The rage for the brutal murder of George Floyd It has also come to the UK in the form of protests and rallies against racism. Thousands of citizens have taken to the streets to denounce the darkest past of the British: slavery in the 18th century. The most radical sectors of the protesters have primed themselves with the Winston Churchill statue.
Given the vandalism of recent days, the authorities have chosen to shield the statue from the historic prime minister to avoid more graffiti: cover up the past to avoid more vandalism before a weekend that is expected to be loaded with more demonstrations.
Until Boris Johnson has had to intervene to defend the figure of Churchill. The conservative prime minister has described this Friday as “absurd and shameful” the acts of vandalism committed against the statue, highlighting its “achievements” in the fight against “fascist and racist tyranny”.
The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny. 1/8
– Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 12, 2020
“It is absurd and shameful that this national monument is today endangered by attacks by violent protesters. Yes, (Churchill) sometimes expressed views that are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero and he fully deserves this tribute,” Johnson wrote. on his Twitter account.
Anger against the Churchill statue, located very close to the British Parliament, has opened an intense social debate: has the UK turned its page on its involvement in the slave trade or is racism still at the foundation of British society? Centuries have passed, but aside from the Churchill effigy other monuments have also been destroyed.
It is the case of Edward Colston, whose monument in Bristol was literally ripped, dragged, and thrown into the harbor. “We are a much less racist society than we were, but frankly, we also have to recognize that there is much more to be done to eradicate prejudice and create opportunities,” said a Downing Street spokesman to try to calm the waters.
“Understand the story”
The requests to remove those who were once considered heroes or builders of British wealth do not cease, as is the case of the students of the University of Oxford who ask to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902), defender of the nineteenth century territorial expansion policy, considering it a symbol of racism and the country’s imperial past.
Oxford Vice Chancellor Louise Richardson warned of the mistake of “hiding our history” and instead asked that the British “face their past and learn from it.” “We need to understand this story and the context in which it took place and why people thought that way then.”
At Cambridge English University, anti-racist activists calling for the removal of a stained glass window commemorating the biologist Ronald fischer (1890-1962), made this Friday graffiti at the entrance of the Gonville & Caius school where that glass is.
“Eugenics is genocide. Fisher has to fall,” reads the message, as the biologist was the founder of the Eugenics Society at Cambridge University and argued that the population is genetically divided between inferior and superior people.
Further north in England, in Liverpool, the university of this city agreed to the withdrawal of William Gladstone (1809-1898), a liberal politician who once supported the interests of slave traders, including his father, John Gladstone.
For historian Olivette Otele of the University of Bristol, Colston’s withdrawal may give the wrong impression that racial problems have disappeared in the country.
“What we need is to have a strong dialogue and talk about these things because if we just take them out (sculptures), then people will think that this is the end of racism, discrimination and all those things, (but) all this will continue once that the statues have been removed, “he added.
Another historian, Simon Schama, is, on the other hand, in favor, for example, of knocking down the Rhodes statue in Oxford.
“If it were up to me, I would remove it but I think the problem is that it would be an improvised show” and the debate should focus on “why these people had a sculpture made,” Schama said.
In addition to colonizers, the statue of the politician is erected William Wilberforce (1759-1833), in Hull (northern England), who campaigned strongly against the slave trade, eventually leading to Parliament in August 1833 passing the so-called Slavery Abolition Act, which ended this activity throughout the British Empire.
Floyd’s case, however, is not isolated. The UK went through a similar event in 2011 when young Afro-Caribbean Mark Duggan lost his life after he was shot by the police in an incident in the Tottenham neighborhood (North London). Duggan was later found to be unarmed when officers shot him.
That case caused anti-racist protests and riots, with fires in shops, which spread across several cities and revealed how divided British society was.