Throughout history, statues have been used to commemorate, remember, or tell stories about people or events with significant historical or cultural meaning.
But throughout history, they have also been used to sustain structural oppression, and history has fallen victim to whitewashing.
During the June 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the UK, two significant statues came under attack from demonstrators who have been attempting to put an end to systemic racism. Demonstrators in Bristol tied a rope around the 125-year old statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston and toppled it into Bristol Harbour.
Colston’s statue was erected to celebrate his philanthropy and charitable donations to his home town of Bristol.
But much of Colston’s wealth came from his position within the Royal African Company, who shipped 80,000 men, women, and children from Africa to America to be sold as slaves.
Structural oppression is sustained when we glorify philanthropic racist figures and ignore the injustices of how they gained their wealth.
On the same day, the owner of 526 slaves, Robert Milligan’s statue was crane lifted from its plinth outside the Museum of London Docklands in rebellion of his crimes against humanity.
This marked another successful attempt to decolonise spaces where colonisation was being promoted and push back against systemic racism.
Removing racist statues from public spaces eradicates the links between contemporary racism and racism rooted in historical colonialism. For some, there is no need to celebrate statues of the perpetrators of the slave trade.
Instead, there is a call for action to replace racist statues with other prominent figures. These figures must reflect the UK’s modern and underrepresented multicultural society to move away from celebrating statues that are symbolic of systemic racism and structural oppression.