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Destroy EVERYTHING! Will culture police keen to purge historical racism turn to museums, galleries and libraries next?

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Destroy EVERYTHING! Will culture police keen to purge historical racism turn to museums, galleries and libraries next?
Councils across the UK should rethink their plans to review statues that are deemed offensive. Trying to curate the past to fit in with the present will only lead to more destruction, and ultimately division.

Trouble is brewing on the statue front, with various sides preparing to either defend or attack historical bronzes around the UK this weekend. So you’d think our political leaders would do something to defuse the tension and adopt a more considered approach to dealing with the issue of historical racism.

Not so. Labour councils across the country have said they’re willing to remove statues that are deemed offensive.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced a commission that will look at all the statues in place to have the final thumbs-up, thumbs-down Caesar-like say on whether a bronze stays upright on its stone plinth or is toppled by an angry mob, as the Iraqis did with the statue of Saddam Hussein.

Or even like the lawless throng in Bristol who tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and tossed it into the harbour last weekend.

This proposed commission will become a lightning rod for dissent, adding highly charged emotion to an already sensitive issue.

There will be endless arguing about the worthiness of historical figures, some of whom covered themselves in glory, others not so much. 

And where will it stop?

Street names re-evaluated

Already street names are under review, with Liverpool City Council accused of “not doing enough” because it hasn’t renamed Penny Lane. 

After the statues in our public squares and streets get the cultural police treatment, it makes sense that the commission then moves on to museums, art galleries and libraries to curate everything from our past.

Artefacts from the Stone Age, showing our ancestors in a less-than-flattering light? Out!

Old Master paintings of Christ as a fair-skinned Messiah? Out!

Books by controversial authors, renowned for their genius but also their sketchy world views? Out!

Once this high-handed approach to editing the past and trying to reconfigure how it is seen in a contemporary light begins, there really is no stopping it.

So, the plan is to wipe names and events from history, never to be mentioned in polite society. And this is meant to help educate people so these injustices never happen again.

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Surely a better idea would be to accept history as a reality, sometimes with extremely bad consequences. 

Then efforts should move on to teaching about those very different times when attitudes and social mores were just evolving as world travel broadened and different cultures and populations began to come into contact, and conflict, with one another.

Humans exploited other humans. No question.

A plaque on the plinth of a controversial bronze statue explaining the role of the person it depicted, either celebrated or questionable, would be far better than simply tearing it down in an attempt to deny their very existence or their deeds. 

More contemporary statues

Another option would be a positive attempt at balance. Where we have a statue of a famous white person, why not find someone from a non-white community to celebrate as well? It’s not hard. We could have statues everywhere, like a nationwide installation by sculptor Anthony Gormley. 

Joking aside, it can be remarkably effective.

The statue of three black footballers from West Bromwich Albion Football Club – Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson – is a perfect example of a contemporary piece telling a modern story of the fight against racism in sport.

Any attempts at balance or education would be less divisive than kicking up a huge ruckus over every statue in every borough across the UK considered not quite right for 21st Century Britain by a select few.

Next we’ll have the anti-comedy brigade insisting the Blackpool monument to Morecambe and Wise be removed because the comic duo weren’t that funny.

As soon as the self-appointed guardians of culture are given control, then there is bound to be trouble. And with Black Lives Matter very much the cause du jour, we will find politicians and others taking offence on behalf of one side or the other, causing tension, ill feeling, resentment and jealousy between our nation’s multitude of communities.

How that quite helps redress historical racism, I’m not sure.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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