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?