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Did Colston deserve his watery grave? Victorians used American racism as a way to feel good about themselves. So do we

The statue of Colston is pushed into the River Avon. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The statue of Colston is pushed into the River Avon. (Photo by Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


June 8, 2020   5 mins

The dead are troublesome. Long after we have abandoned their beliefs, we still have to work out what to do with all their stuff. Some of it — our great-grandmother’s engagement ring, the Arnolfini Portrait, Tintagel Castle — is a happy inheritance. Other heirlooms – the Parthenon marbles, the Oriel College statue of Cecil Rhodes, the sieg-heiling Hitler action figure that belonged to Philip Larkin’s dad — occupy an itchier category.

The citizens of Bristol have been arguing for years about what to do with the statue of Edward Colston, a big noise in 17th-century mercantilism who built schools and almshouses with the cash made in the slave trade, converting one form of property — human flesh and souls and sinews — into another.

In 2018 Bristol City Council agreed to the addition of a panel explaining the source of Colston’s wealth. Nobody could concur on the wording. Then, last month, a white police officer in Minneapolis exerted nine fatal minutes of pressure on the throat of a man named George Floyd, and the decision became academic: Black Lives Matter supporters in southwest England responded by dragging Colston’s effigy to the pavement, rolling it towards St Augustine’s Reach and pitching it into the docks. Another white police officer, Superintendent Andy Bennett, watched the statue swallowed by the water. “I do understand why it’s happened,” he told a BBC reporter who asked him why he did not order his officers to intervene. “It’s very symbolic 
 there’s a lot of context that sits around it.”

The context, however, is not just that of the 17th century. The Colston statue is not the Cenotaph. It is not the statue of Churchill in his greatcoat in Parliament Square. It was not built by Colston’s contemporaries or near-contemporaries. It was erected over 170 years after his death, thanks to the efforts of James Arrowsmith, a Bristol businessman and Colston superfan whose fundraising campaign didn’t reach its £1,000 target even after the statue was unveiled in November 1895. (Having failed to guilt-trip Bristol’s inhabitants into coughing up, Arrowsmith seems to have stumped up the last £150 himself.) The message inscribed on the plinth — “erected by citizens of Bristol as a memorial of one of the most virtuous and wise sons of their city” — does not speak for all those citizens.

Bristol in the early 1890s was not a city at ease with itself. On Friday 23 December 1892 it was the location of a “March of the Workers”, held in support of the women of Sanders Sweet Factory on Redcliffe Street — who were employed on such bad terms that they were nicknamed “Sanders’ White Slaves”. (If they tried to join a union, they received their cards.) On the day of the demonstration, the dragoons steamed in. Two hundred mounted officers tried to split the march. At the end of the night, 57 demonstrators and 51 police had been injured. Those present on that day might have taken a sceptical attitude to a public artwork celebrating Colston’s philanthropy. Their ideas about how to alleviate poverty in the city had been answered with violence.

So it would be wrong, I think, to read the Colston statue as an embodiment of civic or imperial confidence. Better, perhaps, to see it like one of those Porsches bought by men in the thick of a midlife crisis — a gleaming expression of self-doubt and anxiety.

A world map from the 1890s shows the vermillion expanse of British Empire. But in the year that the statue went up, a strong note of pessimism had already entered the culture. HG Wells published The Time Machine, depicting a world in which all human achievements ended, twitching in the mud. Degeneration, a doomy treatise by the Hungarian social scientist Max Nordau, had became an unexpected bestseller in England, perhaps because he argued that, having been the fastest to develop, it would be the first to decline.

The idea had already occurred to the Victorians: it emerged from the writings of thinkers pondering the implications of Darwinism. In 1880 the zoologist Edwin Ray Lankester suggested that for “the white races of Europe” evolution might be switching into reverse. “Possibly we are all drifting, tending to the condition of intellectual barnacles”. Lankester had read his Edward Gibbon, and recalled the idea that Rome had fallen because it had conquered and consumed too much. “Rome degenerated when possessed of the riches of the ancient world. The habit of parasitism clearly acts upon animal organization in this way. Let the parasitic life once be secured, and away go legs, jaws, eyes, and ears; the active, highly‐gifted crab, insect, or annelid may become a mere sac, absorbing nourishment and laying eggs.” This is the language of the lecture theatre, but these ideas were not the preoccupation of a minority of intellectuals. They had become mood music of the culture — played out most memorably, perhaps, in Kipling’s Recessional (1897) — a poem for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee that read like an elegy for a dying country.

In 2017, protesters in Durham, North Carolina, used a rope to topple a Confederate statue, and provoked both outrage and approval. But the ease with which it fell told the most interesting story. The monument was less than a hundred years old. It wasn’t erected to General Robert E Lee by those who fought beside him. It was the product of a much later moment — one in which Jim Crow laws were entrenched across the south, and the Ku Klux Klan were enjoying a boost from the success of DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). Colston’s toppling tells a story of similar recency.

The statue of Edward Colston is not a pure object upon which later generations have imposed an anachronistic argument. The statue is an argument. About the relationship between the individual and the state, about employers and workers, about civic responsibility and Britain’s place in the world. Its construction was a political gesture. So is pushing it into the River Avon.

The protesters of Black Lives Matter did not drag Colston’s figure out of the city and smash it to pieces. When they submerged it in the docks, they were making a decision about its proper place in the environment — a decision accepted, tacitly, by the officers present on the scene. Perhaps this was not an act of destruction, but a form of endowment. One that may bring wealth to the city far greater than the kind that can be extracted from a black body with the use of a whip.

The 19th century, however, has a caveat to add. The Victorians celebrated their record on the abolition of slavery. Mid nineteenth-century popular culture buzzes with self-regard on this issue. Charles Dickens’s American Notes (1842) railed against the “accursed and detested system” of slavery — without noting who might have picked the cotton used to make his shirts. Visitors to JR Planché’s spectacular burlesque Mr Buckstone’s Voyage Round the Globe (1854) would have congratulated themselves as they laughed at the anti-American gags in its script:

To the west, to the west, to the land of the free –
Which means those who happen white people to be –
Where a man is a man –  if his skin isn’t black –
If it is, he’s a n—–, to sell or to whack


But a joke from a later line in this song should give us pause for thought. America, for Dickens and his contemporaries, was a zone of racial violence and exploitation — but it was also the country of laughable prudishness.

Where the legs of the table in trowsers are drest:
Away, far away, to the land of the west.

No 19th-century Briton ever covered up a piano leg for decency’s sake, but in the course of the 20th century, this fiction became one of the most tenacious exemplars of their attitudes. A smug joke that backfired.

The Victorians used American racism as a way to feel good about themselves. So do we. It’s a habit that dissuades us from genuine moral introspection. Another solid fixture we might hurl into the water.


Matthew Sweet is a broadcaster and writer. His books include Inventing the Victorians and Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers and Themselves.

