Statues and monuments of historical figures are commonplace in almost every city in the world. They are usually constructed to commemorate momentous events or important figures in history. However, they have also been the centre of much heated debates surrounding their significance. Tension over statues has arisen within the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Yet, this is not the first time such conversations have been had over controversial statues.
Many people in America have debated for decades over confederate statues and their relation to white supremacy as well as the fact that many are placed within predominantly black communities. However, fury over controversial statues relating to symbols of white supremacy and the villains of the slave trade has now spread to Britain with the Edward Colston statue in Bristol being pulled down a couple of weeks ago in protest. But, it is still up for debate as to whether these statues should be completely removed and destroyed.
pulling these statues down is almost a way of erasing the past, creating the opposite effect of what the Black Lives Matter protests stand for
There have been several arguments on both sides about whether pulling down statues commemorating past slave traders can be justified or not. Some maintain the view that pulling these statues down is almost a way of erasing the past, creating the opposite effect of what the Black Lives Matter protests stand for. These people argue that removing these statues is a way of airbrushing the slave trade from history.
Others believe it is unpatriotic to take down these “great” British statues built to commemorate these “great” white men. However, as you can probably tell from my tone, I do not agree with this.
One of the most prominent arguments I have seen within the media, which sums up my view on this matter, is by historian James Holland in a BBC article. In this article, he talked about how in Germany, swazticas and any Nazi memorbilia is banned, yet Nazi Germany is one of the most researched topics in history, and one that many people are still very interested in.
This demonstrates how simply removing these statues that commemorate the works of men who made their wealth out of oppression and cruelty does not remove the significance of, in this case, the slave trade from history nor the need to research it.
As a history student, I believe these statues still form a very important part of history. Their very construction depicts a time in which the slave trade was glorified in Britain. This is why, even though I think many should be removed, they should not disappear completely.
Having these statues in a museum instead of as a centrepiece of a city means the statues may be viewed less as a symbol of white supremacy and more as a piece of history
Instead, I believe they should be re-housed in museums, surrounded by educational information to give context to these statues instead of allowing them to dominate a city centre, for example. Having these statues in a museum instead of as a centrepiece of a city means the statues may be viewed less as a symbol of white supremacy and more as a piece of history to add to the growing research surrounding the slave trade and those involved.
My home city, Liverpool (a city that was very much involved in the slave trade), opened a slavery museum in 2007. The International Slavery Museum aims to educate on both slavery in the past and today. The museum is built on the Albert Docks, the same place that 18th century slave ships docked. This is an example of how I think the future of remembering the slave trade needs to be.
Of course, Liverpool is just an example and is by no means perfect. Many streets and places within Liverpool are still named after prominent slave traders. But, having a slavery museum to contextualise the city’s position within the slave trade is a huge step in the right direction.
Due to the placing of historical statues in very public places, there will always be much debate around them. These constructions will always be ‘on show’ and exposed to interpretation and opinion which leads to these debates.
the men who made their wealth out of the slave trade do not deserve commemoration within today’s society
I think that many statues within Britain are very out of touch with the world today and the removal of these statues in the protests is a form of rightful rejection against this time gone by when racism was commonplace in society. These protesters, and myself, believe that the men who made their wealth out of the slave trade do not deserve commemoration within today’s society.
However, despite their negative connotations, I believe they can be turned into a positive educational tool to educate a large number of people about this time in history. A time when it was acceptable to view black people as lesser and therefore deserving of oppression, which is still an issue now. How can Black Lives Matter protests be effective whilst statues of past oppressors still stand in the same city? This causes a juxtaposition and friction which could hinder the progress of racial equality.
I believe what I have suggested would be effective in educating people about how important it is to support campaigns such as Black Lives Matter to ensure equality for all. These statues, when placed in an educational setting, would show people the history of oppressors and how they condemned people to servitude due to the colour of the skin. Hopefully this would demonstrate how racial inequality is not acceptable in today’s society and help to ensure instances like this are never repeated in the future.
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