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 have every right to take the statues down
This group believes that tearing down statues is an important method at redressing systemic racial inequality. Proponents include Black Lives Matter, and left wing, British commentators such as Namitha Aravind.
The statues sustain structural oppression
To break free from the system of oppression, we must stop celebrating the statues of racist figures in the slave trade and put an end to whitewashing the cruel acts that earned them their glory.
We do not put up statues to denigrate, but to celebrate. As society progresses, our definition of what is morally acceptable changes. Celebrating statues of people associated with evil acts create a narrative unfitting of 21st-century values.
This is the revolutionary resistance we have been waiting for
Recent acts of statue toppling represent an eruption of dissent against institutional racism. But this paradigm shift is hardly unprecedented- it’s been years in the making. When decades of peaceful protests fail to stir action within the government, revolutionary acts must take their place.
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.
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.
The statues are not the issue. Flawed storytelling about the UK's complex past means we unquestionably memorialise the accomplishments of historical figures. Our storytelling should show balance by also taking into account any injustices that may have transpired.