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Michael Dawson
Michael Dawson
3 years ago

I’ve no great problem with the good citizens of Bristol deciding that they’d like to remove the statue. But it needs to be done via a democratic process, not just some demonstrators deciding they know best and taking the law into their own hands, whilst a rather pathetic police force stands by.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Agreed.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Yes, I was about to say that there should have been a local referendum on the issue, probably some time ago.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I couldn’t agree more, however what about the Police?
Never have the Police been so well paid nor given such ridiculously over generous pensions. It is even Government policy to recruit more of them.
Don’t bother! It would be a scandalous waste of Public Money, based on their pathetic, nay cowardly,performance in Bristol.
Many years ago in Belfast I witnessed similar spectacles but never thought I would ever live to see such again. Bristol has proved me wrong.
It is rumoured our beloved Home Secretary is for the chop on another matter. This should be her chance to redeem herself, by calling to account those in the Bristol Constabulary responsible for this outrage.

rjhd2001
rjhd2001
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Too hasty to judgement!

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  rjhd2001

The facts are indisputable, surely you are not condoning such arrant cowardice?
The Chief Constable of Somerset should be summoned to the bar of the House of Commons to explain himself forthwith.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

We are being steadily abandoned to the mob, by institutions, paid by us to protect our civilisation -the doctors threw in the Hippocratic oath when they chose to ‘protect the NHS’ over serving all our sick and suffering; the police stand by and watch as cities are attacked and destroyed by mobs; politicians sit back and seek to appease the mob through platitudes -not even attempting anymore apparently to engage with the inchoate and improper premises of BLM; journalists (especially the BBC) have long since thrown away any duty to impartiality, or truth telling; universities no longer care for critical thinking only political thinking; the public apparently embraces lockdown confinement and furloughing.

I think we are undergoing a crisis in public service, attitudes and values at the moment -militant activists have successfully exploited this and have now infiltrated so many areas of life that they will be very hard to excise. I would say their success is some indication of there being, for some time now, deep complacency and abdication of responsibility in our leaders. It feels to me as if we just stopped taking things seriously somehow but I can’t articulate it any better than that.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

The left’s long march through the institutions will soon see
these types marching over the public grinding us into the dust of our own poverty to satisfy the liberal left.

andy thompson
andy thompson
3 years ago

I reckon you just articulated it precisely actually

Chris Taylor
Chris Taylor
3 years ago

I could not have put it better myself.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

I agree completely, and this Bristol fiasco maybe the acid test.
Like you I was astonished by the way the Hippocratic oath was tossed into the dustbin. “Protect the NHS” indeed! I and no doubt millions of others thought the NHS was there to protect me/us! I’ve been paying into it via, NI contributions for nye on sixty years and now I’m expected to protect it?
Unfortunately with such an inexperienced government, bloated dysfunctional civil service and a spineless police force it looks very grim indeed.

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

There was,and the vote was to keep the statue in place.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  David Jory

Really? Do you have a link to a report on this please?

nigelcurrie29
nigelcurrie29
3 years ago

There has never been a referendum on the issue in Bristol. At most the ‘Bristol Post’ may have carried out one of its on-line polls. The Council’s consultation on an additional plaque to add to the statue ran into the sands as Mayor Rees couldn’t reconcile different drafts.

Alan Matthes
Alan Matthes
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

I’d agree with you Michael. I am sure there are other Bristolians more worthy of a statue but this must be done legally otherwise who is next? Winston Churchill or the Cenotaph? Or maybe a living person.

rjhd2001
rjhd2001
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

That had been tried; a petition was signed and sent to the authorities, who decided to add a plaque, but the wording could not be agreed on. The article is not really about whether it should have been torn down, but about the contexts of the statue, and its significance over time. The 1890s context is particularly interesting and complex. I don’t think one should be too hasty to condemn the police, without first putting oneself in their shoes.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  rjhd2001

Winston Churchill said “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision”.
So what happened to the Bristol Constabulary?

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  rjhd2001

I’m against the action of mobs. When they start to act with unified intention, be afraid. However, I have mixed feelings both about this act, and the actions of the police.
In the case of the former, it’s difficult defending the indefensible, and for the latter, at least no one was injured, especially police, so the matter remains a fairly minor incident of vandalism.
I’m glad to live in a country in which police can be fairly confident of returning home every day with small risk of having been murdered, in contrast to the USA. Police behaviour cannot but be adversely affected by such conditions.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Dawson

Pushed along the town centre by 5white men..suspect theyd planned the whole thing too..

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

I trust they were photographed by the Bristol Constabulary, and will receive a ‘visit’ in the very near future?
If not, why not Chief Constable?

Richard Martin
Richard Martin
3 years ago

None of this huffing and puffing article is to the essential point…
The statue was correctly installed, and did not belong to the protester/vandals. And the police stood around and watched them damage other people’s property.
Whoever damaged the statue are criminals, and the police did not do their duty.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Martin

Police also stood around and watched while XR dug up a lawn in front of an official building. I forget which one but it didn’t belong to XR.

ray.weale
ray.weale
3 years ago
Reply to  Giulia Khawaja

That’s not true. Greta Thunberg spoke at an event and the weather was wet so the grass got churned up. XR didn’t dig anything up.

bell.mariana
bell.mariana
3 years ago

What next?? Rome? Athens? The pyramids? They were all built by slaves. I can’t help remembering those Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban. The destruction of the past, the celebration of bigotry.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  bell.mariana

The pyramids weren’t built by slaves, they were built by the Egyptians themselves as a religious obligation.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

No, they were also built by ‘alien’ slaves

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Who do you mean exactly?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Again, who were these ‘alien’ slaves? What indeed is the evidence that they were even built by slaves?
It’s beginning to look like yet another urban myth, like so much of today’s so called History.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

…as if the mob is going to bother to research that one!

stephenmoriarty
stephenmoriarty
3 years ago

Religious obligation can be a kind of slavery.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

and ideological ones too!

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago

Yes, a mob that daubs Lincoln in London or the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry memorial in Boston is pretty uneducated. Their stupidity spans the Atlantic.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

On discovering that many workers on the pyramids lived in comfort, the revisionist conclusion was that the pyramids weren’t built by slaves.
We don’t really know, although I suspect that Herodotus is more likely to know than we are, and he said they were.
My opinion is (a) slavery is extraordinarily consistent throughout the history of mankind, and (b) the fact that craftsmen were treated well does not mean that there weren’t slaves to move thousands of tons of stone using brute force.

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

To give some perspective, Herodotus was around circa 484 to 425 bc, the great pyramids were built around 2580 to 2560 BC. So I’m not convinced that someone who has a reputation for being a story teller, can be viewed as a more reliable source then what appears to be the general consensus amongst archaeologists. Indeed I couldn’t find a single recent article supporting your argument.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

Yes agreed, but do you have any idea where the slavery story, beloved of many, including Dr Irene Lancaster below, comes from?

