has really pissed me off. It's the typical "both-sides" journalism that is so prevalent among people who want to be seen as radical but actually just want to maintain the status quo. It's incredibly reductionist to the point of being factually inaccurate. For example,
Colston’s statue was dumped in the water because in 1689, he became deputy governor of the Royal African Company, which held the monopoly on the British slave trade.
I wrote about Colston's history here
but the TL:DR is that Colston held a prominent position in the Royal African Company (RAC) for the 12 years that he was a member. He made a fortune from dividends, from internal trading and from leasing ships (possibly as many as 40) to the RAC to be used for slave trading. He was also involved with the Society of Merchant Venturers, a Bristol-based group and one of several trying to break the RAC's monopoly on the slave trade, who were ultimately successful.
The people who have been campaigning against the city's valorisation of Colston are well aware of this context and have done a lot to share this information with the public. That the author of this piece, a supposed journalist, is either not aware of this context or sees nothing wrong with reducing it to "he was high up in the RAC for a year" is deeply concerning.
The piece also makes the claim that,
That gift [money left in Colston's will], worth $22 million today, is what Colston Hall (a concert venue since renamed Bristol Beacon because of the protests)... once commemorated.
This is wrong. Colston Hall was named because it's on Colston Street. The street was named after Colston as he owned property on it but the concert hall was named because of its geographical location, not because it wanted to commemorate the man.
It is also wrong to say that the name was changed because of the protests. There had been decades of campaigning to get the name changed and it was announced back in 2017
that the name would be changed when it reopened following refurbishments.
The piece also claims that M Shed were "forced... to abandon timed-entry slots" for the Colston consultative display following the sabotage I mentioned here
. Now, maybe the author spoke to the people at M-Shed and found out this information but my recollection at the time was that they did some behind-the-scenes stuff but maintained the timed tickets. I definitely booked a timed ticket for the exhibition when I went around the time of the "sabotage". Looking now the M-Shed timed ticket includes access to the Colston consultative display and I suspect what has happened is that as demand to see the display has fallen they no longer need to manage it separately from the rest of the museum and the author has interpreted this change incorrectly.*
You could argue that these don't change the substance of the piece, though I do think they betray the author's lack of understanding of the subject she's extemporising on, but let's look at the substance. It mostly offers a potted history of statues and memorials and somehow manages to highlight how their erection, maintenance and removal has always been a political act and a source of discussion and debate, while giving the impression that we really should just come to some agreement.
Some activists on both sides don’t seem to want the city to find a peaceful compromise, because the Colston statue’s symbolism draws attention to their cause. They want a live debate, not a resolution.
Er, yes. Debate is
what is wanted. We have been living with the legacy of slavery, un-debated and un-discussed for centuries in the broader public sphere and it really would be nice if we could have a proper discussion about its impact for once, without people constantly asking us to just quieten down. I find myself reaching for that quote from MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail about the white moderates,
"First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."
To both-sides this debate about statues is to miss what it's actually about. It's not really about the statues. They are symbolic and symbols are important, but the thing they symbolise with their continued presence is our inability to reckon with our past. We prefer to maintain the status quo, the "order" and are willing to give up justice to achieve that. I don't want everyone to come around a table and agree and sing kumbaya right now. Eventually that would be wonderful but right now we need to have a debate, we need to be open and honest about our history, because without it a proper and just resolution cannot be achieved. What is really being asked is that those fighting for change give up and capitulate to the status quo. f.ck that.
* I couldn't let this lie. I know it's a tiny error, if it is an error, but it's gnawing at me. So I've emailed M Shed and asked them if the portrayal in the article is correct.