Exorcising Haunted Monuments

Colonial monuments across the world cast insidious shadows of histories past across town squares and city streets that have since become melting pots of cultures and ideas. As of late these monuments standing proud in the peripherals of public consciousness, as they enjoy their lunch break, have become subject to vandalism, removal and an important discussion. How do we overcome complacency and our biased education in order to dismantle the white washed historical narrative that has permeated our collective memory and caused systemic oppression to Black people around the globe?

The narrative on colonialism we are taught throughout school, in media and our wider environment is designed. It is designed as much as any other governmental institution (ie. prisons, universities, museums, archives, etc.) that exert state control. This modern narrative stems around the time of the expansion of the British empire and colonial rule, aligning with the Enlightenment Era. Wealthy and predominantly white businessmen and philanthropists collected various ‘exotic’ pillaged treasures from the ‘new world’ and displayed them in curiosity cabinets; curated, designed and fetishised to impress other wealthy white men and applaud the cultural and scientific progression of the Western world at the expense and exploitation of civilisations and cultures that were ‘othered’.

With this in mind, we can argue that the legacy of these monuments were built to maintain and perpetuate this idea of revolutionary legacy and cultural progression, an ideal many anti – protest groups have rallied under to protect the integrity of these monuments. We saw similar and violent anxieties arising during the migrant crisis (2014) with an increase in racial hate crime. This white anxiety arises from a fear of being forgotten or losing a sense of security and safety within a society that was built for and around us (white people).

We cannot however forget the ‘alternate’ history that this progress was carried on the back of Black labour and exploitation. To disregard this narrative and relegate it as a past ‘mistake’, we absolve all individual and state responsibility, and ultimately erase the credibility and collective experience of Black people. The irony of the matter is the fear of ‘forgetting’ history through monument removal is exactly what is happening on a wider, and ultimately more harmful systemic scale.

A colonial spectre haunts the UK unable to find a final resting place in the dusty archives of our society. The state and the archive live in paradox, the state attempts to repress and control these archived narratives while the archival evidence of colonial spectres ultimately lead to the unravelling of state control when they are not ‘exorcised’. We can see then remnants of this colonial past appearing time and time again, manifesting through our collective conscious until adequate education and discussion is undertaken from every voice. We must address the web of racist structures and reflect on our own complicit value structures that we have been taught and continue to perpetuate.

By Emma Harvey

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