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BLM protests: Why haven't colonial monuments been removed sooner?

Statues of colonial figures across Europe and the USA have been ripped from their pedestals in a powerful display of protest against systemic racism and inequality faced by black people.


In a cry of outrage over the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, the UK-based demonstration was inspired by the removal of confederate monuments in cities across the United States.


In what has become a global protest movement, urban memorials, figures and statues that reinforce racism and colonial pasts are being torn down. These troublesome monuments do not represent a collective history, and they do not shine a beacon on our heroes and ancestors, especially those of a black or ethnic minority background.


Across the pond in Belgium, statues of Christopher Columbus and King Leopold II could be the next to fall as the campaign against symbols of racism and colonialism spread like wildfire around the world. The statue of King Leopold II of Belgium, which stands in Brussels, has been vandalised by BLM protestors.

Image credit: ITV

Taking things a step further, on June 7 an eighteen-foot-tall statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, which has stood on its pedestal in Bristol, England, for 125 years, was brought to the ground by a group of people protesting racial injustice.


In an act reminiscent of a time not too long ago where black people of the transatlantic slave trade were thrown overboard the ships that transported them away from their ancestral homelands, the statue of Edward Colston was pushed into the Bristol Harbor.


On Tuesday evening (June 9), the statue of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay in London's Docklands was removed using a JCB. Reviews into monuments and other figures in England's capital, including street names and the names of public building and plagues, will soon take place to ensure they reflect London's diversity, with a view to removing those with links to slavery.


Causing some controversy, many want to see the statue of Winston Churchill, located in Parliament Square, to be torn down, also.



Image credit: Daily Express

Highlighting the issue of institutional racism and ignorance that runs through British society, UK's conservative interior minister Priti Patel condemned the felling of Colston's statue as "utterly shameful", whilst also annoucnding that those responsible would be held accountable.


There is nothing shameful about the removal of very visible monuments and figures that contribute to the racial challenges that exist in the UK. Governments and local authorities are part of the problem - instead of condemning these acts, they should provide more thoughtful and proactive solutions.


Such a solution could include the transfer of statues into various museums where they can be used as an educational tool and can have context, instead of the violent removal of such figures which begets further violence and aggression.

The now-damaged pedestals in which these statues were originally placed should make a home for more modern and relevant materials. Such materials should highlight inclusivity and equality, rather than a time in which black people were literally owned by their white counterparts.


The removal of these statues has awakened society to the blindness of the everyday. We have become accustomed to the spaces we inhabit, no longer being able to really see them. Now that a very bright light has shone on the issue, we have the power to change our spaces for the better and stop feeding into the idea that our past is irrelevant and has no impact on the present or our future.


A progressive act that replaces colonial figures for modern and representative ones would be a huge slap in the face for establishments and institutions that have systematically erased entire histories from our books and educational materials. History curriculums rarely explore Black, Asian and minority ethnic histories, including explorers, political and social figures, scholars, environmentalists, and so on.


We simply are not taught about entire civilisations of black communities and powerful kingdoms that existed just a few hundred years ago. It is time that changed.


In Manchester, the council has announced a city-wide review of all the statues that exist in the city to better understand their history and context. Councillor Luthfur Rahman said members of the public would be asked for suggestions on "missing statues" with particular thought around representing the BAME history of Manchester to better reflect the shared story of Manchester's diversity and multiculturalism.


As it stands, no monument is apparently safe and social justice groups continue to launch campaigns that rename buildings and living quarters that better reflect colonial pasts.


In Berlin, a campaign has been set up to rename the African Quarter because of its connection with Germany's genocidal colonial reign in the early 20th century.



Image credit: DW

History in the making is happening - the very stories of our cities are being re-written. It is necessary protestors and campaigners of the Black Lives Matter movent continue to fight equality the erasure of systemic racism, but government action is required in equal amounts.


We must continue to seek solutions that highlight our past in the most educational and progressive way possible. We cannot erase history or rewrite it, but we can influence what society we want to live in moving forward by continuing to work as a collective that no longer accepts the racist institutions and systems that have dominated society, education and mass media for far too long.

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