Why do we put up statues?
It’s a form of adoration, we build these monuments for these legendary people (usually men) who we want to celebrate for doing legendary things.
People seem to be forgetting this.
The hours following Colston’s nose dive into the floating harbour were fascinating.
After the protest I walked past the empty plinth where just hours earlier the Colston statue stood; people were dancing, singing, clapping - the atmosphere was electric yet it was peaceful. Just like the protest had been, regardless of what story the media attempts to spin.
I got home and found the story had dominated social media, most comments awestruck and celebratory about the statue's new location. Yet, of course, there was negativity. An overwhelming tide of voices demanding the act was "erasing history” and that it should have been brought down "with consent.” Many argued that Colston wasn’t just a slave trader but praised his philanthropy and contribution to the wider community.
First of all, suggesting that the removal of a statue erases history is saying that the city’s history is so fragile it is embodied in an object. No. Bristol was, at one time, the leading slave port in the UK. Slavery is in the city’s foundations, in its architecture; the Clifton house where I am writing this most likely had a slave working in it. Sickening. Removing a statue doesn’t erase history, it ensures that black people can walk down the street and not be reminded of the man that enslaved their ancestors. It shows everyone that we do not celebrate a man who enslaved over 84,000 human beings.
Citizens of Bristol have been begging for this statue to be taken down for years. The council responded by instead, rewriting the plaque including Colston's slaver history, according to a Tory MP this was too harsh, so they watered it down. The wording of the plaque was still being debated in 2019 with no clear outcome announced, so people took matters into their own hands. Read more about that here.
In terms of the philanthropy angle, this was a topic that sparked controversy on social media. There were many satirical parallels to Jimmy Saville, suggesting they erect a statue in honour of him because although he was a paedophile, he also contributed wealth into society. They make a valid point. You can’t put up a statue of a murderer and justify it by saying well, he was an alright bloke most of the time, wasn’t he?
After turning my phone upside down and turning off the light I laid there in complete bewilderment of racists. I also thought about how privileged I am, I can shut off from the repugnant people, I can turn my phone upside down and ignore it if I choose; and as much as it angers me, I will never feel the deep anger and anguish that black people feel everyday due to systematic racism. I’ve become very much aware that this is only a tiny window into what black people and POC experience constantly, and it’s exhausting.
I can only assume the tantrums over Eddie’s demise are due to the fact that systemic racism has been an undercurrent in society that white people have been privileged enough to ignore. Right now, it’s at the forefront and people no longer have a choice to turn a blind eye, they are confronted head on with their big shiny mirror of privilege and don’t like what they see, so they act out.
I’m writing this on the 8th June, one day after protesters ripped down the statue of Colston, I’m only commenting on the immediate reaction on social media but I’m sure at the time of reading this there are countless articles written and videos made discussing this very topic, no doubt a documentary will be made in the coming years.
The tearing down of Edward Colston will be remembered for a long long time, as historian and broadcaster David Olusoga so eloquently puts it, “this was not an attack on history. This is history. It is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were.”
What happened in Bristol yesterday made history, and hopefully this is the catalyst for communities across the UK and the rest of the world to look at the monuments they have up in their cities and ask themselves, why do we want to remember this person? How does this make the citizens of our city feel as they walk past? And who should be celebrated in our community?
The Guardian article by David Olusoga:
An incredible spoken word poem called 'Hallow' about the statue falling by Vanessa Kisuule, a Bristol based poet:
Check out her other stuff too:
Petitions to sign:
Anti-Racism Education to be Compulsory in U.K Schools:
Justice for Belly Mujinga:
Justice for Breonna Taylor:
Teach British children about the realities of British Imperialism and Colonialism:
Hertfordshire police to make an official investigation/arrests on hate speech:
Replace Edward Colston statue with a statue of Dr. Paul Stephenson: