While statues of Leopold II, the 19th-century butcher of 10 million in Congo, are being vandalised all over Belgium, one of Arthur Ashe, in Richmond, Virginia, has recently suffered the same fate.
This time, it is white supremacists that allegedly defaced the monument. Another image, of Gandhi, in Amsterdam, was covered in graffiti, targeting the leader for his conflicted view on black South Africans. Meanwhile, celluloid classic, Gone with the Wind (1939), was pulled by HBO.
As statue after statue — Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Christopher Columbus, Edward Colston, Captain John Hamilton — topples in Britain, Belgium, New Zealand and the United States in resonance to the Black Lives Matters movement, the conversation has since shifted to what is to be done with these damaged artefacts.
Most of them possess a legitimate historical and artistic value. Importantly, will their toppling lead to a whitewashing, or worse erasure, of the past?
British schools still do not have colonies on their curricula. And eventhough Boris Johnson remains in denial about colonialism’s effects in Africa even as he desperately tries to woo the continent post-Brexit, events have a way of taking over from intent.
For example, it was industry and western education as much as friction with the Empire that gave rise to our own Indian renaissance. The continued existence of these “racist” statues would have reminded the future generations of their individual legacies of struggle and gains.
In the entry entitled “The Clash of Symbols” — on the subject of the toppled statue of Cuba’s former president Estrada Palma — in his Book of Embraces, Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano observes, “Through alchemy and the deviltry of people symbols resolve their contradiction and poison is turned into bread.” Therefore, the Left need not be so politically conformist to the collectivist sentiment. Let its rank and file not be so keen to seek celebrity simply by cancelling the controversial.
Amid the politics of symbols, let them ensure that their movement for the rights of African Americans and other minorities does not lose sight of its goals for it is in the fulfilment of these that the Left will distinguish itself....