We’ve all seen it, petitions to take down statues, statues being torn down. Names of public buildings being changed, confederate flags being banned, sports teams changing their names, the list goes on. What this has done is divide opinion. There are those who will back these movements and are happy with the changes, and there are those who are not happy with these changes. Often those who are for the movement will cite that the particular thing being changed is offensive, while those on the other side will claim that it isn’t offensive and should be left as it is. On a side note it tends to be people with no affiliation to the race taking offense that claim that the statue, or sports team is not offensive.
I want to take some time, not to argue my point, but to look at this through another lens. I guess that is sort of arguing my point, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me. This, more than anything, is a chance for me to straighten out my thoughts on this matter.
I have recently read “How to Argue With a Racist: History, Science, Race and Reality” by Adam Rutherford. In this book he draws attention to James Watson, widely regarded as one of the fathers of DNA. He has made ground-breaking discoveries in the field of genetics. Unfortunately, these discoveries have been accompanied by completely unsubstantiated highly offensive opinions. Watson has claimed that black people are genetically less intelligent than white people, he has claimed that the people with the lowest IQs should be eradicated and that women should be allowed to abort foetuses if it is found to have a “gay gene”. More recently he has blessed us with the opinion that more women in science Is great for the men but the women are probable less effective. These views have absolutely no scientific backing and are simply dangerous. James Watson has since been stripped of many of his honours and has been disgraced.
We know the lowest temperature at which a human body will shut down and die, the effects of some poisons, the best way to treat mustard gas and the effects of hitting a person on the head with a hammer repeatedly. These findings are useful in the field of medicine. They were, however, discovered through human experiment in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Rightly so, there are no public monuments honouring the criminals that did this, however the findings are used in modern science.
The aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide saw some amazing displays of reconciliation and forgiveness. Reconciliation and forgiveness that has led to Rwanda becoming one of the fastest growing powers in Africa. Rightly so, there are no statues or monuments to those radio DJs and journalists who incited the people of Rwanda to murder their neighbours, friends and families.
Oscar Pistorious was a decorated South African athlete, he achieved a lot over his illustrious career, he became the only amputee to compete in the Olympic games in 2012. He also shot through a bathroom door 4 times, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Rightly so, despite his athletic achievements and to the best of my knowledge, there are not statues honouring Oscar Pistorius.
Edward Colston was a slaver, he is responsible for the enslavement of over 84,000 Africans, 19,000 of whom died on the voyage to Bristol. Edward Colston is described as a Philanthropist, someone who seeks to promote the welfare of others. I wonder if the 84,000 Africans he traded would have the same view. The result, of course, is that Edward Colston is enshrined in statue form (since removed).
There are now countless movements to remove statues of other colonialists, and the argument for keeping them often takes two forms. The first form is that this is deleting history. To which my response would be, we do not need statues to remember our history, and if you do, then there are going to be a lot of gaps in your historical knowledge, because there aren’t all that many statues.
The second form, and this was common around the time of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston, was to focus on the ‘accolades’ of the person depicted by the statue. Well he built hospitals and schools, the people of Bristol have a lot to be thankful for. If this is going to be our attitude, why stop there? Why not erect a statue of Oscar Pistorius or reinstate James Watson’s honours. The point is that, largely speaking, we all agree that people who tarnish their reputations or who are outright criminals should not have statues honouring them, however the friction comes because our status quo is being upset.
Unfortunately, subtle racism and insensitivity has become the status quo, it’s what we are used to. That needs to change, changing the status quo will always cause friction and animosity, but it needs to be done.