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Corby

Urban myths have a habit of getting a life of their own. Once repeated a few times, people tend to treat them as fact. Particularly if published in a book! Personally I believe that people, including Herodotus, have simply assumed slaves built them simply because slavery was so ubiquitous in this era, it seemed the obvious answer. In most developed societies of this and later eras it would probably have been the case.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Clive Mitchell

I think the case for ancient slavery is overstated. They weren’t galley slaves for example, despite Lew Wallace’s stirring account in Ben Hur.
The Emperor Vespasian also refused the offer of Alexandrian ‘technology’ in order to keep his urban poor employed.
One of the problems was the high fixed costs of slavery (feeding and watering) which remained whether working or not. Slaves also had to be maintained in mint condition for resale. This off course should have limited abuse as illogical, even stupid.
Hire and fire was far better system from an employers point of view.
Besides domestic and some agricultural slaves, mining seems to have been their forte, but even here free men were not averse to digging.
Roman manumission rates were also fairly generous from what we can glean from our meagre sources.
Far too much is assumed by retrofitting what happened in the slave states of the US in the 18th and 19th centuries. Here off course climatic conditions made slavery essential. The six super frigates of the US Navy, built from 1797 onwards, would not have been constructed but for slave labour, for example.

Basil Chamberlain
Basil Chamberlain
3 years ago
Reply to  bell.mariana

Actually the consensus among Egyptologists is that the pyramids weren’t built by slaves. But I agree that every time a relic of the past is destroyed for political reasons, we lose the chance to understand the full complexity of the past, as partly outlined in the article above.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Someone has already tried to destroy the Pyramids, as you may know?
In the late 12th century, Saladin’s son Yusuf set about the task with gusto.
For eight months he attacked the smallest of the three pyramids at Giza, the Pyramid of Menkaure. At the end of that time gave up, having left a large, disfiguring gash on the North face.
Islamic fundamentalism at its very best!

davidjkernohan
davidjkernohan
3 years ago
Reply to  bell.mariana

Not a fair comparison. The statue hasn’t been destroyed, just been move to a more fitting home. Maybe someone could pay for a plaque on the harbour wall?

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  bell.mariana

Yes, I think they are all off to the Pyramids for their next activist jolly… lockdown restrictions permitting. I have a feeling Egyptian security forces may not take such a laid back approach to policing the pyramids though…

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago

I can see his point, but I must confess to feeling a little afraid as the Bristol statue was toppled and thrown in the water.

I apologise if what I write below is [slightly] off topic, but I think this need to be said.

We should be careful to assert that the protesters are imposing their moral standards on the past. The slave trade would not have been annihilated had it not been for the ruling in the early 1700s that gave slavery a dubious status in the British Isles.

The protesters appear to be adopting an opinion common to some minority religious sects and some small elite groups from the time. Are they wrong to ignore the opposite view that either knew nothing of the trade (common), or was pro-slavery (mostly relegated to the elite)? Absolutely.

That said, I’m wary of the whole “it was of its time” argument, as that can also go too far. I used to think that no-one cared about famines in India in 1880, because online conservatives told me that minimal famine relief was “of its time”. No one made the counterview that Lord Salisbury himself helped to eliminate a famine in 1874, after a barnstorming speech criticising relief measures in 1866 in Orrissa (J.S Mill crossed the floor to shake his hand on that one). The funny thing was that that made me more proud of our ancestors. Before, thanks to the “its was of its time” brigade, I had been a little unsure. The Speenhamland scale had been in place in England for some time by that point, and to have no attempts to solve famine at all elsewhere according our “civilising mission” made me somewhat concerned. Salisbury proved that such mercy was possible.

Our country’s attitude to history is inadequate. Alot of the protesters know little of the debate over slavery that took place over the course of the 18th century. They do not know that slave traders that gave relief to the poor (redistribution….?) had a very good PR operation that was only dismantled by Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce (Christians!).

There is not enough focus on political history, of the attempts by London newspapers to protest against the more block-headed actions of the EIC that went against both British and native Indian standards by 1857 (the Raj could be said to be an apology for the EIC in a way, especially with the post-1857 restoration of some Maharajas to their thrones). There is minimal discussion of the debates over the opium wars, and the fact that conservatives criticised Palmerstone for his actions. It was easier for me to accept British history when details like that were thrown into the mix. It is easier to be PROUD of things when that stuff is thrown in.

Thus I am tired of BOTH the “we were all evil” brigade, and the “it was of its time” brigade. Both are banging their heads against a brick wall. If both could sit down and approach things a bit more sensitively, then maybe things might be a bit less idiotic.

(I am not trying to be on the fence, as the white self-loathers in America cannot be allowed to influence our politics any more, that is clearly wrong and must be avoided)

Lastly, could those that want to say good things about our past stop being such hypocrites? Jeremy Black, he of “Imperial Legacies”, he of the “don’t talk out country down” brigade, wrote this article (https://standpointmag.co.uk… ) criticising the Royal Navy and its use of battleships and aircraft carriers. Negative stuff like that is potentially untrue (see here: https://littleconservative….… is quite depressing and really does not help.

Basically, we need a measured anti-imperialism that takes from conservativism as well as the left. Might that ease the tension a little bit? It might make things easier for some people to be proud of our past to an extent.

peterfriel67
peterfriel67
3 years ago

I think that, in your effort to be objective, what you have ended up with is the very thing that gives groups like BLM succour. What you have written is an apologia for this country’s participation in slavery, while ignoring what made the slave trade very lucrative. Nowhere do you mention the participation of African tribes who rounded up other tribes and sold them to the slavers. Without those African tribes, the slave trade would not have become as large a market as it did.

I would wager that most of the black people protesting are what’s now termed Afro-Caribbean, and i daresay half of them couldn’t spell Minneapolis, much less find it on a map. The irony is that a great many Afro-Caribbeans don’t like Africans, and any affinity they claim, usually practised by black women Labour MP’s dressing up in traditional African dress, only comes to light when groups like BLM stoke up their racism against the White Man,

It might be noted here that Afua Hirsch, she of the Guardian, does a nice line in race-baiting, sand proudly boasts of her Ashanti heritage, well and good, you might say, except that the Ashanti tribe was one of the major supplier of slaves to the European slavers, but in all her diatribes about the White Man, which could be construed as bordering racism, nowhere does she mention her ancestors part in the slave trade.

What we have seen on the streets this week are the result of past governments, particularly the Blair government, pandering to the most trivial complaints by minorities. John Barnes was on a TV programme and claimed that black children couldn’t access the education system, ignoring the fact that education is free and available to all, and that it is an offence to keep children from attending school, whatever their colour. It is remarks like this which seep into the mind of some black children who, like similar white children who are not very bright, blame someone else for their inability to get a job when they leave school despite having the same educational opportunities as any other ethnic group.

It has now come to the point where authority is nowhere to be seen, with police skateboarding with Extinction Rebellion, dancing at the Notting Hill Carnival, performing ludicrous dance routines on TikTok, and now, taking the knee in front of protestors who don’t see it as supporting their cause, but a surrender, which, in turn, allows them a free hand to cause mayhem and vandalism, knowing the police are too abject to do anything in case they’re accused of being racist.

What we require is a regaining of authority, and sad to say, there doesn’t seem to be a politician who will raise their head above the parapet to bring this about, leading to the obvious conclusion that things will only get worse.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  peterfriel67

I also noted the ridiculous claims by Barnes, not only with regard to education but according to him, black people cannot access health care and or housing.

