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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 the statues down is an 'iconoclasm of the Woke!'" Show more Show less

We should not celebrate the destruction of our history. Taking this approach is reductive. Blaming statues for perceived "injustice" is unproductive.
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The statues crisis typifies the rising tide of cancel culture

The statue removal movement is the latest attack from cancel culture activists. The statues are simply the latest victim to be deemed offensive since they do not conform to the exaggeratedly "woke" ideals of a violent minority that is desperate to shut down free speech.

The Argument

The removal of monuments for Robert E. Lee and the Juan de Oñate, who most people acknowledge as having been unequivocally on the wrong side of history, is not the problem. The problem is with the mob mentality that has gone on to encompass everything any historical figure has done as either being racist or anti-racist, sexist or anti-sexist, problematic or empowering. Nothing that figures like Edward Colston or Cecil Rhodes did should ever be worthy of celebration because of the few bad spots on their record that we disapprove of in retrospect. This is oddly reminiscent of the cancel culture that has also been recently rising among the same group of liberals, where social media users either adequately fit the standards of internet wokeness or are banished to the abyss of cancellation forever. The problem with this is the false black-and-white dichotomy that has been forced onto people and forced onto our interpretation of history. Progressives should understand that not being a good person does not make you a bad one and that historical figures, just like modern people, can do bad things to some while doing great to others.[1] Cecil Rhodes, for example, was a ruthless imperialist. Yet, at the same time, the scholarship established under his name has helped many students who otherwise might not have been able to afford it to study at one of the top educational institutions in the world. Surely, a man whose last imprint on the world was to leave his wealth to a scholarship meant to promote fellowship among humankind and to "render war impossible" is more nuanced than simply the atrocious human being whose statue must be slaughtered by the mob.[2]

Counter arguments

There is nothing black and white about slave traders, colonizers, and segregationists, and even if there was, the black of their legacy should far outweigh the white. There is a mob mentality against these statues right now because the crowd is angry, and they have every right to be angry. Edward Colston sold 100,000 West Africans into slavery, and it doesn't matter who he gave his fortune to, making money off of someone else's freedom is plunder in its cruelest form.[3] Cecil Rhodes pushed the British Empire to colonize many parts of Africa to profit his businesses and was an outspoken white supremacist who believed that the British should rule the world simply because being British made you superior to everyone else.[4] Criticizers of the statue movement tend to simply throw around the phrase "cancel culture" without actually explaining why it is so bad. The cancel culture around statues has generated discussion that uncovered the dark and cruel legacies of figures that society has worshipped throughout history and finally gave silenced minorities a moment of truth against their oppressors. It doesn't matter whether something typifies cancel culture if it helps people.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] The rejection of historical figures is unfair because bad actions shouldn't represent someone's entire legacy. [P2] Historical figures are only being rejected because of the mob mentality of cancel culture, where people gang up on targets who have been canceled without actually discussing the nuances.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] The people who have gotten their statues torn down have not just done "bad" things. They've ruined other people's lives and should not be celebrated. [Rejecting P2] There is nothing wrong with cancel culture if the mob supports the right thing.

References

  1. https://wjla.com/news/nation-world/as-monuments-come-down-some-say-cancel-culture-is-accelerating
  2. https://www.rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk/scholarships/the-rhodes-scholarship/
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/08/who-was-edward-colston-and-why-was-his-bristol-statue-toppled-slave-trader-black-lives-matter-protests
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/09/uk/cecil-rhodes-protest-oxford-intl/index.html
This page was last edited on Thursday, 17 Sep 2020 at 19:27 UTC

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