Around the world, we are seeing protests (sparked by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police and the ensuing riots in the USA) that include demands to remove monuments, statues, and street names that honour people involved in anti-Black racism – from people who profited from and were involved in the slave trade in various countries, to the confederate army in the USA.
In some cases, statues and monuments are being boarded up to protect them. Some people are keen on protecting history.
Some are disturbed that monuments are being defaced.
Whose voice is central to this conversation – still?
What do monuments and statutes suggest?
For decades, sometimes longer, people of colour, Black people have walked past these monuments and statues that are reminders of a horrific past. A past that – according to the reasons we put up these monuments, generally – is celebrated.
What does that say?
What message is that sending to the populations of people who are Black and People of Colour.
It says: you and your pain don’t matter.
Britain’s culture minister (for example) wants these reminders to stay standing in order to educate the public “about all aspects of Britain’s complex past, good and bad, rather than airbrushing history.”
This idea makes me pause.
Because in some ways I agree. We need to talk about history in its fullness. And we haven’t. Not by a long shot.
Throughout history we learn the story of the colonizer. The Oppressor. The winner of the war. Colonization included the destruction of documents, literature, stories…people’s history.
There are many stories to be told that haven’t been.
Why now, when voices are raised to remove these reminders of colonization and oppression are we hearing the cry to not “airbrush history”?
I also agree that we need to remember history so we don’t repeat it; so we learn from it. But I don’t think having monuments that glorify the people who caused/profited from other’s pain and trauma is the way to do it.
Questions to Ponder
I leave you with a few questions:
What is the impact of these statues of people who supported and profited from slavery and anti-Black racism on the people walking by?
What message does a monument like this send about what (and who) we value?
Whose gaze are we using to make the assessment of importance?
Who are we willing to have be uncomfortable now?
And who has been uncomfortable?
What does that tell us?