Martin Byrne
Martin Byrne
3 years ago

I agree with the folly of judging history by today’s standards and values. Many people of their time, worked in their time to make things better, so future generations benefit. The mob rule and censorious nature of today make real change and progress more difficult.
As people march about the perceived sins of past generations perhaps occasionally they can stop and think about the one billion people today, living in abject poverty, with no access to clean water, and how future generations may look back on today’s people. Or one can tear down statues and graffiti buildings

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Byrne

I can’t argue with that.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

Salient points for the most part, but we’ve already had 45years of measured anti-imperialism.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

I wouldn’t call the disgraceful lies about Churchill, ignorance of Tory imperial-skepticism, or general left-wing thuggery “measured” by any standards. That we think the last 45 years have been measured only shows our own blindness.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
3 years ago

I only partly agree with your criticism of the “it was of its time” argument. The major difference is that photography, black and white photography, colour, cinematography, video, smartphones, via newspapers, television and internet, have greatly changed the speed, immediacy and impact of reporting. Compare the reaction to Floyd’s killing to that of other deaths, similar but unfilmed. And one can read about conflict in, say, Yemen, but seeing images of conflict in Syria is more powerful.
Another difference is that it seemed quite normal to travel to some island or continent thousands of miles away and plant a flag to claim it, which has only recently become embarrassing to some nations, and by no means all.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Actually, I agree. That is absolutely correct. There was certainly a widespread trend of wanting expansion. Unlike Napoleon though, we debated the *degree* to which we should expand (whether we should or not was centuries in the future).

I would only add that by the 18th century there was a mix of Brits that pushed more for “negative imperialism” that kept the sovereignty of native kings in place but prevented conflict between them (see our relationship with certain Native American tribes, and Indian princes), and the more liberal “positive” imperialists that wanted more expansion. Both had good reasons for their opinions.

Steve Moxon
Steve Moxon
3 years ago

So when will those of African ancestry admit that the African slave trade was an African invention, and that Africans fully colluded with Muslim slave traders; and that this both pre- and postdated the brief period when Europeans also bought slaves before abolishing the practice — after which Africans and Muslims choose to continue with slavery?
Let’s have the deeper and wider history, not just a bit of it that suits those continuing to make a grievance out of their own relative poor performance instead of examining the range of (including deeper) reasons why.

gi.maestro23
gi.maestro23
3 years ago
Reply to  Steve Moxon

Every time I read an argument that Europeans were not alone in enslaving Africans, it makes me wonder why people think it is excusable to enslave other people if their own were doing it first. It was deplorable that African tribes stole men, women and children from other tribes and sold them into slavery. It does not excuse the fact that after slavery ended; African descendants of slaves are still faced with being treated with little regard to our lives. It’s akin to saying since blacks are killing blacks; they shouldn’t care about injustices or excessive use of force by those sworn to protect and serve. That “relative poor performance” statement tells a story of how you view African descendants. There are many of us that perform very well; yet are constantly faced with the effects of systemic racism, which I am sure you believe is a figment of our imagination. I assure you, it isn’t. We aren’t continuing to make a grievance because we perform poorly. We are continuing to make a grievance because people like you continue to fail at realizing how your views and opinions effect how you interact with us; how your prejudiced belief of them “under-performing” bleeds into how laws are interpreted and applied to African-Europeans and African-Americans. When the Japanese were placed in internment camps during WWII, they were provided compensation for their treatment. When Jewish citizens were murdered in mass, the world came together and protected them; also providing reparations in many cases. However, when it comes to slavery, and the subsequent relentless pursuit to be treated as equal, people want descendants of slaves to just get over it. How can we get over it when our lives are not seen as equally valuable? How can we get over it when there are people in this world that think we don’t work hard enough to be treated the same? How do we get over it when judges, public servants and politicians can publicly spout their prejudices and abhorrent views without repercussion?”š Especially, when those views infringe on the rights that should be inherent for all citizens.

Why not instead propose people get over outdated ideals and prejudices that lead to groups of people being marginalized and mistreated?

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

Which judges&politicians? and what exactly did they say?
Have you heard of ‘positive discrimination’? Its been going on for at least 40years both here&in USA..
And how long must guilt be felt? And by how many generations ?
NOT saying that you havent felt or witnessed ANY negative reactions due to your skin colour in the course of your life..
But white on black racism isnt the only permutation.
How many african heritage marry into muslim communities&vice versa..?
How many same are employed by chinese family owned companies&vice versa..
Prejudice comes in many forms and hate to say it,some of it is natural…i.e. its what groups do.

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

Steve Moxon was talking about the fixation on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and how the White man seems to be the solely responsible if you listen to our media. There is shared responsibility if you believe that those who bought and those who sold are equally responsible. A point that many people of Caribbean descent well recognise if you bother talking to some of them…..

As for Mr Colstons statue, there was talk of taking it down but those in decision making roles could not agree how……this was the Council after all. The point is that this mob just decided to tear it down, ok, what next. Do we put a 24 hr guard on Churchill now? or Nelson? just in case some group decides to take offence based upon their own bias and stupidity?

Hugh Oxford
Hugh Oxford
3 years ago

If they don’t punish the vandals and restore the statue, why should any of us bother voting ever again? Because it would mean a bunch of entitled middle class white men in dreadlocks get to decide what we can and can’t do and see.

The idea that the Colston statue is a celebration of slavery is moronic, anyway. Is a statue of Nelson Mandela a celebration of wife beating? Is a statue of JFK a celebration of philandering? It wasn’t erected to celebrate his slave trading, it was erected to celebrate his philanthropy. Are we going to let these thugs tear down mosques because Mohammed was a slave trader?

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago
Reply to  Hugh Oxford

Are we going to let these thugs tear down mosques because Mohammed was a slave trader?

No, they wouldn’t dare.

Chris Waghorn
Chris Waghorn
3 years ago

The police are employed to enforce the law, not make ad hoc judgments about patent lawlessness.

Mr. Colston may well have made his fortune off the back of unfortunate souls but this of itself does not excuse criminal damage. For heaven’s sake use argument and remorseless logic – not the ‘law’ of the Mob.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

We currently decry slavery (correctly in my opinion), but for how long has it be practiced in the world? We know that the Romans and the Greeks used slaves 2000-3000 years ago. Didn’t the Jews complain about the Babylonians? To apply modern norms to the past is just virtue signalling.

To single out the ethics of slavery in the 17th centaury England alone, without also realising the long history of slavery is narrow minded.

No credit is given to Britain, which was one of the first countries to try to stop the international slave trade. How many people know about the Royal Navy’s West African Squadron?

More credit should be given to Britain which was a forerunner in stopping the international slave trade.

Steve Moxon
Steve Moxon
3 years ago

So when will those of African ancestry admit that the African slave trade was an African invention, and that Africans fully colluded with other Africans, and Muslim slave traders, and then Europeans; and that African and Muslim slavery both pre- and post-dated the brief period when Europeans also bought slaves before abolishing the practice — after which Africans and Muslims chose to continue with slavery?
Let’s have the deeper and wider history, not just a bit of it that suits those continuing to make a grievance out of their own relative poor performance instead of examining the range of (including deeper) reasons why. OR DOES UNHERD CENSOR THE ACTUAL HISTORY WHEN IT DOESN’T SUIT ‘IDENTITY POLITICS’ TOTALITARIANISM?

