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How do we think about taking down controversial statues in the UK? Show more Show less
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In June 2020 protestors circulated a hit list of controversial UK statues to be taken down. These included Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Robert Baden-Powell. Campaigners say these statues must be ripped down because they contribute to racialised systemic violence. In turn, this trickles down into every facet of public life and subordinates ethnic minorities. On the other side, groups made up of mostly far right activists say this is deeply offensive. They see this lobby as a violent mob that have been undeservedly handed a mandate to whitewash UK history. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

We should approach the statues issue with caution Show more Show less

This group believes that there are other ways to look at this debate. They are neither in favour of tearing them all down, or defending them till the death. They see the issue as symptomatic of wider concerns the we should address. Proponents include free speech activists, left wing historians such as David Olusoga and the moderate press.
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Our approach to storytelling UK statues is flawed

The statues are not the issue. Flawed storytelling about the UK's complex past means we unquestionably memorialise the accomplishments of historical figures. Our storytelling should show balance by also taking into account any injustices that may have transpired.

The Argument

Evidence suggests that the statues themselves are not the issue. It is the selective myth associated with memorable figures, which allows us to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses.[1] For example, slave trader Edward Colston's statue was erected almost 170 years after his death in commendation of his philanthropy and status as a virtuous man in Bristol. His plaque has never been updated to include that he made his wealth as part of the Royal African Company.[2] Colston played a huge part in shipping 80,000 men, women, and children from Africa to America to be sold as slaves, with a further loss of the lives of 20,000 people who died en route.[3] There is a call for better education in the UK's national curriculum to stop teaching whitewashed views of history.[4] There is also an argument that statues may remain if their plaques are truthful in teaching the horrors and the honours committed during the memorable figures' lifetime.[5] This means the issues of taking down statues must be approached with caution. One solution is to engage in public debate to create a more balanced narrative in our storytelling of historical events.[6] This opens up discourse for a better understanding of how the past, and the people we memorialise, impact the present day.

Counter arguments

Statues of controversial figures must be removed from public spaces. In removing these statues, we help eradicate the link between contemporary racism and racism rooted in historical colonialism. Society has a systemic problem of whitewashing history, which is further perpetuated by the celebration of racist statues. [7] The slave trade and other contentious parts of history can be remembered without memorialising and venerating the perpetrators of the crimes.[8]

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/11/obsessing-over-statues-obscures-the-real-problem-britains-delusion-about-its-past
  2. https://theconversation.com/edward-colston-statue-toppled-how-bristol-came-to-see-the-slave-trader-as-a-hero-and-philanthropist-140271
  3. https://twitter.com/Keir_Starmer/status/1269949806463668224
  4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sadiq-khan-statues-london-diversity-edward-colston-black-lives-matter-a9555941.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/26/statues-were-not-erected-to-teach-us-history-but-to-exert-power
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/11/obsessing-over-statues-obscures-the-real-problem-britains-delusion-about-its-past
  7. https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/news-room/press-releases/robert-milligan-statue-statement
  8. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/edward-colston-statue-bristol-slavery-robert-milligan-tower-hamlets-a9555846.html

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This page was last edited on Saturday, 3 Oct 2020 at 01:04 UTC

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