Colonial Statues: Historical Monuments or Offensive Reminders?
The last few weeks of Black Lives Matter protests in the US and UK has seen the removal and defacing of many statues connected to slavery and colonialism.
Most notably in the UK, statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down by protesters in Bristol and thrown into the harbour. More recently, the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was vandalised by protestors and has since been boarded up.
While many see this as a step in the right direction - a recognition of the UK’s nefarious past - other’s lament the vandalism of statues and see it as an attempt to erase history.
Before we can begin to consider the historical impact of these colonial statues let’s think about what a statue actually represents...
When a statue of someone is created, we are essentially immortalising them and their achievements. A statue is often erected to glorify or memorialise - it is honouring that person.
So, if that’s what a statue symbolises, then what does it say about a country who erects and protects statues of people who profited from the slave trade and colonisation?
As we continue to see the devastating effect slavery has had on Black people around the globe; as shown by the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations all over the world; is it still necessary to have these statues in places of prominence around the UK, where any non-white person can see and be reminded of how their country glorified people who treated their ancestors in such an atrocious way?
In removing a statue, we are not erasing the history but simply acknowledging the fact that these people and their actions should not be celebrated...
Edward Colston should be remembered, but not as a hero, which his statue in Bristol’s centre once suggested. Maybe the controversial statues connected to slavery and colonialism around the UK should be moved to museums, that way they can be put into proper context, and placed in an area where people can choose to see them to learn about their role in Britain’s history.
In fighting racism, I don’t think history should be erased or re-written, but I also don’t think it should be looked at through rose-tinted glasses.
Yes, Winston Churchill was a uniting figure during World War 2 and a hero to many, but he also sought to expand Britain’s empire through violent imperial policies and believed the people of India and Africa needed “civilising”. He should be remembered for both, as to just remember him as successfully leading Britain through the war in a way erases the history and the lives of those who suffered from his imperialist and racist polices.
It’s not just statues of slave-traders that still exist in Britain, there’s street names, school names, and the names of various university halls of residence.
2020 Britain is still steeped in colonial history which is in no danger of being erased. But, in order to make real, positive change and begin to eliminate racism which exist today, the colonial statues should be pulled down.