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< Back to question How do we think about taking down controversial statues in the UK? Show more Show less

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 have every right to take the statues down Show more Show less

This group believes that tearing down statues is an important method at redressing systemic racial inequality. Proponents include Black Lives Matter, and left wing, British commentators such as Namitha Aravind.
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The controversial statues celebrate evil acts

Statues - by virtue of memorialising perpetrators of evil - celebrate their deeds.
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Proponents


The Argument

Statues are symbols of remembrance and reverence. When the statues concerned depict historical figures who are praised for having orchestrated events that 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 beliefs and values deemed socially and politically correct in the past as opposed to the current day. 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. What underpins this argument is the belief that statues celebrate historical figures, in that they suggest the figure in question has done noteworthy things and made a significant, and positive, contribution to society. Concerning controversial statues in the U.K., there are many cases in which the depicted individual has been instrumental in facilitating the slave trade and encouraging racist and white supremacist dialogue. These figures have essentially built their wealth, influence, and legacy by discriminating against and violating the human rights of ethnic minorities. Aravind argues that these unacceptable acts, as well as acceptable ones, are praised as a result of glorifying the historical figure through a statue. This is because the symbolic monument itself cannot distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, thus it represents a complex history in which we are unable to reflect on the intricacies of their actions.[1] Having said that, to celebrate an evil act such as slavery would be morally incorrect. So, the removal of controversial statues is justified. This erasure reflects society’s acknowledgement and disapproval of the wrongdoings carried out by these historical figures.[2]

Counter arguments

The idea that these statues are praising slavery interests is flawed, given that the commemorators, those who decided to erect the statue, did not intend to glorify the negative acts. The focal point of the statue is the figure’s overall positive contributions to society, so the statues do not celebrate evil acts but rather acts which helped and furthered society. That said, the removal of the statues is unjust. Moreover, slavery was not deemed an evil act during the late seventeenth century. While it may be that we view it as evil and unjust given our belief system today, the historical figures could not have conceived of it in the same way due to a generational difference of morality.[3] Slavery, and what we would call white supremacist narratives, were very much normalised and commonplace. So, the statues do not celebrate evil acts because at their time of erection, slavery was not widely viewed as immoral. As a result, the removal of statues is not just.

Premises

Rejecting the premises


References

  1. https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/22/statues-historical-figures-must-come-12885575/
  2. https://www.academia.edu/40121871/Should_slaverys_statues_be_removed_On_transitional_justice_and_contested_heritage?auto=download
  3. https://academic.oup.com/hwj/article/64/1/162/600955#9894521

This page was last edited on Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020 at 09:19 UTC

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