Racist Statues – Pull Them Down!

Cecil Rhodes

George Floyd – #BlackLivesMatter

The recent obscene murder of George Floyd has sparked rightful anger, indignation and calls for much-needed reform!

Reform not only in America but throughout most of western Europe. We in Europe and the UK are in no position to take any moral high-ground. There is institutionalised racism alive and well in our own backyard.

Recent analysis, prompted by the atrocity in Minneapolis, looking at one of the available metrics, disposable income, clearly shows the discrepancies across different groups in our society for last 20 years.

Disposabale Income by racial grouping

There will be other reasons for the discrepancy, eg cultural, educational, but the above is clear showing that the majority of non-white UK residents experience below-average disposable incomes.

The Statues!

It has also started the bandwagon rolling again about pulling down ‘dubious’ statues or replacing them with more acceptable images and the usual calls by petitions to enforce the ‘will of the people’!

As an example, Change.org has a petition running calling for Oxford to “Remove your racist statue” by someone called Leo Quartermain! Who that is or their motivation is not clear or even if it is a real person.

Like many of these petitions, they don’t provide any real qualification of the facts outlined in the call to support.

Most of the description of Cecil Rhodes has been cribbed from Wikipedia but not chapter and verse. A few omissions have been made and a few additions to support the claim. Some of the most glaring are highlighted in red below

Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902) was a British businessman, statesman, imperialist, mining magnate, and politician in southern Africa who served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896. (added) An ardent believer in British imperialism and white supremacy (/added), Rhodes and his British South Africa Company founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia), which the company named after him in 1895.

One of Rhodes’s primary motivations in politics and business was his professed belief that the Anglo-Saxon race was, to quote his will, “the first race in the world”. Under the reasoning that “the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”, he advocated vigorous settler colonialism and ultimately a reformation of the British Empire so that each component would be self-governing and represented in a single parliament in London.

Ambitions such as these, juxtaposed with his policies regarding indigenous Africans in the Cape Colony—describing the country’s native black population as largely “in a state of barbarism”, he advocated their governance as a “subject race”, (added) and was at the centre of actions to marginalise them politically—have led recent critics to characterise him as a white supremacist and “an architect of apartheid” (/added).

(omitted) consistent with prevailing European paternalistic theories of the time.

Rhodes’ view was a cultural one and not a biological definition, and a starting point for actions supportive of native populations, as he clarified in a speech of 1894, stating “Now, I say the natives are children. They are just emerging from barbarism. They have human minds . . . We ought to do something for the minds and the brains that the Almighty has given them. I do not believe that they are different from ourselves“.

Historian Richard A. McFarlane has described Rhodes “as integral a participant in southern African and British imperial history as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are in their respective eras in United States history.” (/omitted)

If you want to get as wide as possible support then, at least, be as honest about achieving it and not try an embellish the facts to suit your argument.

So, what about the statues?

Pulling down statues will make no difference at all to changing what is a real problem. It might make some folks feel good about themselves, reduce their feelings of guilt, thinking they are contributing to a future utopia where racism is absent from our lives but they are mistaken!

As highlighted above Rhodes’ belief was a cultural one and not one racially motivated. He was no saint, few men are!

At worse, it was paternalistic and condescending. What others did in South Africa and Rhodesia after his death is another matter!

We can’t change history, it exists whether we like the outcome or not. But, we do have the means to make a difference. We can acknowledge the faults, carried out knowingly or unwittingly, and learn from them.

The statues should be left, not to celebrate but to remember and acknowledge the past just as we remember other events. Education is the only way to overcome prejudice and the earlier it starts the better chance we have of eradicating it. 

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Rather than tearing them down, add to them! Add an information plaque giving a brief history and explanation. Utilise technology to provide additional depth of information.

Almost everyone has a mobile phone with access to unlimited historical data if made available. Using AR (augmented reality) or even more simply a QR code to link to it would, at least, be a start.