Across the globe, advocates for racial justice are not only calling for the dismantling of social systems, but also the dismantling of statues that celebrate discriminatory histories.
Rabat – While some uprisings result in the fall of world leaders, the Black Lives Matter movement has triggered the fall of statues around the world.
For years, the world has celebrated its heroes and famed historical figures by memorializing them into stone or marble carvings. However, in recent weeks many have questioned the homage paid to colonizers, slave owners, and kingpins in acts of injustice and racism for years.
The Black Lives Matter movement, a response to the systemic racism that Black people in the United States have faced since the country’s founding, has inspired protesters worldwide to take to the streets and demand justice.
Protestors and commentators have argued that adorning parks, buildings, and other public spaces with tributes to men whose backgrounds align with the problematic systems and politics of racism is only reinforcing the ideals of white supremacy. Demonstrators have begun to identify the numerous statues. And,while some are campaigning for local authorities to remove them, others have taken it upon themselves to tear them down.
In Richmond, Virginia, demonstrators tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus and submerged it in a lake. Columbus, an Italian explorer falsely credited for “discovering America” despite Native populations living on the land long before his arrival, is well-known for his role in a cultural genocide, killings, and land robbing Native Americans. The statue dedicated to him was erected in 1927.
Similarly this week in the UK, protesters tossed the statue of Edward Colston, a notorious slave trader, into Bristol harbor. Advocates seeking to end the celebratory memorials of Britain’s imperial past have made a “hit list” and an interactive map called “Topple the Racists” to identify monuments whose memories are steeped in a racist past. The list includes approximately 60 statues across the country.
The move encouraged UK officials to make a statement promising to take inventory of all the country’s statues and reevaluate their presence by removing or renaming them.
In Oxford, about 1,000 Black Lives Matter peaceful demonstrators saw the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a 19th century imperialist, while the Museum of London removed a statue of 18th-century slave owner Robert Milligan.
Protestors in Belgium are also calling for reconciliations. In Brussels, chants for reparations and justice for the Congolese were heard and seen as more than 10,000 people participated in a call for the country to acknowledge its brutal role in Central Africa’s past.
Protesters set fire to an Antwerp statue of King Leopold II, known for his widespread atrocities across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, while demonstrators covered another statute in the city of Ghent with red paint. Belgium has statues of King Leopald across the country and more than 65,000 people have petitioned for their removal.
However, some Belgian authorities have made attempts to rescue the statues and claim that they will be restored and maybe reinstalled.
After US police killed George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota, on May 25, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken force in demanding more than just an end to police brutality. Around the world, pressure is building for people and political systems to not only acknowledge, but also act on changing the systemic racism and ideals of white supremacy that are embedded in the world’s histories.
There is no doubt surrounding the controversies involved in the current protests and demands for change. Protesters acknowledge that uprooting the system is sure to be a long and challenging task. However, many believe that uprooting the symbolic figures of the world’s discriminatory past may be a productive place to begin.