Michael Yeadon
Michael Yeadon
3 years ago

It seems uncontroversial to condemn the mob violence which chucked the statue of someone I’ll admit I’d never heard of while agreeing that it’s time was probably more than over yet the method for removal should be democratic.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago
Reply to  Michael Yeadon

The removal denies the future a Salutary lesson from history. ensuring Colstons views will as a result be duplicated in the future.

Viv Evans
Viv Evans
3 years ago

I learned something new today – about when and why that statue was erected. However, it was thrown down because >>>slavery, in the context of a BLM demo.
How many black people are thee in that photo?
Isn’t it rather the case that white demonstrants prepared to throw down that statue and did it – not because BLM so much to them but because showing “the power of the street” is more important?
It’s also interesting that suddenly we hear no more about the involvement of Antifa in the demos both in the US and here – do we really believe they’ve all gone home, or is this statue-sacking rather a sign that they will use any useful idiots in their fight against ‘The West’?

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

The inaction by the Police is quite scandalous.Without the statue to act as a lesson from history, Colstons crimes will be repeated in the future.Those who smashed it should remember that.

patrickparsons15
patrickparsons15
3 years ago

This was an act of vandalism pure and simple. Henri Grégoire, bishop of Blois created the term Vandalisme in 1794 to describe the ideologically driven destruction of cultural property in the French revolution, and intended it ‘to destroy the thing’. As Joseph Sax argues (Heritage Preservation as a Public Duty), ‘Grégoire made cultural policy a litmus test of civilized values”Š The nation decides what it will be as it stands before its artistic, historical, and scientific monuments, hammer in hand’. At a conference in Madrid in 1933, Polish lawyer, Rafael Lemkin, presented his Acts Constituting a General (Transnational) Danger Considered as Offences Against the Law of Nations. In this Lemkin included cultural genocide as one of the eight dimensions of genocide: political, social, cultural, economic, biological, physical, religious, and moral, ‘each targeting a different aspect of a group’s existence.’ Under Acts of Vandalism he wrote: ‘An attack targeting a collectivity can also take the form of systematic and organized destruction of the art and cultural heritage in which the unique genius and achievement of a collectivity are revealed in fields of science, arts and literature. The contribution of any particular collectivity to world culture as a whole forms the wealth of all of humanity, even while exhibiting unique characteristics.’ Thus ‘the destruction of a work of art of any nation must be regarded as acts of vandalism directed against world culture. The author [of the crime] causes not only the immediate irrevocable losses of the destroyed work as property and as the culture of the collectivity directly concerned (whose unique genius contributed to the creation of this work); it is also all humanity which experiences a loss by this act of vandalism.’ The vandalism of cultural heritage is, according to Lemkin, a crime against people, not simply a loss of property (sadly he failed to have his ideas adopted). The ravages of IS/Daesh on the antiquities of the Near East are not just striking at the architecture and artefacts of history, they are attempts to consign memories and ancestral connections to place to oblivion.

What happened in Bristol, and the acts of destruction and vandalism perpetrated by Daesh, student ‘activists’ or ‘Stay Woke’ crowds, are designed and intended to be spectacles for the global media, to shock, and to generate anxiety in the ‘audience’. When monuments, memorials, buildings or battlefields are desecrated, destroyed or confiscated in such ‘spectacles of vandalism’, then we are dealing with acts of cultural genocide. As Milan Kundera, in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting warns that: ‘The first step in liquidating a people is to erase memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then you have somebody write new books, manufacture new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was’.

The current wave of re-writing history and the symbolic re-writing of the landscape is about politics. It has little to do with redressing past wrongs and everything to do with current political animosities and conflicts. Heritage ‘is increasingly viewed as an ideological remedy of the past’ and has become ‘a field of political struggle and the issue of “whose past?” “what kind of representation?” “In whose name?” (Robert Shannan Peckham). Sites of memory have become ‘sites of power’ where ‘restitution turns the losers into winner’; and monuments and memorials have become the battlefields.

The problem is that attitudes towards history and memory are changing within the context of a new ‘moral politics’, where the emphasis is on testimony, trauma and restitution. At the heart of this change is ‘Constructivism’, an intellectual philosophy which profoundly shapes the thought-world of modern academics and students, especially in the US and UK, and has had a major impact on the teaching and understanding of history, and approaches to the past. It is an ideology which believes that many common traits of society and the individual are socially constructed. Sex, race, gender and sexual identification are entirely dependent upon the dynamics of power between groups. To those who turfed Coulson into the water all education is about deconstructing reality rather than learning about it. Scholarship is now no longer about the search for intellectual knowledge, rather it has become about investigating power dynamics between and within groups, and institutions. In their minds meaning is assigned by the powerful; there is no such thing as truth, all realities are simply social constructs. Politics become paramount, and truth or ‘fact’ becomes utterly superfluous. The people of the past who fail to match up to the morals of the ‘moderns’ are symbolically exiled or executed for their perceived crimes in the past.

The problem then becomes one where the ‘Past’ is no longer ‘different’ and ‘distinct’. C21st values, morals and ethics are applied anachronistically without recognising the cultural chasm between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

Is there a solution? Yes. Contextualise contested sites of memory, it is the only possible means to preserve historical heritage. Monuments MUST be kept at their originally intended site because their location is an essential part of their story. By all means put up a monument to the memory of the slaves wo were traded, abused and died to make Coulson’s fortunes- and those of Bristol- but destruction is an act of vandalism nothing more. Preserve the voices of the past, good and bad, let the monuments speak for themselves, but whitewashing the past without understanding is the act of those seeking power and control, not the act of those seeking understanding.

As Professor Richard Evans rightly reminds us, it is not the task of the historian or anyone else for that matter, to ‘tell people in the past what they should have done and what they shouldn’t. This is an arrogant, know-it-all position’ what we have to do is to explain how and why things happened, not lecture the past on what should have happened or why what happened was right or wrong’. A monument is the beginning of such an explanation. Walter Benjamin noted in his ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, ‘There is no document of civilization which is not the same time a document of barbarism’. The people of the past cannot be robbed of their voice simply because we no longer want to hear them, they should be shown respect and allowed to speak to us for they still have wisdom, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, to give us, or we end up in a wasteland of oblivion.

‘Statues, inscriptions. Memorial stones, the names of streets- anything that might throw light on the past has been systematically altered’ ““ George Orwell, 1984

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
3 years ago

This is a really intelligent post – in particular your term ‘cultural genocide’. I’m seeing this all over the West right now. In fact I would go so far as to say that what we are witnessing is ‘cultural suicide’, in particular the push toward social justice which is the modern term for medieval mob justice. I would argue that the mentality of the protestors today is very much the same as those who performed lynchings in the pre-civil rights era.

