Why do people care so much about statues?

Firstly, I would like to start by saying that the purpose of this article is to spark a discussion and the views that will be presented are my own.

We all use some type of social media and we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement has gained a lot of traction, however, the protests that have been happening have left some people (neo-Nazis and the rest of the far-right), very angry.

I would like to discuss why people want these statues taken down and what statues they want taken down. The primary reason that many people want these statues taken down is because many statues are dedicated to individuals that owned slaves or greatly benefited from the labour of slaves. This is an important discussion and it was sparked by the removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol (pictured above). For those who don’t know; Edward Colston was a slave trader and was involved with the Royal African Company, a company notorious for its role in the slave trade. 

The statues that people want removed are the statues of slave traders and notorious racists, the latter being the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, a statue that many believe to be controversial. This is because he held many racist and incorrect views of people from all across the world. He famously called Indian people, “a beastly people with a beastly religion”. 

Also, when discussing British imperialism, he said it was good for the “primitive” and “subject races”. Additionally, when discussing Australia, he stated; “I do not admit, for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to those people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, or, at any rate, a more worldly-wise race, to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” 

I am quite interested in history and I seem to recall a certain Austrian-born German dictator spouting nonsense about a master race and murdering millions and I distinctly remember reading that Churchill was involved in a war against that German dictator. I understand that the statues were erected to celebrate notable achievements made by individuals, however, it is quite concerning that people are willing to overlook racism and claims of race supremacy to give recognition to these people.

I would also like to discuss the Henry Dundas statue that has been the subject of great debate and was recently discussed by Edinburgh City council. For those that don’t know, Henry Dundas was a Scottish Advocate and later became Lord Advocate, this is the chief legal officer of Scotland and is a highly coveted position. Dundas was an important figure in politics and was instrumental in delaying the abolition of slavery. Dundas currently has a statue in St Andrew Square in New Town, Edinburgh (pictured below).

The Melville Monument | Edinburgh World Heritage

Image via Stravaiging. 

The reason this statue begs discussion is because Edinburgh City Council recently announced their plans to have a plaque on the statue to inform people about Henry Dundas and his ties to slavery. This is very important because we should not simply hide this, it should be open because much of Scotland’s wealth, at that time, came from slavery and this needs to be recognised and people need to be informed. I remember learning about Dundas when I was researching famous Scottish lawyers before commencing my legal studies and I came across Edinburgh World Heritage’s article about him and I found that particularly insightful.

I also remember attending an event where Sir Geoff Palmer was the keynote speaker, it was an event for the Scottish Ethnic Minority Lawyers’ Association (SEMLA) held in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Sir Geoff Palmer felt it was important to know the entire story about Henry Dundas and his insight into Dundas was of particular significance due to the large number of attendants that were black. Also, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Sir Geoff Palmer, he became the first black professor in Scotland in 1989. He was also involved in the panel of discussion held by Edinburgh City Council in relation to what should be written on the plaque.

Finally, I would like to comment upon the “statue defenders” in Newcastle on Saturday the 13th of June. This is an interesting one and it shows the ignorance of the far-right, as there was no need to defend the statue of Earl Grey because slavery was abolished under his government and he was responsible for a lot of reform in the United Kingdom, including the Reform Act of 1832. He championed rights for all and resigned, in protest, of George III’s stance against “Catholic Relief”.

I believe people should be educated on matters of race and that history shouldn’t be hidden, I believe plaques detailing their views should be placed on all statues. We must work together to change the institutional and systemic racism that has plagued our society and we must remember a famous quote;

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”- George Santayana (The Life of Reason: Reason in Common Sense)

By Makki Tahir

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