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What is the intellectual framing of the UK statues debate? Show more Show less
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In June 2020 Bristol protestors rioting against the murder of George Floyd tore down a statue of Edward Colston. Having hauled it from its plinth, they eventually abandoned the statue in the city's harbour. Hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch, viewing this as a momentous step in the fight against racism. Colston is known as the man who built Bristol. He bequeathed his enormous fortune to the city upon his death. 300 years on, the scale of his legacy is visceral in Bristol's landmarks and architecture, and the names of its schools, concert halls, streets, restaurants, pubs and cathedral. Yet, his fortune was built on slavery, leading many to argue that the statue props up institutional racism in the UK. Since Colston's toppling, activists have circulated lists of hundreds more controversial statues they say must be removed to end racial inequality. Others call this type of campaigning problematic. They view the destruction of monuments as historical whitewashing. For them, this trend is an affront to British history that does not confront the real issues at play. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

"Taking down the statues redresses protracted injustice" Show more Show less

We cannot claim to stand against racial injustice, if we make no attempt to redress it.
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We are experiencing a long overdue political resistance

For too long, we have allowed institutional racism into our politics and society. We must create alternative routes for positive change. Taking down statues shows an emerging resistance to this problem. It's a call for action, which is the first step to reimagining an equal future.

Context

In the summer of 2020, the statue of Edward Colston (a British slave trader) was toppled in the city of Bristol.

The Argument

For many years, British people (and people all over the world) have fought for racial and social justice. In the 2010s, the people of Bristol petitioned for the removal of the Colston statue, but their request fell on deaf ears.[1] In June of 2020, protestors forcibly removed the statue. This act was a sign of overdue political resistance to the lack of change in the United Kingdom. Statues are public art that often depicts a historical figure. Yet far too often, these statues do not convey a person’s full story. Colston became a local hero in Bristol as people overlooked his questionable past as a slave trader. Colston day and Colston buns are features in the city.[2] However, as people began to look into their town’s history, they realized their celebration for questionable people might be unjust. Britain, like the United States, is ill-adept at coping with its history of slavery and colonialism.[3] The removal of statues is a sign of a long-overdue political resistance.

Counter arguments

Toppling statues does not exhibit effective political resistance. Removing historical figures does not change history. If people want political change, they ought to go about it democratically. British Prime Minister also noted the criminality of these acts of vandalism – political resistance can’t work from behind bars.[2] People need to engage in political resistance on issues that are more than symbolic. They need to use their vote to make changes.

Proponents

Premises

Rejecting the premises

References

  1. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minneapolis-police-protests-britain-s/toppling-of-uk-statue-fuels-debate-on-monuments-to-slave-traders-idUSKBN23F2FD
  2. https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-the-uk/how-statues-in-britain-began-to-fall
  3. https://www.vogue.com/article/marc-quinn-jen-reid-black-lives-matter-statue-bristol
This page was last edited on Tuesday, 15 Sep 2020 at 00:33 UTC

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