Eeek, I now find myself on the same side as the far Right, htf did that happen? My saving grace is that my desire to preserve statues and landmarks comes from an entirely different perspective. I see them as educational, what school child hasn't stood in awe at the granite manifestation of the dreary old Admiral they were forced to read about. Times have changed, so too have our heroes. The dark sides of most of the characters immortalised in marble and granite are now widely known, this generation know that much of what these 'heroes' did was wrong. They are not idolised, they are warnings from the past, if we can no longer see them, isn't there a danger their evil deeds will also be forgotten?
The Far Right of course, are posturing, they went to London today for a fight but unfortunately for them, the peaceful marchers of Black Lives Matter, had the day off. Now hyped up on cans of lager they are fighting with the police and urinating on the landmarks they had sworn to protect. For them, this not about preserving art and history, it is about hyping up the symbolism these statues represent. The Cenotaph represents the fallen of World Wars I and II, all those who died fighting Nazism. What do they think their hero Winston Churchill, would make of their salutes to his enemy Hitler in front of the Cenotaph? Perhaps they don't know Churchill had a 'V' for victory sign and that the antifascists won. The sorrow lies in the fact that most of those marching in London today, have no idea what they are defending.
My hope, more of a prayer right now, is that the character of London is never changed, that all those wonderful old buildings and statues remain as they are. Our history is rich with characters both good and bad and we have always acknowledged, accepted and learned from that. Erasing those characters who were bad simply takes away chunks from the bigger story and allows their atrocities to be too easily forgotten.
What a shame police brutality and Black Lives Matter, has now become 'the Battle of the Statues' and that removing statues and renaming streets and universities has now become the central issue. We should be talking about the massive reform needed within the police and the entire dominant ideology that allows police brutality towards people of colour to exist.
The battle of the statues and the street names can wait another day, it's waited hundreds of years thus far and there are far more pressing matters. People are out in their millions all over the world because society will no longer turn a blind eye to black men and women being killed and assaulted by the police. That's the issue, let's stay focused.
Like a lot of people, I too chuckled, as the statue of Edward Colston was thrown in the river where he docked his slave ships. It was symbolic, it was the physical manifestation of our shared hatred of his despicable trade. Around that time I shared a tweet from a guy who said, school children learned more about Edward Colston and the slave trade with that one act, than from an history lesson. Indeed.
But after that I started to panic, because now all historic figures and landmarks are under threat, so too, I assume, all forms of Art, they have even withdrawn 'Little Britain' and 'Gone with the Wind' will also soon be cleaned up. Will 2020 be the '1984' George Orwell warned us about. Is history about to be erased? Will those visiting London find that the 'Sights' have gone because the statues of those who expanded the empire did so by colonising and suppressing other nations. Maybe it will begin with Queen Victoria.
I would ask, how can destroying history, ever be a good thing? I am not talking about the destruction of statues by angry mobs, but the removal of statues and renaming of streets by local authorities without any discussion with the people they represent. It feels like an authoritarian move, even though it is supposedly on the part of the good guys.
As I explained a few days ago. Statues are often the target during marches and protests, because they represent the 'Institution', the ideology of the ruling classes. They represent a time when the elite chose our heroes for us, usually regal, military or political. True most of them do not represent heroes in the moral and humanitarian sense, but they represent a country's history, warts and all. Most of us are sophisticated enough to form our own opinions on those characters from history, we might despise what some of them represent, but they are constant reminder of our past. They are a learning tool, Oliver Cromwell becomes far more interesting when you look at his elevated statue outside Parliament. He was the scourge of the Irish, ergo offensive, but are his atrocities more likely to be forgotten if his statue is removed, than if it remained with a placard giving a potted history?
It is only now, whilst the whole world appears to be marching, that attention has turned to these relics of the past. Statues we have walked past and streets we have walked on for centuries, now represent the hated colonialism of our past. Are we the first 'woke' generation to see this? Why here, why now? Swallows blue pill. I'm scared. Where will it end? This mass worldwide 'Movement' has become so large that they are taking power, and not necessarily the sane ones. Like the #MeToo movement, it's either opt in, or be a monster. The entertainment industry and the celebrities are already rushing to distance themselves from anything that could be perceived as racist, from the past.
Erasing history is where I part company with the far Left. I simply cannot get on board with this culture of being offended. Who decided we should all now be offended by statues and landmarks? And how will tearing them down make anyone feel any better? If the bad guys are forgotten, won't the things they did be forgotten too? Isn't the history of what they did an incentive to make sure it never happens again? History is one of those 'it is as it is' subjects, it can't be changed, but we can learn from it. Edward Colston for example, has probably been one of the most googled names this week, ergo thousands of people, some for the first time, learned about the slave trade in England. That's a good thing.
Whilst they have the power, the movement should focus on things that can be changed right here and right now, institutional racism and police brutality. The public are no longer willing to tolerate it or turn a blind eye, particularly in the USA where gun violence from the police takes so many black lives. Finally, the power of the masses when they unite is beginning to mean something. And the fact that they are uniting in the middle of a pandemic shows the strength of feeling. Trump won't 'give in' to people power, so will probably spend the rest of his presidency under siege if he can't start a Civil War but Biden is listening, and big changes will come. When historians look back on 2020, let's hope the worldwide marches will mark the year the people said no to racism, and not the year history started to be erased.