Leave our statues alone!!
There I said it. I know many a soul will disagree with me, but before you start sending me hate mail, defriending me or making a voodoo effigy of me, please hear me out.
I feel comfortable saying I am not a racist.I was horrified by George Floyd’s death.I agree Black Life’s matter.But…this purging of our history by tearing down statues is misdirected and a classic example of political correctness dragging us down a ridiculous path.
First, allow me to take you on a short tour of London and then a quick debriefing. As Ralph Mc Tell wrote,“Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of LondonI’ll show you something to make you change your mind”
Venue: Parliament Square
Time: The not too distant Future.
The tour begins:
“Welcome. This impressive square once housed many statues of statesmen. Sadly we don’t have many left to show you but please feel free to use your imagination.
- On your left once stood a statue of Nelson Mandela – we tore him down due to his early links with violence and terrorism.
- Behind him above the door to the Supreme Courts of Justice we once had a beautiful carved depiction of King John handing the Magna Carta to the barons, but he went back on his word, opposed the freedom of the people so we chopped him out of the frieze.
- Any Americans in the group will be fascinated to learn that we once had a statue of Abraham Lincoln right over there. He had to go though as he used ethnic slurs and even told some jokes about blacks.
- Of course the statue of Churchill had to go. His imperialistic views of Indians, Blacks, Chinese… in fact anyone that wasn’t white… were just too extreme.
- In front of Westminster Hall once stood a bronze of Oliver Cromwell. He was there to represent the people’s voice, but his violent tactics notably in Ireland meant he had to go.
- Further along was one of my favourite equestrian statues with Richard the Lionheart, but his vicious leadership caused the deaths of so many Jews and Muslims he could not stay in such a prominent place.
- Here to the side of the Parliament building we once celebrated the work of the Pankhursts and the Suffragette movement, but we could no longer condone their reign of terror of smashing windows, arson attacks and setting off bombs.
- That is the end of our whirlwind tour. We hope you enjoy visiting the rest of our city and seeing all the rest of our history which is no longer there.”
That is just one section of London. You can repeat this exercise throughout the streets of the bulging metropolis, in its museums and galleries, and wipe out numerous public commemorations. Then repeat in Bristol (they have already drowned one slave trader statue), Bath, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Oxford, Cambridge. Can you even begin to imagine what would happen if we went international. What exactly would be left in Rome?
Sanitise our history and in the process you rip out the very struggles and challenges that make us who we are. Revisionist history can create ridiculous results if we are not prepared to put aside our modern thoughts and allow these statues to represent their times. You cannot and should not strip them of their historical context. They do not represent our modern thoughts. They were created by a different society, with different values, different priorities, and different beliefs. We are privileged to be quiet witnesses to their community decision to recognise someone for what they did – even if it was at the expense of others, even if it meant religious persecution, even if it included scandal and intrigue, even if it meant slavery.
Many statues were funded by public subscription or the government of the day, and in their eyes that person deserved recognition in all its glory and even in all its horror. Slave trading is not a uniquely black experience. Take a peek through history and you will find slaves all over the world throughout the centuries. Here in jolly old England many of our fellow Brits were rounded up and sold into slavery. The success of St Augustine’s mission to implant Christianity into England was preceded by Pope Gregory witnessing white, blue eyed English boys being sold in a Rome slave market and declaring “They are not Angles, but Angels.”Our ancient feudal system had aspects of abuse and slavery running all the way through it. British history is full of it! Which raises an awkward question.
Who, may I ask, is the authority figure to determine which slaves are more deserving than another. What is the magic date by which we determine which statue, street name, building name stays and which is rudely discarded.Who determines which cause deserves to be championed. If slavery suddenly trumps history then should we not give equal air time to every other cause under heaven. Where do you stop?
We do not have to agree with all their ancient views. Use their bronze statue, stone carving, plaque, street name, building name, scholarship, charity, legacy as a springboard for meaningful discussion. Do not stack them away in a dusty basement or melt them down. If we push them out of mind we undermine the great strides that have been made since they made their mark in history. They may be symbols of oppression, violence, and bigotry to us, but what did they mean to their family, friends and community?
I don’t want to point to empty plinths and empty space.
I want to visit Bristol, stand by the statue of Edward Colston and see the amazing contributions he made to the city… but then understand at what price.
I want to visit Oxford and see the statue of Cecil Rhodes. I want to hear of the impact the Rhodes Scholars have had on hundreds of lives… but then understand his Imperialistic outlook.
I want to see Blenheim Palace, Chartwell and the Cabinet War Rooms and view statues of Churchill to appreciate those finest hours when he made such an impact, but also knowing he had darker moments as well. Don’t we all.
I want to point to tangible reflections of the past. History is far more powerful when you have something to anchor on. Invisible history fizzles into oblivion…and then people forget.
There are many things we should never forget.