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

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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Statues should not distract us from the real issue at hand

The statues symbolise injustice. The tearing down of Coulston's image was important, and necessary to open up a long overdue debate. We should now turn our attention to finding ways to turn those that still stand, into educational tools. There are more effective ways to do this than going from plinth to plinth dismantling past heroes. The purpose of statues is to educate. We must change the narrative around how these are perceived, by introducing plaques that tell the full stories of these controversial figures. History is valuable when it is full. Not when it is wiped out. We must not lose sight of this, and instead move towards enriching what we know. Rewriting incomplete narratives benefits no one. Proponents include Guardian columnist Martin Kettle and historian David Olusoga.
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    This page was last edited on Tuesday, 23 Jun 2020 at 14:44 UTC