argument top image

What is the intellectual framing of the UK statues debate? Show more Show less
Back to question

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.
< (2 of 4) Next position >

Statues should not distract us from the real issue at hand

Tearing down Coulston's image was necessary to start a long-overdue debate. Now, we need to turn those that still stand into educational tools by introducing plaques that tell the full stories of these controversial figures. Rewriting incomplete narratives benefits no one.

The Argument

Taking down statues of controversial historical figures is justified and necessary. However, the act of taking down these statues ought not to distract from the issues of racial injustice. The debate must not become a binary choice of either fighting to take down statues or a national discussion of racism. Both problems ought to be tackled simultaneously, and letting the controversy over statues get in the way of fighting for racial justice would be a mistake.[1] This would allow injustices to continue even while statues topple. Statues are merely a symptom of the disease itself. To lose focus on the larger problem is an error. “Britain is a very divided country on class, culture, and other grounds. We thus react to the inherited celebrations of British greatness either by embracing or by rejecting them, but always too emphatically. Events such as the toppling of the Colston statue do not solve this divide.”[2]

Counter arguments

There is an old saying, “we can walk and chew gum at the same time.” That is the mentality that people must adopt when fighting for racial and social justice. Taking down statues does not mean that we will stop fighting against racial injustices. Whenever critics point to the toppling of statues as mob activity or anti-democratic, we must explain the justified reasons for taking down said statues while reiterating the need to push for fundamental legislative changes. Statues only distract from the real issues at hand if we allow them to.



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 15 Sep 2020 at 01:05 UTC

Explore related arguments