have ended up with a right wing racist as Prime Minister, who has selected a very right wing anti-foreigner child of immigrants (oh yes, the hypocrisy) as Home Secretary. As for the person running America... let's just say if he gets voted out and actually leaves quietly (that few people are expecting), it'll probably take another few presidents to undo the damage. And if he gets voted in for a second term, oh my...
So we have a way to go yet before we can consider there to be useful equality on race and gender. This needs more effort directed towards people's upbringing, towards their interactions with others. It doesn't need any more statues pulled down.
But what it needs most of all is a massive change to the traditionally xenophobic British mentality that brought us Brexit. Foreigners are distrusted. Therefore, it stands to reason that blacks (etc) will be distrusted because, well, it doesn't matter if they were born in Britain, they won't be seen as being from Britain. I'm not sure that the country will really move that much further towards equality until something is done to change those perceptions.
And since we now have a right wing government with foreigner antagonistic policies, an unelected non-MP called Farage that was given greater standing in the media than those who people did actually vote for, and a Prime Minister who seems determined to press on (during a somewhat more important global pandemic) with making the country even more insular and nationalist...
...maybe the sad truth is that pulling down old statues is the only glimmer of hope that remains?
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Last read at 10:02 on 2021/01/17.
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