Monday, June 08, 2020

On the toppling of idols


Edward Colston was a seventeenth century English merchant, slave trader, Member of Parliament, and philanthropist. That is to say, he sold black people as a commodity, using the profits to secure political influence and to bestow benefits upon white people. Between 1680 and 1692 the company he worked for and went on to direct trafficked 84,000 souls across the Atlantic. In order to maximise profit, an estimated 19,000 sick or deceased Africans were thrown overboard. Both those figures are conservative estimates.

For years, decades, people have campaigned for his statue to be taken down. And yet it remained. Some pointed to the good public works he had done (perhaps we should sell a few more black people to raise fresh capital?). Some argued against the erasing of history (then why not replace it with a statue honouring the dispossessed?). Yesterday protestors pulled down the statue and symbolically rolled it 'overboard' into the harbour.

Conservative Home Secretary Priti Patel called this action “utterly disgraceful” and went on to say “it speaks to the acts of public disorder that have become a distraction from the cause people are protesting about...It’s right the police follow up and make sure that justice is undertaken with these individuals that are responsible for such disorderly and lawless behaviour.”

What does justice look like?

There is a long history in this nation, as in America, of protesting injustice, of rallies and marches. Of peaceful protests that turn to violence when met by heavy-handed policing, or to vandalism when peaceful protest is ignored and ignored and ignored. This would include the Jarrow march, the Suffragette movement, the Peterloo Massacre, multiple Tudor uprisings, to mention just a few English examples.

There is just as long a history of those who benefit from the status quo denouncing such actions as utterly disgraceful, public disorder, an affront to every law-abiding citizen.

But law and order without justice always perpetuates injustice. Always. And under such circumstances, justice is more important than law and order. Indeed, lawless disorder may be the imperative of justice.

If you are more outraged that a statue of Edward Colston was pulled down yesterday than you are that it stood for over a hundred years, you are part of the problem.

Indeed, we are part of the problem. We are also part of the solution. Listen, not for the purposes of refuting but for the purpose of understanding better. Learn. Educate yourself. I say that to myself as much as to anyone else.

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