The media reports the bust statue of George Floyd in New York has been vandalised for a second time since its erection, and eager after a day of downtime, keyboard warriors take to Facebook careful not to expose their hypocrisy and racism, with comments along the lines of “they build statues of criminals now, whatever next?!” Because, of course, that’s the first time anyone made a statue of someone who committed a crime. Really? Wind your neck in.
True George Floyd had some petty convictions, but I wonder if he was involved with the Royal African Company, and transported over 84,000 Africans to the Americas, of whom 19,000 died on the journey, and in turn, if they said the same when Edward Colston’s statue was torn down in Bristol.
One man’s martyr can be another’s terrorist, one man’s revolutionary is another’s extremist, consequently thousands of statues are controversially questionable, and historically suffered damaging attacks against them. Though President Trump lapped up his brutal methods of dealing with terrorists, we all recall Firdos Square’s Saddam Hussain’s statue coming down, and no one in the western world battered an eyelid, because he was the baddie of the moment, weapons of mass destruction, or not, or whatever, America, fuck yeah! In fact, just like Lenin’s statutes being brought down across Ukraine in 2014, conservative thinkers saw it as symbolic, and celebrated. Yet when the emphasis is on statues of Confederates and slaveholders, the tables were turned and knickers get in a twist. Stone Mountain depicts leaders of the Confederacy, how far should we take this?
I’ve always loved Westminster Bridge’s Boudiccan Rebellion statue, and I’d probably been rooting for her revolt against Roman rule, but if I were a Roman, I’d probably be slightly narked by it, being her army showed no mercy when brutally razing London, Colchester and St Albans, slaying 70,000 Romans. Similarly, if I was Fatty Fudge, (which isn’t so far from the truth as it may sound) I’d be offended by Minnie Minx’s statue in Dundee.
Despite his passive hippy perception, it’s reported John Lennon was violent, he kicked a fan in the face when he tried to jump the stage. It’s common knowledge he almost beat Bob Wooler the deejay at the Cavern Club to death at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party; imagine, still, they made a statue of him.
Mount Rushmore was built on seized land, and designed by a sculptor who allegedly had ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Statues are never impartial, they commemorate a person trapped in time, but our response to them isn’t, it moves with current popular opinion and attitudes. Our feelings towards a statute depends on who they were, what they did, who erected them, and in turn, who pulls them down.
Tokyo’s Yakusuni Shrine was established to “commemorate and honour the achievement of those who dedicated their precious lives for their country.” Included among the names inscribed inside the shrine there’s reported at least fourteen known criminals. The architects of Japan’s alliance with Germany and Italy during World War II are on there, there’s a general directly responsible for the attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbour, and another who ordered a battle that resulted in a massacre that killed 200,000 civilians in 1937.
“Anti-doggers” had a whole different meaning in 1906 London, they were hordes of rioting medical students, condoners of vivisection who police held back from destroying Battersea’s Brown Dog statue, erected to memorialize the infamous brown dog and the many other sacrificed animals. In the end the protests were too much and Battersea Council removed it under cover of darkness.
In reverse to the vandalism of the George Floyd statue, the Haymarket statues commemorating of the “robust policeman, in his countenance frank, kind, and resolute,” who were bombed by a raging mob in Illinois in 1886 was frequently damaged and marred by both bombs and even a streetcar rammed it. The reason? The bomb was thrown in retaliation to a previous protest in Chicago where, feeling threatened by the crowd, the policemen in question fired into it, killing six people.
And there’s my point, through the acquirement of all the facts over time, judgements will change, and justifications for tearing down a statue, or not, differ. For the people of Bristol of largely of Afro-Caribbean origin to have to walk past a statue of someone who factually oppressed, flogged and murdered their forefathers, overlooking them as a constant reminder of the horrors of our colonial past, every day, is prejudicial, and their peaceful campaign to have it removed was ignored for decades.
Boris Johnson said tearing down statues amounts to “lying about our history” and that it is “absurd and shameful.” Yet the Colston statue is a lie, a monumental historic fib, symbolic of the cover-up and deception of an unashamed industry, and to want to keep it absurd and shameful. But this all-seeing eye, a permanent fixture of an ancient bastard staring down at them from its plinth is a testament to racism, and that is a whole different ballpark from a simple bust of victim of police brutality over in the USA, which is vandalised while his body is still warm, while the movement is still in swing and youth of the era are still inspired by the occurrence.
If in a hundred- and twenty-seven-years attitudes have changed, or further facts about Floyd have been uncovered, and it seems justified to tear it down, so be it, but at least wait for time to heal the wounds of those effected by the movement.