I am firmly on the side of the Bristol educators, agitators and organisers who together combined on Saturday to achieve in sixty minutes of action what years of flowery and mealy-mouthed words could not.
An offensive symbol of brutal and inhumane slavery was torn from its plinth in an act of cultural enlightenment which was long overdue. The Black Lives Matter demonstration in the city made a statement which will go down in history as a progressive blow against the continued honouring of the dishonourable and the concealment of real British history which reeks from head to toe with the stench of brutal slaughter, bloody oppression and greedy plunder and theft.
The Edward Colston statue was erected on Bristol Harbour in 1895 to honour a man who enriched himself on the human misery of the slave trade. A man who organised the transportation of up to 100,000 human beings for sale and profit in the era of slavery upon which the British Empire itself was built.
Thousands perished from starvation and disease during the long journeys from the British conquered colonies while others, predominantly woman and children, were thrown overboard to the glee of the following sharks when problems of speed and overloading were encountered.
Colston becomes so rich from his trade in human flesh he was able to throw some baubles into the city pot for the erection of schools and other public buildings. One of the main performance halls in the city was named after him even though his money did not pay for it. In the heady days of British Empire building, the mere mistreatment of thousands of human beings and bearing responsibility for their early deaths or sale into years of wretched slavery was no barrier to being revered and celebrated.
Those ignorant of his slave-trading ways were fooled by his wealth. Those who knew of it but lauded him anyway were pathetic individuals.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words in Anti-Racist Struggle
After years of campaigns and a physical boycott by local Bristolians and principled musicians like Massive Attack the decision was taken in 2017 to rename the Colston Hall as a statement of opposition to links with the rich slave-trader.
You won’t be surprised to learn that the decision caused uproar amongst local Conservatives who insisted it was only do-gooders and the ‘Politically Correct’ brigade who objected to the name-link to the vilest practice in human history:
“However, the former Bristol Conservative leader Richard Eddy, called the move ‘an abject betrayal of the history and people of Bristol and a complete surrender to the forces of historically illiterate political correctness” and called for a new boycott.”
The argument that such statues are necessary links with heritage and history is sterile and ignorant. Sure, context is everything in life and in Colston’s day human slavery was legal and widespread.
So was the practice of children working in coal mines, cotton factories and in the cleaning of chimneys. It happened and should be recorded for the purposes of education and historical accuracy in books and museum exhibitions but it was wrong and to celebrate such individuals with statues of honour is insulting to the many thousands who suffered and perished.
The local council and others discussed rectifying that wrong for many years. The BLM protesters addressed the injustice in a well organised and well-executed manoeuvre in less than sixty minutes.
No one was harmed in the removal of the Edward Colston statue. No violence was threatened or perpetrated. The will of the people was expressed in the ceremony and it is absolutely fitting that the damaged and defaced tribute to the slave-trading profiteer now lies in the very water many of the slaves he traded would have met their deaths in during the cruel and obscene trade.
In 1807, the slave trade was finally abolished, but this did not free those who were already slaves. It was not until 1833 that an act was passed giving freedom to all slaves in the British Empire.
Several million was paid in compensation to former slave owners but not a penny was paid to the slaves.
‘Whataboutery’ is Ignorance Wrapped in Embarrassed Racism
Over the weekend several million people gathered across the world to proclaim their solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The lickspittles of the Establishment within the media would have us concentrate on the minority of violent confrontations which occurred while the unconscious and embarrassed racists whine with ‘whataboutery’ statements in whatever outlets available to them.
What about the violence of demonstrators throwing missiles? What about the injuries of white police officers? What about violent attacks by black men against white men? What about white lives? This ‘whataboutery’ is the refuge of the sly racists, the ‘I’m not racist but…’ brigade.
A powerful placard was held by a small black child and the message it conveyed should shame all those who seek to sow confusion and division rather than stand on the side of justice and right at this crucial time:
- WE SAID – BLACK LIVES MATTER
- NEVER SAID – ONLY BLACK LIVES MATTER
- WE KNOW – ALL LIVES MATTER
- WE JUST NEED YOUR HELP
- WITH #BLACKLIVESMATTER
- FOR BLACK LIVES are IN DANGER!
George Floyd was not the first unarmed black man to be murdered by the police in America. He is one of many in a list of several thousand but the circumstances of the slaying and circulation of the footage has sparked outrage and a human tsunami of solidarity with the man and the cause of anti-racism which his death has spurred.
The term ‘Enough is Enough’ is often overused but in the current protests, the march of history is relentless in its desire to effect real and lasting change.
Those who seek to abuse the name of Martin Luther King in condemning violence at anti-racist events are either ignorant of the history of the Civil Rights Movement he led or wilfully misrepresenting him.
MLK never advocated violence but he refused to condemn it in the face of the much more extensive, brutal, systemic and unjustified state violence which underpinned the racism he opposed. The fact he was cut down by a violent act speaks volumes as to the nature of the racism he bravely confronted.