Mairi MacThomais
Mairi MacThomais
3 years ago

So does this include my relatives who were forced out of their homes at gunpoint and their home and possessions burned before their very eyes.. Then reluctantly made to leave their homeland and family to come to America?? Because I want reparations and to be allowed to return to Scotland (where my roots are) without all the immigration rules and costs involved! I’m not joking either! Oh and further back on my paternal side the families of the Sons of Liberty who forced my relative out of his home at gunpoint, his home burned to the ground and sent to jail all because he was a loyalist? Yeah I want reparations for that as well!

Jim Richards
Jim Richards
3 years ago

I’m half Irish, my Kerry ancestors were almost certainly the victims of Barbary slavers. I want reparations. It’s more complicated with the famine that drove my forebears to England as I’m also half English. Perhaps I could transfer the money between two of my accounts

David Jory
David Jory
3 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

1.2 million Europeans enslaved in north Africa versus 380,000 slaves sent to North America.

andy thompson
andy thompson
3 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

lol

Mairi MacThomais
Mairi MacThomais
3 years ago
Reply to  Jim Richards

Good one!

John Broomfield
John Broomfield
3 years ago

Typo. Find: from of property. Replace with: form of property.

I doubt the statue will be restored to its former prominence. That alone should give us protestors some sense of achievement.

The days are numbered for the other civic celebrations of slavery no matter who enslaved whom.

BTW, racist slavery was not and is not exclusively white on black.

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
3 years ago

Very true.
Many poor people were cleared out of our cities and transported, to make the cities look nicer.
The Barbary Corsairs did a great deal of profitable slaving in the Med and elsewhere, the North African slave markets were busy places.

Why aren’t these debated ?

Clive Mitchell
Clive Mitchell
3 years ago

Thanks for the article, the real history of the statue was new to me. One criticism, I found the title of this piece misleading as there was precious little about Colston the man.

robertsfrancis8
robertsfrancis8
3 years ago

I was always struck by the absence of statues of Eichmann in Warsaw Krakow, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
That was sarcasm by the way.
The best place for that wretched statue is at the bottom of the harbour. Forever.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

Who then decides which is the next statue to be torn down?

Is it just down to the number of people attending a given rally who feel so inclined to tear something down? Is this the new operating principle of legitimacy?

I wonder, could this new way of doing things perhaps apply to the erection of statues too? Because if so, who knows, maybe we will see statues of Eichmann in Warsaw -once enough neo nazi groups there have worked out that this is the new way to do things.

This is why we have the rule of law. For everyone.

Monica Mee
Monica Mee
3 years ago

It is not the first time that statues of the (once) powerful have been removed from their plinths by those who have long abhorred them and their works but have been unable to express or hear their views listened to,. Saddam Hussain and Joseph Stalin suffered this fate.

Edward Colston made much of his wealth by the industrialising the trade in slaves. He later tried to purchase his future reputation (and his salvation after death?) by generously endowing charities in his home city, Andrew Carnegie did something similar.

In this current day and age when so many still suffer the results of this trade, it is an insult to all that a statue of this man still remained in Bristol. I hope it will end up in a museum that has a gallery that addresses slavery and everything it entails. I am just releived that it is no longer stands on a plinth in a public space in Bristol

Tom Hawk
Tom Hawk
3 years ago

I knew nothng of the man until reading the article. My impression is something of a local wide boy who made a wad by working a trade that at the time was legal and wanted people to think well of him. Times have changed and his contribution is now considered less than savoury.

However what struck me most was the photograph.

Crowds of people crammed into a very tight space during a viral epidemic. Not a social media viral event, but a very real biological virus that is killing thousands. It is what epidemiologist term a super spreading event. If just one person in that tightly packed crowd was infectious, they will have passed it on to others. (Last week 101 people in the SW died with C19, ONS). That in turn will lead to more infections and almost certainly someone becoming very ill or dying.

I have to question how someone can try and claim the moral high ground over a modern understanding of events from the century before last when their behaviour leads to an unnecessary and preventable illness or death.

Meanwhile, people all across the country are suffering real hardship, loosing their jobs, homes etc during the lockdown. All that effort and sacrifice is being undone.

steveoverbury
steveoverbury
3 years ago

Ironically, the submerged statue will probably become a tourist attraction

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  steveoverbury

Yes, worthy wokies will pilgrimage to the site, ‘take a knee’, and give their best ‘profound’ looking face for their instagram and facebook photos… I thought I was making a joke but actually I’d be amazed if this was not already happening…

Rui Marques Pinto
Rui Marques Pinto
3 years ago

I am not opposing the destruction of such heroes! They could make more soft or political correctness, maybe! But the death of Afro Americans are not softly in hands of denominated “white” the superior incomprehensible in a country that fight for liberty, democracy outside his borders. They are the murder and must be punished through the law because the American constitution is clear about this issue. Who are the murder and who is the victim, I think is clear. For people are not opposing what do you think if Germany and other countries had made a Hitler statue to remember the Holocaust and 2 WW? Nobody needs physical murders representation like statues to tell the history!

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago

The Germans have made statues to honour Hitler, many of which are still around and especially built into some of their churches. Please check your historical details before making inaccurate statements about the Nazi legacy. Protests against such a legacy have gone unheard and are currently in the news. Not surprising as the Nazis used Lutheran terminology in order to carry out their murderous intent of effacing Judaism from the planet, but I’m sure you don’t want a theology/history lesson from me.

Sridhar Raman
Sridhar Raman
3 years ago

Hi, can you point to these Hitler statues in Germany? After your comment, I tried looking for them and no result comes up. Do you have a source for your statement? Thanks.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Sridhar Raman

She is exaggerating. There is a ‘Nazi’ Bell’, and few other bits of what might be termed Nazi paraphernalia, but little else, and certainly no Adolphs to my knowledge.
Otherwise there are plenty of secular buildings in the cradle of Nazism, Munich for example.

rjhd2001
rjhd2001
3 years ago

Excellent piece, exploring the many contexts of this incident: Colston and the Atlantic Slave Trade, Bristol of the 1890s and its conflicts, the sneering of Dickens and others at the US, and the need for “genuine moral introspection”.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago

So police stand by when the statue is torn down then the rabble think it’s fine to burn the flag in front of the cenotaph

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

Will the Authorities stand by while I throw all the MPs into the Thames from the House of Commons Terrace?

Michael McVeigh
Michael McVeigh
3 years ago

“provoked both outrage and approval”, nay, rather outrage or glee and that is now the default in our new woke world.

Mela King
Mela King
3 years ago

Interesting article, thank you. Personally, I have no issue with said statue being torn from its plinth. In a multi-cultural city like Bristol, a memorial to someone who profited from the slave-trade feels extremely provocative – think statue to Bomber Harris in Dresden.

However, I agree with many of the commentators here. History shapes us – the good and the bad – we cannot make it ‘politically correct’ and to allow the mob to attempt to do so is worrying. The question is: who is next?

lecomteadrienne
lecomteadrienne
3 years ago
Reply to  Mela King

The statue was there first. As so much of Bristol’s wealth was built on slavery, I can’t help wondering how it became a multi-cultural city in the first place.

