Many people have asked us about our attitude to the Black Lives Matter protests currently taking place around the world, and in particular to the removal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. The first question is easy to answer–the Wessex Regionalists are opposed to all forms of racism, and have no hesitation in declaring that black lives matter. Whilst the militarisation of the police that sparked the BLM protests in the US is not really an issue in the UK, it does demonstrate the need for community services to remain under community control, and not to be allowed to behave like an occupying army, as New York filmmaker Spike Lee said of the NYPD back in the ’90s.
The second question is rather more complex, because Colston is not an isolated example of someone with a deeply troubling past being memorialised as an icon. It should be noted that the fetish for reinventing Colston as a “father of the city” is a product of the late 19th century, long after the abolition of slavery in the British Isles, and cannot be handwaved away as a product of a different time. Much of the impetus for naming things after human traffickers in Bristol came from the Merchant Venturers, a shadowy cabal of families (most of whom, not coincidentally, got rich off human trafficking) which still wields way too much power in Bristol.
One can argue that public statues are a problem in themselves. A large proportion of them memorialise kings, generals, and other leaders of a racist, imperialist past. We don’t believe in sanitising the past, but statues serve no educational function. Rather, they are society’s way of telling us who we are supposed to look up to. Perhaps it’s time to tear them all down* and trust communities to make their own decisions, instead of looking to some saviour on horseback to lead them.
*=Except the statue of Adge Cutler outside the Royal Oak in Nailsea. That one can stay.