What is the intellectual framing of the UK statues debate?

In June 2020 Bristol protestors rioting against the murder of George Floyd tore down a statue of Edward Colston. Having hauled it from its plinth, they eventually abandoned the statue in the city's harbour. Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch, viewing this as a momentous step in the fight against racism. Colston is known as the man who built Bristol. He bequeathed his enormous fortune to the city upon his death. 300 years on, the scale of his legacy is visceral in Bristol's landmarks and architecture, and the names of its schools, concert halls, streets, restaurants, pubs and cathedral. Yet, his fortune was built on slavery, leading many to argue that the statue props up institutional racism in the UK. Since Colston's toppling, activists have circulated lists of hundreds more controversial statues they say must be removed to end racial inequality. Others call this type of campaigning problematic. They view the destruction of monuments as historical whitewashing. For them, this trend is an affront to British history that does not confront the real issues at play. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

"Taking the statues down is an 'iconoclasm of the Woke!'"

We should not celebrate the destruction of our history. Taking this approach is reductive. Blaming statues for perceived "injustice" is unproductive.

We are witnessing a revolution against Western civilisation

Taking down statues is a violent attack on Western history and culture. This a dangerous assault on Western civilisation. It is a furious rampage that threatens the very fabric of our societies, borne out of the same violent madness characteristic of the Khmer Rouge. This type of behaviour has existed for millennia, and led to the devastation of countless civilisations and their histories. These endings are rarely happy. And have historically been symptomatic of growing social unrest and a climate of uncertainty. Yet, iconoclasm is not the answer. We should take our attention away from these statues. This is misplaced anger, which we would do better to examine. It is as journalist Sean Thomas writes, "Where will this bizarre fury end, and how might it change us: as nations, cultures, peoples? "

Toppling statues represents a juvenile understanding of history

Of course, our interpretation of events and individuals change over time, but maintaining our monuments sustains the conversation between past and present. We don't need to topple statues. We need a greater understanding of how view our past and how that will inform our future.

This is a racist attack on the UK's helpless white majority

Many argue the statues debate is not really about statues. And they are correct. Talk of monuments obscures the obvious racial undertones of this attack against its white majority. What is truly alarming is just how acceptable this campaign of racial hatred has become. Protesters use the language of social justice to haul monuments of our ancestors into rivers. And to organise themselves into vigilante mobs set on removing every trace of Great British history from our streets. We have become powerless to defend them. It is as author Alexander Adams writes, "The current accusation is that white people are culpable for past slavery and live off the inherited spoils of imperialism. So, all white British people are guilty. Yet how can one demonise a group that comprises over 80 per cent of the entire population?" All lives matter, not just black lives, and using the language of race makes clear white lives are not as important as others. Proponents include the EDL and UK hard right nationalist groups.

The statues crisis typifies the rising tide of cancel culture

The statue removal movement is the latest attack from cancel culture activists. The statues are simply the latest victim to be deemed offensive since they do not conform to the exaggeratedly "woke" ideals of a violent minority that is desperate to shut down free speech.

This is the latest battleground in the West's desperate fight for moral authority

The West has been in decline for over a century. The Empire where once the sun never set, is now a tiny island nation frequently in thrall to those it ruled over. This has been a long time coming. We are now in the midst of a culture war between those who still hold an imperialist vision of Britain, and those who see it for what is now is. We are now at the climax of this battle. Removing these statues forces us all to acknowledge our struggle for Western moral and cultural authority. Hopefully, it will be the wake up call we need to adapt our current positions, and claw back what we are fast losing. Proponents include author Frank Furedi.

The fight against injustice should focus on changing the present

Focusing on redressing these past issues is ineffective. The danger posed by this current movement is in its short-sightedness. People should focus on the grave social injustices that exist today.

"Taking down the statues redresses protracted injustice"

We cannot claim to stand against racial injustice, if we make no attempt to redress it.

The crisis forces us to confront the scourge of racism

These statues send a clear message to people about their relative importance. They uphold institutional racism. Their impact on race relations is felt in the lived experience of our minority communities and seen in their lopsided poverty, police profiling, imprisonment, and abuse.

Statues should not distract us from the real issue at hand

Tearing down Coulston's image was necessary to start a long-overdue debate. Now, we need to turn those that still stand into educational tools by introducing plaques that tell the full stories of these controversial figures. Rewriting incomplete narratives benefits no one.

Statues do not offer opportunity for nuanced debate

Statues cannot give a fair look into the past - they are artwork. We cannot imagine which aspects of a person's life these monuments celebrate. If they're public, any exercise to change its role is futile. Removal of these statues is easier than expecting a politicised shift in the national psyche.

We are experiencing a long overdue political resistance

For too long, we have allowed institutional racism into our politics and society. We must create alternative routes for positive change. Taking down statues shows an emerging resistance to this problem. It's a call for action, which is the first step to reimagining an equal future.

"This crisis is an attack on the state!"

This is not a fight about history. Nor one about injustice. The battleground here is the nation, and how it is being systematically undermined by a vigilante mob. If we give in to this brutish idealism, we lose our most precious possession: Britishness.

The toppling of statues is an aggressive attack from liberal imperialism

There is a political trend amongst liberal imperialists - those who claim that nationalism is the greatest threat of the moment - to undermine their enemies. Statues are the latest victims of their attacks. Our attention should turn to the strategic value of this latest campaign. That is to strengthen the ongoing "liberal" crusade to destabilise the nation and everything it stands for. Proponents include Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The crisis is an affront to the British values we hold dear

Tolerance, free speech, and a plurality of opinion are at the heart of what it means to be British. Our long and complex national history cannot be reduced to either right or wrong. This historical illiteracy is overturning British ideals and replacing them with a wilfully ignorant culture of fear.

"We should re-imagine what these statues stand for!"

There are more productive ways to treat our statues, which neither venerate evil, nor promote a vigilante culture.

Vandalism is art

The obvious solution that stops history from being wiped out, yet highlights the wrongdoing of controversial figures, is turning them into pieces of art. The vandalism itself should be seen as a piece of performative history, in which the heroes of the past face the morality of the present.
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This page was last edited on Wednesday, 24 Jun 2020 at 11:16 UTC