Rhodes Will Not Fall

Has anyone here been following the controversy over the Oriel College, Oxford statute of Cecil Rhodes?

The movement, Rhodes Must Fall, started in South Africa and got a statue removed there, and it seems to have moved Britainward. They attacked the statue as excluding to Africans because it reminded them of colonialism.

Oxford Union backed them and there’s been a fair degree of attention in the press, but yesterday Oriel declared the statue would not be taken down.

One reason apparently has been threats by rich alumni to cut off the College from their wills if they buckled, but otherwise, as a historian, I think the College made the right decision. Rhodes was a scheming, grasping bully and one of the worst kinds of racist who justified his exploitation of African people and resources through his Victorian concept of the White Man’s Burden, but he is a part of history and whitewashing it would set a dangerous precedent.

After all, what’s to stop statues of Churchill being taken down because he was pretty racist against the Irish and Indians? Or burn Shakespeare’s plays because he wrote a rather anti-Semitic play? Or of Gandhi, because of his disturbing interest in young girls? Or of practically any pre-1950 public figure in any country, really?

I’m a big fan of ‘warts-and-all’ history, and rather than simply destroying statues and thinking that changes the world, I’m all for the putting under the statue a prominent memorial and reminder of the awful things that happened under the British Empire. Surely that would be the best of both worlds?

What does everyone here think?

I think black-on-white rape in South Africa is now a background statistic.

I agree with the decision. Like him or not Rhodes was historically important. Take statues down because some people don’t like what the person in question did and pretty soon we won’t have any statues left.

Why wouldn’t any of these arguments apply to George Washington?

Yea, but you don’t get a statue for just being historically important. Nobody is throwing up Hitler statues in Europe, even though he’s undoubtedly one of the most historically important men of the last century. Its generally to honour someone for some specific achivement or victory which we think is admirable.

Note this is different from being perfect. There are plenty of Washington statues, because even though its common knowledge that he was a slaveholder, everyone knows the statues aren’t there to honour his achivements in slaveholding.

So I guess the question is, what are the statues of Cecil Rhodes honouring? Personally, I associate him with with white supremacy, colonialism and I think I vaguely remember some incompetent military bungling during the Boer war. But I can’t say I’m super familiar with the relevant history, so if someone wants to argue that there’s some quality of Rhodes that is worth honouring, I’d be interested to hear it.

But keeping the statue just because he was a historically important person is nonsense.

The statue of Rhodes at Oriel is there because Rhodes was alumni and there’s a scholarship he founded which helps international students to study there. Many African students get to go there because of the scholarship, funnily enough, and I think the leader of the London campaign against the statue was a beneficiary.

People fully recognise Rhodes’ racism, but he is also associated with the height of the Empire, and like it or not, the Empire is still broadly seen as something to be proud of in the UK (there was a poll published on it recently, but I can’t find it right now).

I don’t think a comparison with Hitler is entirely fair, although I can understand the basis of what you say. But everything about Hitler, his ambitions, achievements, ideology, everything, is rightly decried and disgraced. But even a piece of work like Rhodes had some positive impact. I can see an argument for tearing down statues in South Africa, which suffered under him, but not in the UK necessarily.

Missed edit window…found the poll.

Well, I’m not saying Hitler and Rhodes are equivalent figures, just using him to demonstrate that its pretty obvious that we don’t have statues purely to mark historical significance, so claims that taking down the statues is “white-washing history” are BS. Many hundreds of statues of Lenin and Stalin were pulled down after the end of the Cold War, but its not like those two men have been purged from the history books.

This, on the other hand, seems a much more cognizant account of what the actual argument is about. South Africans generally see the empire as a bad thing, and so figures whose primary claim to fame is building that empire shouldn’t be honoured. Many Britains see it as a good thing, and so do want to honour Rhodes and similar figures.

I think it depends on why you want the statue.

No-one celebrates Rhodes, he is an historical figure and the statue stands as a talking point against which you can have discussions about his legacy. It is also a piece of art and I have a natural revulsion to destroying such things. It is akin to burning the original of “Mein Kampf” or slashing Hitler’s paintings. Having them, displaying them, reading them, knowing about them is not akin to liking them, celebrating them or agreeing with the creator or subject.

That Rhodes was a shit is without doubt, You’d be hard pushed to find a significant historical figure of that time who wasn’t. He also left behind a mixed legacy and the college scholarships is one of the good things that he did. I think both the statue and scholarship should survive and the controversial history of this man should continue to be discussed.

