Divided: The Removal of the Colston Statue

Amid the powerful and driven fight against racism, on the second day of protests in the UK, Edward Colston’s statue was torn down and thrown into Bristol’s harbour. This statue perhaps glorified and celebrated the role Colston played as the deputy governor of the Royal African Company, a role in which he helped to oversee the transportation into slavery of an estimated 84,000 African men, women and children; brutally branded with the company’s initials on their chest, around 19,300 of them died on their journey to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, trapped in the cruel holdings of the company’s slave ships and drowning in unhygienic conditions.

There is no doubt that Edward Colston’s statue, though erected to commemorate his so called ‘philanthropy’, did not deserve to stand. Despite the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act being passed in 1807, Colston’s statue was erected in 1895, 88 years after Britain ruled it illegal to engage in the slave trade throughout the British colonies – I struggle to understand why, in the first place, a statue celebrating an individual where a significant proportion of their wealth came from investments in slave trading, an action now deemed to be illegal, was erected. How could our country have allowed this glorification?

Despite this, the statue was founded, and while there appears to have been great amounts of controversy, the statue remained standing – until yesterday.

But here is where my opinions begin to waver, and I am unsure of which path is right and which is wrong. The literal action of taking down Colston’s statue was, undoubtedly, the right thing to do, but was how this was done the ‘right’ way? The people of Bristol were angry: angry that their voices were not being heard by their government, angry that our country, proclaiming not to be racist, had allowed this statue to stand and desperate to progress into an anti-racist society, and thus, they retaliated, dragging the statue down, jumping on it and then daubing it in red paint, a symbolic move to conceivably signify the mass of blood on his hands.

Part of me believes that this was the utterly wrong way to go about it. While this statue should have been brought down a long time ago, the way it was done by the protestors was violent and a complete act of vandalism. How can two wrongs make a right? Do we really want to associate the Black Lives Matter movement with such viciousness and a total lack of morality, in spite of the lack of morality that had been deployed by Colston? You can’t fight fire with fire – you must use water if you want to properly extinguish the flames. Perhaps this ‘water’ should have been the government, the Mayor of Bristol, or a Bristol MP, who’s role it should’ve been to remove the statue in a peaceful manner. This powerful statement would’ve contributed greatly to the Black Lives Matter movement, making it stronger and empowering those behind it; it would’ve shown that a government who appear to deny that their country is racist support and are unified with the people in wanting to make a change. It would bring power to the movement in a way that is new to our country. It would force change.

Instead, this great ‘philanthropist’ who allowed the bodies of the dead to be cast into the waters of the Atlantic, where they were demolished by the sharks that learned to seek out the horrifying slave ships and follow their bloody paths, was allowed to stand tall over the citizens of Bristol. Despite calls made for the statue to be taken down, including Bristol’s first elected mayor, George Ferguson, and a plethora of petitions, those in authority chose to ignore Colston’s commemoration. Even the Bristol MPs, all Labour party candidates, chose to ignore this sheer horror of a statue. Perhaps the protestors felt as though they had no other choice, other than to take a risk of defying the law; it is true that without risk there is no reward, and while those in charge chose to sit back and not take that risk, the protestors couldn’t wait, and instead, they let Colston’s statue disappear into the sea, following a similar fate as the one he’d deployed on his slaves.

While I am certainly conflicted on which fate for Colston’s statue was ‘right’, as it is certainly hard to condone violence and vandalism, it’s so easy for me to sit here typing this and say that the government should’ve done it. The truth is that they hadn’t and they didn’t, and while it may not have been the ‘right’ way, it was perhaps the only way at demanding an acceptance of racism within our country from the government; there will never be a change without acceptance, and I can only hope that the extent of yesterday’s actions in Bristol will force our leaders to want to make a change, so we can progress towards a better version of the country we live in.

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