It’s been a while but something has been getting me down for a while.
I’ve written out a few statements and points about this issue and committed them to the pile of rants that abide in my Microsoft Word folder… but I keep seeing people I know sharing articles and statuses about why Statues should be protected and every time I see one of these I despair because it seems so utterly obvious to me why we need to change this very attitude.
Statues are used to commemorate and celebrate the achievements of a person. They are not there as a primary device of logging history. We have books for that. But they are there to simply stand adorning the land as a reminder of the achievements of a person or a movement or a monumental moment in history.
This is where it gets grey, and I can see how it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that history is sacred and that statues are somehow inherently tied to maintaining history, however this is simply not true. As I said, we have books for that.
A statue is there to be a beacon, to cheer everybody up, to celebrate great achievements or actions, they exist to publicly revere a person so that everybody who walks past that statue can think… oh wow! What a moment in history that was?!… what a fantastic person that person must have been?! Maybe then they might google that person when they get home, or do a homework assignment to accompany the school trip they just enjoyed.
The thing is… one of the justifying reasons that a statue is erected, is that very important situation… That EVERYONE can revere that person for their actions because it was heroic and was for the benefit of everyone.
How do you feel when you walk past a statue? You might start to deliberate about the significance of that statue and what action was accomplished to merit such an honour. You might look upon that statue and think that you feel pride. You might look upon that statue and feel that it is something that helps to define you and your internal image of your identity and your sense of nationality even. You might think about how much good that person did and feel protective of that statue.
Now think about that statue being the Edward Colston statue.
Think about why it was erected.
His celebration in history is much more than just a statue and it looks like the man was revered much more than a hero. He also had Colston Tower and Colston Hall named in his honour. Colston Avenue and Colston Street were named after him. The Colston Bun, a bun baked in Bristol existed purely to champion him and help his name last forever. He also is remembered in a stained-glass window installed at St Mary Redcliffe Parish church. As if all that was not enough there is even “Colston day”, celebrated on November 13th where a church service is held to remember the granting of a royal charter to the society of merchant venturers. He founded Colston’s alms-houses and founded Colston’s Hospital.
Now, the only wikipedia reference to any “heroic” type of achievement of Edward Colston is “the great benefactor of the city of Bristol, who, in his lifetime, expended more than £70,000 in charitable institutions”. In fact, it seems he used his fortune to build things to do good in the city but with his name all over them.
So what this says about our history is, if you had money and gave a lot of it to charity that you could metaphorically live forever in the architecture of the city you happened to live in for a while.
It meant that you could turn yourself into a hero with enough money.
In my history book that is NOT a hero.
A hero is someone who saves lives without wishing their name to be known because the point was to save the lives, not further their fame or renown.
A hero is a mother who raises her children without money.
A hero is someone who puts their life in danger to save someone else.
A hero is someone who endeavours to create an invention to stop millions of people dying.
A hero, is NOT A SLAVE TRADER.
The crooks of it:
The simple fact is that Colston made his fortune at the expense of black lives. Over 19,000 black people died, whilst he enslaved over 84,000 black men to make him his money. That fact alone is enough to absolutely renounce any attachment of the word HERO to the name of Colston. He stole and killed to get that money. He stole black people. He enslaved black people and forced them against their will to leave their country and sold them. In fact, after he had finished with the African Company, he even carried on trading slaves privately for another 16 years.
Now some might argue that this was the way of the world back then. That statues cannot be judged by today’s standards because those actions during that snapshot in time used to be acceptable. Some might say for a slave trader that he did not have to donate such sums to the City of Bristol. Some might say that he was a hero and that he also saved lives by investing in hospitals.
I would say, that there is another point to be made.
Try to imagine you are black.
Imagine, if you are a black person living in Bristol.
How do you feel every time you walk past that statue of Edward Colston? How do you feel every time you walk past that statue and think of the 19,000 black people who died. How do you feel when you contemplate the pain they endured. The pain of being beaten. Stolen from their homes. Separated from their families. Whipped and belittled. Humiliated and treated with contempt. How do you feel having to walk past that statue every single day of your life to get to work. To be constantly reminded of that history. To be forced to contemplate that pain just because white people decided that this slave trader happened to do enough in their eyes to be revered when to black people he is a villain. A murderer. A kidnapper. A slaver.
So I ask again… Was Edward Colston a hero?
No. No he was not.
It is not just white privileged people who walk past statues. It is people of all creeds and colours. A statue might mean one positive thing to one person, and might instill utter terror, fear and disbelief in another.
So, how do you know if a statue is correct to leave up or not?
If people of all colours can walk past the statue and the statue remains a hero. Then it stands.
If that is not absolutely the case. Then tear the fucking thing down.
It is not about protecting “your” statue. It is about accepting that your view is not the only view. Your position of privilege that history has delivered to you, is not your entitlement.
It is your duty as a human being to break the chains of history and write tomorrows future for everyone, not just white people.
It is about everyone’s history, not just white history.
So when it comes to little Billie doing her homework assignment, it should come from a genuinely balanced good place, not a good place if Billie is white and a bad place if Billie is black. This is exactly why we have to change it. We have to change it so that our children tomorrow do not have a different experience, they have the same experience, because they are EQUAL.
This is why every statue in the UK should be fully and thoroughly reconsidered, from the point of view of all people of all colours, and if there is ANY imbalance in what that statue represents then it should not stand. There is no harm in a statue not existing for the right reasons, and a great harm in a statue that stands for the wrong reasons.
This is just one of the actions that is essential to this amazing and powerful Black Lives Matter movement. It is more than just a slogan. It is more than just a t-shirt or a hashtag.
It is about actually making black lives matter.