(If you have not read this post, https://kmorrispoet.com/2020/06/08/thuggery/, you may wish to do so prior to reading the below).
Back in 2016, I composed my poem Rhodes, in response to the demands of Oxford students that the statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oxford University. A recording of me reading that poem can be found below. My apologies for the less than perfect quality of the recording.
The ongoing demonstrations by Black Lives Matter has led to renewed calls for the statue of Cecil Rhodes to be removed from the campus of Oriel College. And the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan has announced the establishment of a Commission to examine whether landmarks such as statues should be removed from the streets and squares of London. (See https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/uk-statues-protest-movement-scli-intl-gbr/index.html.
As reported by CNN (please see the above link), protesters daubed, “was a racist” on the statue of Winston Churchill, whilst others placed a plaque on the 18th-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume accusing him of racism.
Churchill was a product of his time and (as with many other men and women of all political parties and walks of life) undoubtedly held views which would now be considered racist. He did, however lead Britain through World War II and was an artist and author of some distinction. Consequently to mindlessly brand Churchill as “was a racist” shows the crass stupidity of whoever took it into their tiny head to vandalise the statue of a great war leader and prime minister. Churchill was much more than a “racist” and I’ve nothing but contempt for the person or persons who saw fit to deface his statue.
Turning to David Hume. Hume was one of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment. To single out his “racism” whilst disregarding his philosophical achievements beggers belief. As with Churchill, Hume was a product of his age and should be viewed in that light.
I wonder where all this will stop. In the city of my birth, Liverpool there have been calls (I suspect by a tiny minority) to have Penny Lane renamed due to it having gained it’s title from a merchant with interests in the slave trade, James Penny. The University of Liverpool has already bowed to student pressure and renamed Gladstone Hall, due to the association of the 19th-century prime Minister’s family with slavery, (see https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpool-mayor-joe-anderson-responds-18391938).
Whatever their origin (ignoble or noble), street names, monuments etc become part of communities, interwoven into the fabric of society and we should be wary of simply removing them merely because a vociferous minority clamour for us to do so. Its often said that “he who shouts loudest gets heard”. This is, unfortunately often the case even when the person (or persons) shouting loudest are not representative of the wider community or of society.
Most inhabitants of these islands rightly admire Churchill and are attached to their locality (including street names and monuments). Unfortunately the vast majority do not tend to get heard, partly owing to the disinclination of many people to become actively involved in politics. Sadly this often means that the loud mouths (such as the person or persons who vandalised Churchill’s statue) get heard, whilst the silent majority do not.