DUNKING slave trader Edward Colston into the Bristol docks certainly stirred up opinion. The longer I pondered this lawless act, so flagrantly recorded on the TV news, the more I came down hard and thought: well, good for them.
That statue caused an impressive splash. The ripples spread so far that the noted slavery expert Nigel Bloody Farage (it’s his official name, you know) inserted his dirt-twitching nose into the debate. Gloriously, he ended up looking like a tit, more of which incidental happiness in a moment.
It’s not that I favour toppling statues as such, although a statue is a curious tribute, so often put up in praise of the undeserving rich and powerful. It’s more that this was the wrong statue in the wrong place.
The statue was contentious because Colston was a slave trader who transported into slavery some 84,000 Africans, around 19,000 of whom died, their bodies thrown to the sharks that followed slave ships.
Oddly, the statue was erected in 1895, more than 170 years after Colston’s death and more than 60 years after slavery was abolished in Britain.
Allowing the statue to remain prominently on show in a multi-racial city was asking for trouble. People in Bristol had been calling for years for the statue to be removed, but there it stayed until last Sunday’s Black Lives Matter march held in protest at the death in the US of George Floyd.
If he’d been tucked away somewhere less prominent, Colston would never have ended up sleeping with the fishes, as the historian David Olusoga puts in the Guardian today.
Olusoga also writes: “…this was not an attack on history. This is history. It is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were”.
Fine upstanding words. But what now to do with that sunken statue? A ragbag of right-wing protesters on the TV news said they were going to haul it out, but they didn’t.
Perhaps the bronze statue could be rescued and put on display in an installation about slavery, the scars and damage left on shown as part of the story. There must be an imaginative way of restoring the statue but not its dignity.
As to the wide matter of Black Lives Matter, far too many ageing white males like to put their oar in on that topic, so I shall withdraw. Sadly, Nigel Farage is never reticent about where he shoves his oar. Up he popped on GMB this morning with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, ranting about “violent anarchic mob rule”. He also said Black Lives Matter was like the Taliban and that Edward Colston had just been a philanthropist.
Thankfully, two smart women, the historian Dr Kate Williams and the activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, were on hand to deliver a slap of diminishment.
Dr Mos-Shogbamimu chipped in with the words every sensible person wants to hear: “You are full of such nonsense…”
Dr Williams, a TV natural, took Farage down with: “Saying that Colston was a philanthropist is very disturbing. Jimmy Savile was seen as a philanthropist. Jeffrey Epstein was seen as a philanthropist.”
Oh, can this please be a new TV format – pitching Nigel Farage against pin-smart women who know so much more than he does. It has great potential.
Incidentally, not all statues of historical figures are bad. The one outside Huddersfield station honouring Harold Wilson is sturdily fine.