However, the statue topplers didn’t look very multi-cultural to me, but that comes as no great surprise. Just a bunch of middle class virtue signallers bravely attacking an inert bronze statue at no risk to themselves.

They should pursue 21st century slave traders, that might actually do some good. Far too risky though, and their smartphones might get damaged, depriving them of the essential selfie.

Martin Byrne
Martin Byrne
3 years ago

So the moral of the story is, some people can ignore some laws when they please, and the police will ignore some criminal acts by some people when they please. I wonder what Jeremy Corbyn’s brother feels about this, having been arrested for protesting lock-down, but not assaulting anyone or damaging property. Man life is complicated

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

I think UK should tell China to take A Run &Jump Cancel 5G a Security risk( As said by US,NZ,Australia,Canada,) HS2 is being built with Chinese Pension funds,Look at London Skyline and some of that is the Same Source. The Current SARS2 Pandemic ,we are told its because Someone,fancied Pangolin ,Bat&Chips nothing to do with Biological Laboratory at Wuhan ,some dissidents have already disappeared there &Hong Kong ( Al Jazeera & Russia today ,documentaries) .If you do NOT Make A stance against dictatorships Whether,Nazi,Communist,Chile(1973-78) Greece (1967-74) they will take that as Positive.UK needs to up its Manufacturing base from 12% of GDP(2019) to 20% in next 5 years…

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
3 years ago

If “…climate change denial has become ‘a cultural marker of conservative identity'”, anthropogenic climate change belief has become a religion among leftists.

As for the present two hysterical overreactions of the left that we’re being forced to endure: here’s to a very big and very V-shaped recovery!

Mark Windmill
Mark Windmill
3 years ago

The argument that crimes committed in the past were ‘of their time’ is odd.

Should we exonerate East German border guards who cold-bloodedly shot dead people trying to escape to the West, because they believed they were preserving a ‘People’s Democracy’, having been brought up in that system all their lives?

Tom Hawk
Tom Hawk
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark Windmill

Mark,
You raise an intersting question and one that deserves careful consideration. In terms of how you ask it, I honestly cannot answer. The Berlin Wall was erected post Nurenburg where we sentenced people who were merely “following orders”. In those terms, the guards should have understood that shooting people was wrong.. but I don’t know if the said guards did actually know of the trials?

I think we need ask if we can honestly revisit history through present morals. If we start by abhorring slavery and all it stood for, we would need to revise our adoration of the Classics. Both Rome and Greece were powered by slavery. Rome particularly haad a nasty habit of military invasion and forcing the conquered population into slavery. If we apply present thinking we would need stop revering the Colasseum and instead we should demolish it in the same way that Colston has been taken down.

I am not seeking to whitewash the past, rather understand if we can actually revise our understanding of history.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago

We should all be attempting to understand our history, not rewrite it or expunge it.
Perhaps a new statue is needed to put the counter-argument to Colston, in the same way the statue of the young girl made a witty and thoughtful riposte to the “Raging Bull” of capitalism in Wall Street.
After the fall of the Communist Bloc, all the monumental statues of Stalin, Lenin etc. we’re removed from the centre of Budapest and relocated in a park on the outskirts of the city. Another option perhaps for the citizens of Bristol.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
3 years ago

Typical lazy leftism to lump Johnson in with Bolsonaro and Trump as a populist. To the Left, a populist is someone who is inexplicably popular despite rejecting leftwing views.

markstrevett
markstrevett
3 years ago

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” George Orwell “1984”

stuuey
stuuey
3 years ago

If I were descended from slavery, the last thing I would want is for the slave trade to be whitewashed from history. No, record it accurately in all its gory details to remind the white man that his prosperity resulted from it.
It happened….no doubt…in a different time….different standards then which are not acceptable now. End of.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
3 years ago

My previous comment was deleted. Here goes round two:

I think we need to examine our history in a way that takes into account the political history of the time. This article is an excellent example of that.

How many people know that conservatives voted in a motion of censure against the Palmerstone’s administration’s handling of the 1st Opium War? How many know of Lord Salisbury’s attempts to stop famine in India in 1874? How many know of the criticism the EIC experienced in the run-up to 1857?

Knowing all that made it easier for me to accept (and be proud) of alot of our past.

Rybo Adders
Rybo Adders
3 years ago

BBC broadcast again. I thought htis was UnHerd.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Matthew Sweet writes “Charles Dickens’s American Notes (1842) railed against the ‘accursed and detested system’ of slavery ” without noting who might have picked the cotton used to make his shirts.” More than two decades after, Abraham Lincoln wrote of “the bond-man’s two-hundred fifty years of unrequited toil.” I don’t think either man saw anything wrong with black Americans picking cotton. They did object to them being forced to do so as slaves, with no payment for their labour.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
3 years ago

As a Jew who has studied the history of antisemitism (including the last few plagues which we were accused of starting, although none of us lived in England during the Black Death), I would, following the example of those who support BLM, suggest the following remedy for antisemitism, which is growing at an alarming rate in this country (as well as Jewish deaths from the coronavirus, which are the largest per head of any UK ethnic minority – now, why isn’t that news, I wonder):

a) tear down Rochester Cathedral for its statuary in which the female Church Triumphant lords it over the synagogue as ‘fallen woman’

b) erase all evidence of the city of York for massacring its Jewish citizens in 1190 and for continuing to persecute us in word and deed through its clergy and university

c) get rid of the Anglican hierarchy of Greater Manchester (very keen on BLM) who blame Isis on the Jews and suggest that we who live here should ‘go back to Israel where you belong’

d) Ban the works of Chaucer (The Wife of Bath), Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice), Dickens (Fagin), TS Eliot (‘the rats are underneath the piles. The Jew is underneath the lot’)

and other daily examples too numerous to mention.

Meanwhile the Jewish State is busy finding a cure for coronavirus which she is willing to share with the rest of the world, including those who hate her (i.e. the majority) – Jesus would surely have approved!

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago

Roussinos writes: “the Baltic states and Poland depend on America for security from Russia.” It’s hard to see that they do. Estonia and Latvia have large ethnic Russian minorities that don’t enjoy equal rights. In any other European country their language would be an official language on an equal footing with the majority language. However, they are so much chopped liver to Western commentators, including, it would appear, Roussinos. The territory that the Soviet Union took from Poland is now part of Belarus and Ukraine. There is no large ethnic Russian minority there. If the Russian Federation isn’t willing to support Donetsk separatists in Ukraine even to the extent of helping them overrun the port of Mariupol, it is really hard to see how an invasion of the Baltic States or Poland is in the cards. Having NATO troops in your country boosts the national income, but the NATO mission to the Baltic States is a waste of resources and an incitement to the Russian Federation. Roussinos is on sounder ground when he writes: “the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, yet NATO remained and expanded. What was once an alliance for Western Europe’s defence mutated into … a pan-continental empire”. Maybe not an evil empire, in Ronald Reagan’s famous phrase, but an empire that really should be dissolved.

