One of the more surprising consequences of the recent Black Lives Matter protests has been the sudden and passionate interest in history amongst portly, middle-aged, white men of a right-wing persuasion. This demographic, it is not unreasonable to suggest, have hitherto exhibited a knowledge of their own national history that extends no further than Two World Wars and One World Cup. Inevitably, they’ve been joined, or rather incited, by our nakedly racist Prime Minister, sundry right-wing columnists and MPs.
A thirst for knowledge, however, and a desire to improve one’s grasp of history is to be welcomed. Indeed, a constant complaint from those of us on the left has been the abject absence of knowledge regarding Britain’s historical story. Particularly those chapters concerned with its Empire, colonialism and, yes, slave-trading. Let us, then, in a spirit of cooperation and a mutual thirst for historical knowledge render what assistance we may, using the current removal of historical statues as our medium.
Firstly, removing the statue of Edward Colston, Bristolian slave-trader and Conservative MP, now residing in the salty brine, does not equate to erasing history. Quite the opposite. The removal of the statue is itself now added to the historical record. People who had never heard of Colston and those who had passed by the statue and, quite naturally, assumed this was one of Bristol’s philanthropic sons honoured in bronze for great works are now far more well-informed.
The statue, with absolutely no accompanying information detailing Colston’s sickening crimes against humanity, was an establishment attempt to erase history; to whitewash one of its own and to deny access to history of his many thousands of black victims. Thus the statue in its original form and placement was a deceit perpetrated upon all of us. Not to mention a grotesque insult to the descendents of Coslton’s victims, still resident in Bristol. Its removal, however, has done far more in one weekend to educate British citizens in Colston’s blood-soaked legacy than in all the years combined since its erection. Odd, then, that the aforementioned portly, white, middle-aged history buffs aren’t nodding in approval, isn’t it?
But, they ask, where does it end? Do we dig up Roman roads? Do we destroy the history around us because some of it was bad? Er, no. No one is suggesting any such thing. At all. What people are objecting to is the public glorification and celebration of tyrants, racists and monsters by erecting statues in their honour. If I may invoke Godwin’s Law there are no remaining statues of Nazis left standing in Germany. Yet still the world is well-informed and aware of the Holocaust. Auschwitz, however, is preserved as a warning from history. The difference isn’t that hard to grasp, is it?
And so, with objective historical fact as our mutual desire, with the preservation of British history our passion, can we now look forward to the right-wing insisting that a full and frank disclosure of Britain’s role in the slave trade, colonialism and the Empire be added as a mandatory element to the National Education Curriculum? Don’t hold your breath, dear reader.
And, finally, what of the lawless mob responsible for these wanton acts of vandalism? For the moment lets ignore the British Empire, Britain’s most successful criminal gang, and the British Museum, one of the world’s most impressive lock-ups housing the proceeds of violent crime, and concentrate on Black Lives Matter activists and their allies. They are, quite simply, living proof that physical force protest works. Asking nicely never got women the vote. Singing Kumbya around the campfire didn’t end segregation in the United States. Strongly-worded letters to The Times didn’t abolish slavery. Peaceful protest did absolutely nothing to destroy apartheid in South Africa. The lesson from history is consistent, clear and unambiguous; it isn’t the rebels in the world that cause the trouble; it’s the trouble in the world that causes the rebels. If the establishment doesn’t want oppressed people to rebel then stop oppressing them. It really is that simple.