Those of you who follow my blogs will have read last week’s in relation to the death of George Floyd. Feedback that I received following that post would certainly seem to indicate that I did not ‘miss the mark’ in terms of my opinion. I stand by every word of what I said. I did not post it to somehow ingratiate myself with black people or so that I can justify posting with the hashtag (#blacklivesmatter).
No, rather I stand by it because, even in the few days since that blog post , issues and events around the globe (and certainly in the UK) have escalated dramatically. But I cannot agree with everything that has happened by way of escalation. Protests are absolutely acceptable – in fact they are to be encouraged. As a young law student in the late 80s and early 90s, I protested about the introduction of the ‘poll tax’, marching, somewhat militantly through Glasgow City Centre, shouting myself hoarse and venting my fury at Thatcher and her administration. But, furious as I and the rest of us (the estimate was that some 50,000 participated that day) were, we demonstrated peacefully and without incident. Later, in London, over 300 were arrested with some 110 people injured, many of whom were police officers. I shall not comment further on that.
What I witnessed yesterday in London and certainly in Bristol was not ‘protesting’. Mob rule overtook any feeling of angst and a statue that has stood for well over a century in Bristol was pulled to the ground and dumped into the docks. Granted , the statue has long divided opinion in the city but it was clear to anyone who watched the social media coverage that these were not ‘protesters’ – these were individuals who capitalised on an opportunity to somehow legitimise being engaged in criminal activity. It is difficult to call it anything else, irrespective of feeling.
My blog from last week will show you my own feelings of abhorrence at how much racial inequality is still rife across the globe. Of course I do not ‘know’ how it feels to be the victim of racial inequality, discrimination or abuse – I would not wish to patronise anyone that does, but I can empathise with their plight.
For the record and this is important, I see no reason for the statue of Edward Colston to have been there. Statues memorialise individuals and many of the figures across the world who have statues (including here in my own city of Glasgow) have two sides to their ‘life story’. They have done some great things and they have done some terrible things. With Colston ( whose legacy permeates extraordinarily Bristolian life) he appears to be unique in that he has no redeeming features at all. He ran the Royal African Company, the most infamous and prolific slave trading company in British history. It is suggested that he may have been responsible for somewhere in the region of 30,000 deaths in relation to the slave trade and yet he has a school named after him, countless street names bear his name and, of course there is, sorry was, a statue in the town. Why..?? Because he gave lots of money to the town (where he was born but never lived). There appears to be no mitigating factor about this guy whatsoever. He wanted to ‘leave a legacy’ and, given that he died around 300 years ago, he has certainly done that.
With that backdrop, it is perhaps not surprising that feelings ran high yesterday. But statues are not about remembering history – they are designed to commemorate an individual and effectively that it indicates somebody that we should revere. And there is nothing to revere about Colston. His statue perhaps belongs in a museum so that we can learn and never repeat.
I see also that the statue of Churchill was daubed with some graffiti in London, referring to him as a racist. He actually did have some pretty racist views ( as did many at that time) – but was anti-fascist. He was also fiercely anti-communist but at the same time formed a slightly bizarre and uncomfortable affinity with Stalin. He was notoriously contradictory in many aspects of his political views. And you know what..?? That is fine. Criticise him. Blog about him negatively. Slag him off if you feel the need, but don’t resort to sheer unadulterated criminality.
The scenario in which we are now faced with is highly complex. This is not going to be resolved by up to 4 Minnesota police officers being jailed. Or the removal of a statue. It will be a long, long process that will take a generation before it truly sinks in. Education aimed at WHY this is wrong has to come before any other action.
Thuggery, criminality and lawlessness, all driven by mob rule, will accomplish nothing.