Racing beyond Racism 

Symbols and signs of the unequal past come under attack as racism raises its ugly head again

By Author  |  Published: 12th Jul 2020  12:03 amUpdated: 11th Jul 2020  10:45 pm
The death of George Floyd, the American Black man, in Minneapolis on May 25, after a policeman knelt on his neck, triggered the return of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Along with it, swept in a ‘monumental’ protest against anti-racism across the world.
What began with the pulling down of Confederate statues in the United States, has graduated to be a global movement. The statue of the 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, was thrown into Bristol Harbour by anti-racism protesters in England. In Brussels, the bust of General Storms, known for colonial activities, was painted in red and the statue of King Baudouin of Belgium was vandalised.
Famous Italian journalist Indro Montanelli, who stood tall in a Milan public square was defaced and inscribed “racist, rapist”. The iconic statue of the Duke of Wellington sported a traffic cone with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo, in Glasgow, Scotland. Even universities joined in the protest. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign has got shriller, and even his huge contribution to education is unlikely to save him.

Troubled Past

The American South, which was a farm economy, flourished on slavery, and ended with the American Civil War (1861-1865). The statues covered with anti-racist graffiti, held pride of place for a century but now need to fall. Other figures that hold high places in American history are also not safe.
Statues of the third President, Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of Declaration of Independence, have been vandalised many times. He owned over 600 slaves and viewed black men as inferior to white. Even the nation’s father and first president, George Washington, owned 100 slaves at his Mount Vernon plantation.
So it wasn’t surprising that White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany asked “where do you draw the line, from Gandhi all the way to George Washington?” President Trump has defended the Confederate monuments stating removing them would destroy US history and culture. He signed an executive order to protect monuments, memorials and statues facing new scrutiny.
“Erasing the statues is not erasing the past, it should be read as being a part of the history,” pointed out Daniel Domingues, an associate professor of history at Rice University in Houston, to AFP. However, Prof Remco Raben, who teaches Dutch colonial and post-colonial history at the University of Amsterdam, said the protests targeting statues are “a kind of correction of the vision of the nation as it emerged in the 19th century. It’s not a rewriting of history, it’s the rewriting of the image of the nation.”

Seeing Anew

Barcelona’s Mayor, Ada Colau wants a public discussion on the Italian explorer Columbus whose landing in the Caribbean in 1492 gave birth to Spain’s overseas empire. That empire transformed Spain into a world power and spread Christianity and European education across the Americas, while also decimating indigenous populations through disease and war.
“Was Columbus a slave trader? No, but he does represent the colonial era. There is an open debate and we think that is positive and necessary,” she told The Associated Press. “We are not going to rewrite history, but we have to explain history in its entirety because history was usually told by the winners and has avoided telling about the bloodshed, the exploitation and the slavery also associated with that age.”
Pulitzer Prize winner Annette Gordon-Reed doesn’t believe taking the statues down is an attempt to cover up or erase history. “History will still be taught. We will know who Robert E Lee was. Who Jefferson Davis was. Who Abraham Lincoln was. No one puts a monument up to Washington or Jefferson to promote slavery. The monuments go up because, without Washington, there likely would not have been an American nation. …I think on these two, Washington and Jefferson, in particular, you take the bitter with sweet. The main duty is not to hide the bitter parts,” told the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School to the Gazette.
Such controversies have been a part of the unforgiving history. The latest wave of ‘racists cannot stand tall and must fall’ could significantly alter the landscape again.

Monumental Problems

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln:  The Boston’s art commission voted unanimously to remove a statue that depicts a freed slave kneeling at Abraham Lincoln’s feet. The statue has stood in a park just off Boston Common since 1879. Although the monument was created to celebrate the freeing of slaves in America, its design disturbed many who objected to the optics of a Black man kneeling before Lincoln.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt: The American Museum of Natural History will remove a prominent statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance after objections that it symbolises colonial expansion and racial discrimination. The bronze statue that has stood at the museum’s Central Park West entrance since 1940 depicts Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and an African man standing next to the horse.

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Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus: Has been decapitated, defaced, or quietly removed from pedestals across the United States. Columbus’ sailing expeditions led Europeans to discover America, opening the door to centuries of exploration, conquest and settlement that included establishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the killing of scores of Native Americans.

Belgian King Leopold II

Belgian King Leopold II:  A bust of the former king was taken off in the city of Ghent. Leopold, who ruled Belgium during 1865-1909, plundered Congo as if it were his personal fiefdom, forcing many of its people into slavery to extract resources for his own profit.  The early years after he laid claim to the African country are especially infamous for killings, forced labour and other forms of brutality that some experts estimate left as many as 10 million native people dead.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert

Jean-Baptiste Colbert: The man behind a legal decree that defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonies, his statue was defaced with red paint in Paris, outside France’s National Assembly and bore the inscription “State negrophobia” on the pedestal. Colbert, the comptroller general of finances of Louis XIV, is best known for his doctrine of state intervention in the economy. But he also drafted the Code Noir, or Black Code, to define conditions of slavery in French colonies.


Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis: Protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederacy. The 8-foot bronze figure had already been targeted for removal by city leaders, but the crowd took matters into its own hands.
John C Calhoun

John C Calhoun: Hundreds gathered in Marion Square, Charleston, to watch the removal of a statue of former vice president and slavery advocate. About 40% of enslaved Africans brought to North America came through the port city of Charleston, which formally apologised in 2018 for its role in the slave trade. In its resolution, the city said the statue, in place since 1898, “is seen by many people as something other than a memorial to the accomplishments of a South Carolina native, but rather a symbol glorifying slavery and as such, a painful reminder of the history of slavery in Charleston.”

Cecil Rhodes

Rhodes Must Fall: The governing body of Oxford University’s Oriel College recommended the removal of a statue of Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes — though it won’t be taken down immediately. Rhodes made a fortune in the late 19th century from gold and diamond mines where miners laboured in brutal conditions. He was an education benefactor whose legacy includes Oxford University’s prestigious Rhodes scholarships, which have been awarded to international students for over a century. His statue was removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa in 2015 after students led a “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign.

Baylor University:  A panel is being constituted to consider whether any statue, building or other tangible tributes on the Waco campus reflect a racist past. The regents adopted a resolution that recognises that most of the university’s founding fathers were slaveholders, racists and white supremacists, when the school was founded in 1845.

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