The toppling of the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston has had a ripple effect on an international scale. John B. Castleman in Louisville, King Leopold II in Antwerp, Robert Milligan in Tower Hamlets, and a confederate soldier in Jacksonville have all been taken down in recent days, leading to calls for the removal of more statues of slave traders, murderers, racists and tyrants. People are angry and believe that not enough is being done to teach people about their country’s colonial past.
If I were to mention a white supremacist who believed in the superiority of an Aryan race, murdered millions, advocated for eugenics, tortured people in concentration camps and dehumanised non-white people, who would be the first person to come to mind? Based on what you would have learnt at school, Hitler would be the obvious assumption, right? Funnily enough, there is another man who fits all of the aforementioned criteria – Winston Churchill. The difference is, you didn’t learn that at school.
In London, many are now calling for the Churchill statue outside of parliament to be taken down. His legacy of racism and genocide has now been well documented and made clear to the British public. His crimes, including deliberately starving millions to death in India, unleashing unleashing the Black and Tans in Ireland, advocating for the use of poisoned gas against ‘uncivilised tribes’ and, implementing concentration camps in Kenya where people were tortured – amongst several other atrocities, have been shared far and wide in the past week in order to help others understand public sentiments for removing the statue.
“I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” – Churchill to the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937.
The likes of *Famed historians* Piers Morgan and Tyson Fury have recently come out in defence of the statue, spouting the usual blind, nationalist rhetoric of ‘‘He won us the war’. Although most people recognise that neither Churchill nor Britain were solely responsible for defeating the Nazis (see here for information on the USSR’s role in winning the war), it’s important for us to note that British people can’t be blamed for their immediate defence of Churchill. They are brought up believing that HE defeated the Nazis almost single-handedly, a myth that has now been debunked and accepted by those who are willing to accept the truth. Churchill himself admired many aspects about Hitler – the fact that he was Prime Minister of *one* of the countries who played a role in defeating the Nazis does not in any way mean we should forget his own heinous crimes.
Many British people are brought up with what could be perceived as almost a ‘fetish’ for war, despite never having fought in one. They chant war songs at international football games. They sing ‘Rule Britannia’ without acknowledging the historical context of slavery that goes along with it. They claim ‘we’ll get through anything’ (when referring to referendums, pandemics and elections), because ‘we got through the war’. Ironically, none of these people actually lived through the war. If you asked someone who did, they would tell you to stop romanticising the suffering and despair they went through and to quit using this rhetoric as a way to defend inexcusable behaviour. .
There are also those who claim that Churchill’s views just seem outdated now because of ‘how far we have come’ and were in fact representative of views at the time. This again is false. Even his secretary of state in India at the time, Leopold Amery, claimed that Churchill ‘was not quite sane’ and that he himself could not see ‘much difference between Churchill’s outlook and Hitler’s’.
This version of Churchill is not effectively portrayed to people in the UK. They grow up viewing him as a hero who led ‘us’ to victory against fascism (ironic), which in actual fact is a far cry from reality. When you grow up with the perception of someone as a hero, whose reputation is then tarnished (with hard, solid facts), people still find it hard to accept. You could take them back in time and show them what happened, you could force them to read everything there is to read on the topic, it still may not be enough to change one’s core beliefs. The perception of Churchill and Britain’s history as the good guys allowed for an inert growth and acceptance of British nationalism and the representation of Britain as ‘Great’. The far right are protesting and fighting for these ideologies. In essence, they’re fighting for a history of ‘Great’ Britain which never really existed.
Time To Correct Our History
Now that the argument of ‘We would be speaking German now without Churchill’ has been made redundant, the new response for those in defence of (and let’s make this clear), a statue of a racist and a murderer, is: ‘If you destroy the statue, you are erasing history’. By bringing down these statues, we are not erasing history – we are correcting it and allowing ourselves to learn from it.
I am not going to sit here and pretend I had any idea who Edward Colston was before the statue was removed, but the poetic justice of a man falling at the knees of the descendants of those who were enslaved rang true all over the world. People were captivated and inspired. It encouraged others to look into what this man did and reflect on it. People are still fighting today for the same rights taken away from those who were enslaved. In truth, if we had been taught honestly about Britain’s colonial past, these statues would not exist and instead we would already be aware of what happened – therefore teaching history, not whitewashing it.
Taking down these statues does far more for education than leaving them up does. You can’t be against the editing/whitewashing of history if it is not taught in the first place. It opens conversations and honest debates, it allows us to recognise that what these people did was wrong and that they should not be rewarded with statues. These statues were taken down because people DID learn their history. Statues themselves don’t teach people history, books do. You only have to speak to actual historians to tell you that – their opinions on the matter carry far more weight than the blind ‘patriotism’ exhibited by the likes of Piers Morgan and Tyson Fury.
What Should We Do With The Statues?
Leaving statues up of evil figures would be an insult to people whose ancestors were subject to such tyranny. They shouldn’t have to walk past them everyday and stare into the eyes of the oppressor. We are beyond that now. The question is, once they’re down what shall we do with them? Although I’m a massive advocate of throwing them to the bottom of the Thames, it probably isn’t a good idea to pollute the water even more with statues of murderers.
Many believe that they should be put in museums, however, this would only be worthwhile if the plaques attached detailed truthfully what those people stood for. The suffering they caused should be made clear in no uncertain terms. Their evils should be in bold, these statues are no longer meant to be celebrated; but learnt from. After WWII, Germany educated their country on their horrible past and moved on, vowing that it would never happen again. Britain needs this approach.
Once they are removed, why not replace them with influential black people whose history has been effectively erased? Black history offers so much more than slavery and it’s about time we recognise this. We could put up more statues like the one in Vanberg, Sweden, which depicts a local woman Danuta Danielsson, hitting a Neo-Nazi with her handbag.
Removing the statues is just the beginning, but it is important for us to keep focused on what the goal is. The goal is equal rights for all, a society where your skin-colour doesn’t affect how others view you or how you are treated. The statue issue was a welcome distraction for the government with regards to neglecting systematic racism. We now need an emphasis on British colonialism in schools, we need a country that is aware of their history, so that we are not doomed to repeat it.
Keep fighting, keep calling people out on their racism and keep learning.