Chandra Chelliah
Chandra Chelliah
3 years ago

How the west celebrated gloated when Saddam’s statue was toppled a few years ago. Now the citizens of Bristol, both white and black, have decided to act.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

The mob acted -Bristol’s citizens mostly stayed at home.

gi.maestro23
gi.maestro23
3 years ago

It’s amazing how people reduce others to thugs and mobs when the behavior is carried out in certain context. Should football fans also be considered mobs and thugs when they are destroying property as well?

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

Erm..yes?

angersbeagle
angersbeagle
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

Actually they are…”Š…no context needed.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

Yes, absolutely and unequivocally -the fact it is even a question surprises me.

Perhaps the semantics need clarifying here.

These people acted like a mob -that doesn’t inherently reduce them all to individual actors who are comprehensively thugs -but it is how many of them acted.

The mob label links to their behavior; as you put it, ‘when they are destroying property’. People often act out in groups in ways they would not as individuals. The valency of the mob is extremely powerful.

None of us can claim to have the omniscience to know who these people are as individuals in all their complexity, but we can say how they act.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  gi.maestro23

They already are. Twenty years ago and more we used to have an annual England”“Scotland Football match.
It had to be abandoned because of the crowd violence both before and after the ‘game’.

.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

Well you can down vote all you like ‘GI Maestro’ but it’s the truth of the matter even if you don’t like it!

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
3 years ago

A very small minority of citizens of Bristol.

Ian McGregor
Ian McGregor
3 years ago

The Blacks and their Anti-Fa cohorts had absolutely no right to topple the statue as well as having little right to make a scene over a grubby little criminal who was killed in the USA. This is grievance culture at its most egregious where perceived wrongs from thousands of miles away or hundreds of years ago are visited on the innocent of today.

These vandalistic scum cannot believe their luck in being able to conjure up a non existent grievance that paralyses the politicians and our police force giving them licence to destroy whomever, a policewoman or a horse, or whatever, a statue or a cenotaph or a flag, with impunity.

It is a pretty sick society that simply holds up its hands and allows any old rabble to trample that which was built over many generations spilling much of its own blood to build and maintain a better future for all . We just watched gratuitous nihilism over the weekend.

David Waring
David Waring
3 years ago

More like the uptake from county lines has dropped off due to Police activity.

Bryony Dixon
Bryony Dixon
3 years ago

Thinking about the 1890s – I think our Victorian forbears were quite split in a brexity kind of way

Liscarkat
Liscarkat
3 years ago

The saddest part of this story is that, just as we see in the U.S., the police stood by and allowed terrorist thugs to commit destruction of property. At least in this case it was only some wanker’s statue, and not the shop of some poor small business owner.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 years ago

I think Switzerland is an excellent model, without the smugness and excessive work ethic. And we have the sea, to make up for our shortage of proper mountains. A few years of domestic repairs sounds like a jolly good idea.

MarieAthena Papathanasiou
MarieAthena Papathanasiou
3 years ago

This was an act of thuggery and vandalism and it was shocking that the Police stepped back and allowed this to happen . Britain is bowing to the mob and is veering to lawlessness fuelled by the cult of PC . If the City had decided to remove the statue , it would be acceptable , and it would have been pit on a museum or even sold , why not , to raise funds for something that the public wants instead.

ruthengreg
ruthengreg
3 years ago

Living up the M4 I can not understand why this statue wasn’t pulled down before. Maybe placed in the Slavery museum? If everyone visited that there would be be no racism. Just embarrassment at man’s inhumanity to man.

Giulia Khawaja
Giulia Khawaja
3 years ago
Reply to  ruthengreg

Any slavery museum should include all the participants of slavery, in every place and time. Not just white people. It should also include the African sellers of their people into slavery.

Howard Medwell
Howard Medwell
3 years ago

Few – except for Sir Kier Starmer – would greatly disagree with those who chucked the Colston statue in the Floating Dock, especially since nobody has any objection to it being resurrected as a museum item. The problem is, where do you stop? Churchill? If he wasn’t a racist, the word has no meaning. Lloyd George? Prime Minister responsible for the Amritsar massacre. Gladstone (two statues within a few miles of each other in Central London)? A slave owner, and defender of slavery, born and bred.
And how about our beloved kings and queens, from Richard the Lionheart, shaking his sword outside the Houses of Parliament – ordered that every member of the Muslim garrison of Acre should be beheaded – to our beloved Queen Mum, simpering in the Mall – flamboyantly racist till her last double gin.
Lots of heavy labour involved here, though – wouldn’t it be better to get those explanatory storyboards written??

stuuey
stuuey
3 years ago

Our police force gets more stupid by the day…..does it matter who he was and what his business was….it’s public property which gets legal protection the last time I checked….now they are joining the inquest whilst watching the crime!
Also the ‘mob’ appears to have no collective knowledge of history….it’s one thing to choose not to study history, I don’t have any problem with that but surely they can’t be entitled to deny its existence?

mrgrahammarklee
mrgrahammarklee
3 years ago

Pretentious twaddle. Embodiment indeed! Mindless iconoclasm, more like. Like the Taliban and Puritans, completely nuts.

Anakei greencloudnz
Anakei greencloudnz
3 years ago

The author is a BBC employee. When the next mob that comes along decides that BBC employees are political pariahs and decides to burn his house down, no doubt he will be happy for the police to stand aside and let them as

a decision accepted, tacitly, by the officers present on the scene

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

I was shocked at the spectacle of the mob pulling down the Colston statue and flabbergasted at the Police Superintendent’s woke and weak excuses for not intervening in what was a crime.
It may be right that some statues be dismantled, but the decision should be taken locally and democratically not by an unrepresentative group of angry young people.
There is a debate to be had.Our imperial past has a lot to answer for, not only for slavery but for cruel exploitation of natural resources and political manipulation. In my view it is intellectually dishonest to limit the debate to the slave trade. All the economic,social and political sins of our imperial fathers should be included.
But we also need to remind ourselves that there are good aspects of our imperial past too.The most potent testimony to that is the continuing existence of the Commonwealth. Many erstwhile colonies, some of which suffered under slavery,are still wanting to be associated with their former imperial masters.
Furthermore some implications of statue dismantling should be faced. Many of those people did a lot of good with their ill-gotten gains, some of which continues to be used today. If we destroy the Rhodes statue are we also going to close down the Rhodes scholarships because the person and the money are contaminated by slavery?

kria
kria
3 years ago

The upper middle class students, who decry the statues, are often the very people with inherited wealth benefiting from the past. If you point the finger all the time at racism you conveniently don’t look at the economic inequalities, which is the real issue in our societies. But true democracy, which must involve economic fairness, is the only form of government worth fighting for.

robert scheetz
robert scheetz
3 years ago

Yes, it’s just a child’s tantrum. The slavers continue undisturbed.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright
3 years ago

Not many of the commentators on this article seem to have read the article. It is in fact a well sourced and argued account of why the statute was originally erected and the historical context. Matthew concludes

The statue of Edward Colston is not a pure object upon which later

generations have imposed an anachronistic argument. The statue is an

argument. About the relationship between the individual and the state,

about employers and workers, about civic responsibility and Britain’s

place in the world. Its construction was a political gesture. So is

pushing it into the River Avon.

Anyway the article is excellent, most of the comments are wacko.