And no, If there were still statues of Stalin, Hitler or Mao I’d have no problem with people keeping them standing for exactly those same reasons.

We have a statue of Cromwell in Parliament Square, his legacy is troublesome to say the least. Various Roman Emperors left death, destruction and turmoil in their savage conquering wake and yet their likenesses in marble stand all over the Roman world without a murmur.

Hmm, but I think my original point still stands that if you do it for Rhodes you put a massive number of statues of other historical figures in the firing line. I doubt native Americans would take kindly to memorials for Andrew Jackson, for example, or the Irish of Oliver Cromwell.

I’m all for keeping the statue, even though Rhodes was an evil fuck. By all means, put up a plaque about the evils of colonialism as well. Personally, I’d rather UCT had kept their statue up too, but I can see the other side too.

The fuck does that have to do with … anything, really?

[quote=“Novelty_Bobble, post:9, topic:744559”]

I think it depends on why you want the statue.

No-one celebrates Rhodes, he is an historical figure and the statue stands as a talking point against which you can have discussions about his legacy. It is also a piece of art and I have a natural revulsion to destroying such things. It is akin to burning the original of “Mein Kampf” or slashing Hitler’s paintings. Having them, displaying them, reading them, knowing about them is not akin to liking them, celebrating them or agreeing with the creator or subject.

I live not far from his birthplace, Bishops Stortford. His house is now an arts centre named for him and some years they have Cecil Rhodes day, a mini carnival. There are quite a few people in that town who certainly do celebrate him as he’s their most famous son.

My eldest goes to school there and yesterdays assembly was all about this controversy. The teacher giving a speech was defending Rhodes all the way. My son was disgusted at the lack of balance.

It’s hardly David, though, is it? Maybe if it was of artistic merit, this would matter, but the idea that all art is sacrosanct is silly - or, in the end, our cities would be covered by nothing but workmanlike bronzes and shitty murals.

[quote=“JacobSwan, post:12, topic:744559”]

Ugh, I’m sorry. That’s entirely the wrong way to handle the issue.

I have somewhat greater sympathy with renaming the mini-carnival than with destroying the statue in the regard.

How about a new statue opposite Rhodes depicting the struggle against racism and exploitative colonism?
Nelson Mandela should do nicely.

Then you have two pieces of art and two viewpoints of the discussion.

This thread is mildly hilarious in the light of protests over statues in the U.S. South of Confederate icons, including sleazy/highly polarizing figures like Nathan Bedford Forrest.

You don’t need to maintain statues in prominent public places of people in order to have a “historical dialogue” about them. Times change, people are seen for more than the rosy picture created by our ancestors, debates ensue and sometimes statues come down (sorry, Stalin).

On the other hand, any current Rhodes scholar who wants Rhodes’ name taken off the scholarship should probably just give back the money.

The establishment of the Rhodes scholar programme is enough to warrant his statue being maintained in my view. Maybe, not put up if there had not been one already. But all this fuss wanting it removed? They can go to hell.

Essentially I am against this desire for retrospective rewriting history, especially so far as our public spaces are concerned. I have no time at all for judging such figures with our current morals and undoing what is done. They tell us much about the thinking of those who put them up at the time - they are history in development.

It’s the same with apologizing and making reparations for historical impacts on other countries - like slavery for instance. How far back do you go? I don’t see folk approaching the Arabs for reparations - who were major slave dealers - or the Egyptians for the actions of the New Kingdom.

We’re talking about someone who lived almost entirely in the 19th century. If we can tolerate FDR on Mt Rushmore despite the internment of Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, then I think we can tolerate Rhodes. Don’t put up any more statues of him, if it’s a serious problem, but use the ones that are already up to teach the fact that history and historical figures are full of not-so-nice stuff.

Why not move the statue, say, to the bottom of Loch Ness, so it can have two monsters?

I think that was me rather than JacobSwan that you were replying to, I think his quoting tags got mangled.

In any case, most art is not David, most art is not a work of sublime genius. It is a bad yardstick to use. All art will offend someone, or at least fail to inspire them. In fact it may downright repulse them. I can find myriad works that I consider worthless or offensive but I don’t think my opinion has any bearing on whether they should exist or not.

Workmanlike bronzes you say?

Shitty murals you say?

Difficult to argue that either of those display great, technical artistic ability but they do have meaning and merit.