Statues are symbols of remembrance and reverence. When the statues concerned depict historical figures who are praised for having orchestrated events which may be deemed offensive, the presence of statues has caused distress among members of the general public. This is primarily due to the conflict between past and actual beliefs and values deemed socially and politically correct. For this reason, many urge that such statues, which may praise slave owners or figures who have expressed racist views, are removed from public spaces such as public squares. For example, during Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, protesters unlawfully removed a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Those who are against the removal of historical statues, such as PM Boris Johnson and MP Simon Clarke, argue that their removal would seek to tamper with British history. Johnson claims that removing the statues would falsify and censor history, which would contribute to the ignorance of future generations whose understanding of Britain would be incomplete and lacking. Similarly, Clarke states that the removal of controversial statues would represent an approach to a complex British history, lacking in adequate historical perspective and context, which would negatively impact our learning and understanding. Clarke also asserts that we must take a measured and democratic approach to decide in which public spaces these monuments should be suitably displayed, if the current location of the monument, and not necessarily the statue itself, is a cause of concern.
Statues of historical figures are not history but are rather a symbol of it. They are not mediums through which we learn about and understand history, but they are mere symbols of adoration which suggest that the figure in question did great things. That said, the statues do not teach us about the content of historical events exactly but rather that the figure depicted in the work was revered and respected at some point in time. So, the removal of controversial statues would neither limit our understanding of nor falsify British history because the statues do not represent or affect the acts the historical figures carried out, but the importance and respect placed on such acts and the admiration for the figure. The removal of statues can enhance our understanding of history and forms part of history itself. Erasure of the symbols contributes to the legacy of the events, such as transatlantic slavery, that are exalted through the statues of historical figures and reflects current attitudes towards such events and societal issues such as systemic racism.
Rejecting the premises