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< Back to question How do we think about taking down controversial statues in the UK? Show more Show less

In June 2020 protestors circulated a hit list of controversial UK statues to be taken down. These included Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Robert Baden-Powell. Campaigners say these statues must be ripped down because they contribute to racialised systemic violence. In turn, this trickles down into every facet of public life and subordinates ethnic minorities. On the other side, groups made up of mostly far right activists say this is deeply offensive. They see this lobby as a violent mob that have been undeservedly handed a mandate to whitewash UK history. So, who are these groups, what do they think, and why?

We should approach the statues issue with caution Show more Show less

This group believes that there are other ways to look at this debate. They are neither in favour of tearing them all down, or defending them till the death. They see the issue as symptomatic of wider concerns the we should address. Proponents include free speech activists, left wing historians such as David Olusoga and the moderate press.
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We should find ways to give more context to these controversial statues in the UK

We should hesitate before taking drastic action, and see this debate as an opportunity to enrich - not destroy - our understanding of the past.
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The Argument

We should find ways to give more context to these statues as they convey important histories. This argument rests on the assumption that these statues were created as previous products of history and instead of being destroyed by mob or condemned entirely in the modern moment, should be re-evaluated. Following similar debates in the United States and worldwide, the UK is now reckoning with the future of hundreds of statues and monuments. Some protestors have already taken action. However, heritage such as this can be reconfigured to take into account all sides of history and be inclusive of truth retellings. [1] This is viewed as preferable on the basis of if the monuments are removed, the context of history is being eliminated as well.[2] Allowing people to destroy historical structures like statues creates an increasingly difficult situation for the future and how we interpret the past. From here, a harmful cycle could evolve where society would permit the destruction of anything deemed "harmful" made in the past. There are multiple solutions proposed in how context might be given to these kinds of statues. For example, by re-interpreting the location of current monuments into a kind of "graveyard" for these statues or by rewriting their plaques, we could give valuable context to these statues.[3] It would be beneficial to increase the number of statues that are more diverse, respectable figures by modern standings.

Counter arguments

On the other hand, the historical significance of these figures and their statues or monuments is made irrelevant by the context in which they were erected.[4] For instance, if a statue exists because of the wealth of an individual (i.e. Cecil Rhodes) or because of their contribution to the slave trade (i.e. Edward Colston) it does not matter how they factor into a modern narrative.[5] As such, caution is not always necessary, and neither is context.


Rejecting the premises



This page was last edited on Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020 at 09:16 UTC

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