How do we think about taking down controversial statues in the UK?

In June 2020 protestors circulated a hit list of controversial UK statues to be taken down. These included Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Robert Baden-Powell. Campaigners say these statues must be ripped down because they contribute to racialised systemic violence. In turn, this trickles down into every facet of public life and subordinates ethnic minorities. On the other side, groups made up of mostly far right activists say this is deeply offensive. They see this lobby as a violent mob that have been undeservedly handed a mandate to whitewash UK history. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

We have every right to take the statues down

This group believes that tearing down statues is an important method at redressing systemic racial inequality. Proponents include Black Lives Matter, and left wing, British commentators such as Namitha Aravind.

The statues sustain structural oppression

To break free from the system of oppression, we must stop celebrating the statues of racist figures in the slave trade and put an end to whitewashing the cruel acts that earned them their glory.

The controversial statues celebrate evil acts

Statues - by virtue of memorialising perpetrators of evil - celebrate their deeds.

The controversial statues venerate evil people

We do not put up statues to denigrate, but to celebrate. As society progresses, our definition of what is morally acceptable changes. Celebrating statues of people associated with evil acts create a narrative unfitting of 21st-century values.

The controversial statues oppress UK ethnic minorities

This debate is largely around figures who have historically subjugated ethnic minorities. They are therefore a form of soft power that oppresses these groups in society.

The controversial statues represent UK history inaccurately

Statues misrepresent the past, and are dangerous because of this.

Having controversial statues in a museum sanctifies evil

Keeping statues in museums will not alleviate the problem. They need to be removed for good.

The controversial statues legitimise racism

The statues offer vehicle through which racists can legitimise their views.

The controversial UK statues destroy the intellectual health of the public

The statues perpetuate popular ignorance in the false narratives they represent.

Controversial statues hide deep injustice

The statues detract from the controversial historical moments they represent. They permit people to look past the injustices they link to, and focus on the statues as art.

The controversial statues debate shows how Britain's democratic channels have failed us

Formal channels of protest have failed. Tearing down statues is forcing those in power to listen to the needs of those at the bottom.

This is the revolutionary resistance we have been waiting for

Recent acts of statue toppling represent an eruption of dissent against institutional racism. But this paradigm shift is hardly unprecedented- it’s been years in the making. When decades of peaceful protests fail to stir action within the government, revolutionary acts must take their place.

How dare they tear down our statues

This group sees the anti-statue activists as lawless mob. Proponents include the EDL, All Lives Matter activists, and the alt-right press.

The people tearing down controversial statues are erasing British history

The statues are important pieces of our national history. Taking them down erases it.

We must defend British culture against those who tear down controversial statues in the UK

British culture is at stake. Tearing down statues is a violent attack on our values.

The violent mob are race traitors

These forms of vigilante justice serve nothing or no one. White people joining in the protests are a disgrace to our communities and culture.

We have been forced to accept multiculturalism against our will

Britain is a white country. Multiculturalism has been given centre place in the national agenda against our will.

All lives matter, so tearing down controversial statues in the UK is wrong

Black lives do not have a greater value. Taking down statues is a racist attack on the UK's white communities.

The police are working in the interests of the enemy when they support those who tear down controversial statues

The role of the police is to protect British people and British interests. Their failure to protect our statues during this time suggests otherwise.

Non-whites should go back to where they came from rather than tearing down controversial statues

If non-whites do not like British culture and have come here to take down our history, they should go back to their countries of origin.

This is an attack on the white working class

The white working class, who are already disadvantaged in the UK, are being undermined yet again.

The controversial statues are an attack on the UK's white majority

Britain is a white country. This debate is about race, and an attempt to subordinate British people.

We should approach the statues issue with caution

This group believes that there are other ways to look at this debate. They are neither in favour of tearing them all down, or defending them till the death. They see the issue as symptomatic of wider concerns the we should address. Proponents include free speech activists, left wing historians such as David Olusoga and the moderate press.

We should find ways to give more context to these controversial statues in the UK

We should hesitate before taking drastic action, and see this debate as an opportunity to enrich - not destroy - our understanding of the past.

Controversial statues have an educational purpose in the UK

Statues enrich our understanding of history and the people who shaped it. We should not lose sight of that.

Our approach to storytelling UK statues is flawed

The statues are not the issue. Flawed storytelling about the UK's complex past means we unquestionably memorialise the accomplishments of historical figures. Our storytelling should show balance by also taking into account any injustices that may have transpired.

The UK controversial statues debate is about the decline of the West

This battle over whether or not to take down controversial statues is really a proxy for a larger battle about the decline of Western authority in geopolitics.

The UK controversial statues debate is an opportunity to think about how we look at history

We rarely reflect on the role of history: how we understand it, and how that understanding shapes the present. This debate is an opportunity to do precisely that.

The controversial statues are a distraction from the real issue at hand in the UK

Putting emphasis on statues in a debate about UK race relations detracts from the problem.

We should focus on the UK's present, not its past

The issues we are discussing here are current. That is where our attentions should be focused.
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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020 at 15:06 UTC