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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 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 do not offer opportunity for nuanced debate

Statues cannot give a fair look into the past - they are artwork. We cannot imagine which aspects of a person's life these monuments celebrate. If they're public, any exercise to change its role is futile. Removal of these statues is easier than expecting a politicised shift in the national psyche.

The Argument

People often see statues as a way to celebrate, reminiscence, and discuss historically significant people.[1] However, public statues of controversial figures – such as the British slave trader Edward Colston – lack the opportunity to discuss a person’s more substantial role in society, culture, politics, economics, history, and numerous other topics. Descriptions on statues are almost always brief, often one hundred and fifty words or less.[2] This concise of a statement does not give the reader a greater context, nor does it allow for multiple points of view. Instead, statues ought to be removed from their public domain and placed into museums and universities where curators and experts in the field can offer onlookers the opportunity for a nuanced debate about the statue.[3]

Counter arguments

When it comes to statues, context matters; statues represent an excellent way of conveying the context of a specific time and place. Rather than removing statues, we should add more around the ones that are already erected to strengthen the background and add perspective. Statues, if given the correct context, offer the opportunity for people to learn from our past.[4]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 15 Sep 2020 at 00:16 UTC

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