I checked a few of the Facebook and Twitter accounts of the ‘whataboutery’ brigade on social media and the absence of any ‘All Lives Matter’ posts when the dead bodies of men, women and children were swept onto beaches in Turkey in 2016 are conspicuous by their absence.
Today in America men and women are literally in danger of being killed by police officers because of the colour of their skin. Black men and women are proportionately more likely to be killed in police custody, experience discrimination in the pursuit of jobs, be locked up by the criminal justice system, be in low paid and insecure jobs and suffer more from illnesses like Covid19.
That is racism pure and simple. The extent may not be as acutely obvious in the UK but it is a matter of fact nonetheless. Those who are taking to the streets to protest racism in the US, UK and around the world are the future. Those condemning them on TV screens and behind keyboards are the past.
Churchill and Astor Were Racists – Their Statues Are Dishonourable
Many have expressed outrage at the defacing of the Winston Churchill statue with the addition of the words “was a racist” underneath his name. Why the outrage at the addition of the accurate description instead of outrage at how he is portrayed every day in the media and schools? He was a racist. He was a bigot. He was virulently anti-Irish and anti-worker. He is outrageously portrayed as a hero and honourable figure in the same vein that Britain’s history of bloody brutality is hidden.
The British Empire was the first to pioneer the use of concentration camps during the Boer war. The British Empire caused the Bengal Famine of 1943 with the loss of 4 million lives and was responsible for the Irish Famine of 1846-50 which led to the loss of one million Irish lives.
The partition of India led to the loss of one million lives and the displacement of ten million others. Britain’s flag is soaked in the blood of millions who were slaughtered, enslaved and starved to death in the pursuit of greater riches and wealth for the Empire.
It is referred to as the Butcher’s Apron by many, particularly those who have studied its history.
The hypocrisy which pollutes British society is graphically illustrated by the howls of disgust which greeted the daubing of anti-war slogans on the Cenotaph in London erected as a memorial to the fallen dead during the two world wars, while last November the unveiling of a statue to a Nazi sympathiser, prominent anti-Semite and privilege laden woman who said Adolf Hitler was “a welcome solution to the world problem of Jews” and told a room full of African Americans that they should be “grateful for slavery” was greeted with pomp and tributes.
Lady Nancy Astor may have been the first woman to enter the Houses of Parliament in 1919 but her life of inherited privilege and virulent anti-Semitism makes her fit for only a dark corner in a large museum, not a public statue of honour in Plymouth.
Her being honoured epitomises the racism which courses through the veins of the UK Establishment.
Honour Those Who Merit Being Honoured
It is an inconvenient truth for the British government that the first woman elected to Parliament was the Irish republican freedom fighter, Constance Markievicz, who had played a leading role in the 1916-armed uprising in Dublin against British rule.
Although the uprising was suppressed within days, its provisional government had at once declared equal voting rights for women –a measure the British government had bitterly resisted. After her election in 1918, Markievicz, an active supporter of women’s suffrage, refused to legitimise British rule and did not take her seat in the imperial Parliament.
If a statue celebrating the struggle of women to be represented in Parliament is merited it should have been to Constance Markievicz, not Lady Astor.
The Edward Colston statue should remain at the bottom of Bristol Harbour. That is where it belongs. Several other statues to murderers, bigots, racists and slave trading Barons and Lords remain in prominent positions across the UK. Scotland even has a statue to the butcher of the Highlands the Duke of Sutherland who played a despicable role in evicting, burning and murdering Highland families to remove them from the land, so English Lords could generate more revenue from the likes of hunting and shooting.
Edinburgh hosts the controversial Melville Monument which was perversely erected ‘in memory’ of former Under Secretary of Scotland Henry Dundas who was known as the ‘Great Tyrant’ for his lamentable role in trying to delay the abolition of slavery in 1792.
He was later impeached for stealing public funds in 1806. A more inappropriate individual for a statue would be hard to imagine. His efforts in delaying the abolition of slavery cost thousands of lives. Many have campaigned and continue to campaign for the removal of this offensive tribute to a slavery apologist.
My own city of Glasgow has streets named after Tobacco Lords whose riches were built on the human slavery of the tobacco plantations. An excellent project by the Green Brigade to have these names changed or at least counter-posed with the names of justice campaigners is welcome and should be applauded.
No Matter Colour, Creed or Religion We are all One Race – The Human Race
History is a living process, not a finite event. It is littered with those who stood against injustice and the powerful of the day and those who tugged their forelock and accepted the wrongs around them for want of an easy life.
Those pulling down the statue of Edward Colston are on the right side of history, and if justice continues to attract more to its banner and the content of someone’s heart and depth of their compassion counts more than the colour of their skin then many more dishonourable statues will be pulled down and replaced as a new, fairer and more loving world is built.
Support the Bristol history makers and Black Lives Matter protests in the march to a world which recognises the indisputable truth that we all bleed the same and belong to the same race, the human race. People are not born racist they are taught racism. Let us unite to un-teach it.