‘Get Rid of Them’: A Statue Falls as Britain Confronts Its Racist History

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tags: slavery, colonialism, racism, britain, Protest

LONDON — With a mix of pent-up fury and sudden elation, the protesters who toppled a bronze statue of the 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, on Sunday recalled the angry crowds that brought down statues of Saddam Hussein, Stalin and even King George III.

But when these demonstrators dumped the monument of Colston into Bristol Harbor with a splash, they also forced Britain to consider how to confront its racist history at a moment when many of the same questions are being asked in the United States. So a more precise parallel to Sunday’s events, perhaps, is not Saddam or Stalin, but the removal of statues of Confederate generals in city squares across the American South.

Now the protesters are turning their sights on statues of Cecil Rhodes, an even more potent symbol of Britain’s racist colonial past.

“For the last three years, we’ve all had this debate about statues in Britain,” said Afua Hirsch, a columnist for The Guardian who writes and speaks about race in Britain. “It feels as if now there is not even a debate — people are just acting. That is inspired by the movement we’re seeing in America.”`

The toppling of the statue capped a clamorous, occasionally violent weekend of protests in London and other parts of Britain. They began as a show of solidarity with Americans protesting police brutality after an officer killed George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

The strife has become a test for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose first instinct has been to promise a swift return to law and order.

Read entire article at The New York Times