The BBC just showed utter disregard for Black lives and the UK’s racism

Protest banners in Bristol
Fréa Lockley

On 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol tore down a statue of Edward Colston – a slave trader. This was a hugely symbolic and important action. But, amplified by BBC Radio 4, the establishment stepped in to whitewash the power of this moment.

“A mass murderer”

Since police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, people around the world have taken to the streets to protest against years of systemic and institutional racism.

In Bristol, people had long called for the removal of the Colston statue that’s been in place since 1895.

Yet, BBC Radio 4 reported:

In Bristol, demonstrators pulled down a statue of the 17th Century philanthropist and slave trader, Edward Colston, and threw it in the harbour.

This echoes Historic England’s rationale for the statue’s listed status. It calls Colston:

Bristol’s most famous philanthropist, now also noted for his involvement in the slave trade.

A point the Guardian repeated after the statue came down.

The important truth is, that Colston’s wealth – and any so-called ‘philanthropy’ – came entirely from slavery profits. He was “deputy governor” in the Royal African Company. This had “a monopoly” on England’s slave trade. He profited further from selling sugar “produced by slaves”.

According to Operation Black Vote, a 2014 article explained that:

Between 1672 and 1689, Colston’s company transported around 100,000 slaves from west Africa to the West Indies and America. This included women and children as young as six – each slave was branded with company’s initials, RAC, on their chest. To maximise profit, Colston’s ships divided their hulls into holds with little headroom, so they could transport as many slaves as possible. Unhygienic conditions, dehydration, dysentery and scurvy killed more than 20,000 slaves during the crossings, their bodies thrown overboard by the vicious sailors

Many people amplified the horror of Colston’s legacy on Twitter:

Doubling down on racism

Since protesters tore down the statue, the establishment has doubled down on its racist response. Home secretary Priti Patel called the action “utterly disgraceful” and vowed to seek prosecution. The Mail amplified her opinion further:

Justice minister Kit Malthouse also insisted protesters should face prosecution for “criminal damage”. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson claimed protests had been “subverted by thuggery”, the same line later used by Patel.

There’s little hope of any meaningful response from the opposition either. Labour leader Keir Starmer said:

It shouldn’t be done in that way. Completely wrong to pull a statue down like that.

Although he acknowledged: “You can’t, in 21st century Britain, have a slaver on a statue”, he insisted it:

should have been brought down properly with consent and put, I would say, in a museum.

To say that politicians have misread the justified power and anger these protests is a vast understatement.

Power rising

Bristol mayor Marvin Rees told Sky News:

I think the home secretary has shown a lack of understanding about where the country is right now. I would love to hear some outrage about the 25% of kids in my city who live in poverty, the growing inequality, the deaths in custody both here and in the United States, the militarisation of US streets, the Windrush scandal. You can’t be selective in your outrage.

And Rees’s sentiment is echoed by many other people. Removing Colston’s statue marks a powerful turning point in these protests:

The establishment may try to whitewash the truth about Colston and attempt to criminalise those who took part in this powerful action. But they only show their deeply ingrained racism and ignorance in doing so. The global uprising against the horror of systemic racism won’t listen any longer. Power is rising. White people are learning to acknowledge their privilege and stand in full solidarity with their Black brothers and sisters. And until there’s true and lasting change, that won’t stop.

Featured image via Tom Woodnut used with permission

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  • Show Comments
    1. And Boris Johnson’s spokesperson has just said that he believes that the UK is NOT a racist country! When the leader of the so-called ‘leftwing’ opposition says that taking down a statue of a slave trader was wrong we have still got a very long way to go. Massive respect to the active people of Bristol! #blacklivesmatter

    2. As one twitter user put it “so its ok to erect a statue to Jimmy Saville, but not because he was a paedophile but because of his charity work ?”

      The fact that the Daily Fail and its gutter press mates, don’t get it just shows that racism is alive and well in UK MSM

    3. It was a glorious iconic thing to see the recorded spectacle of the wretched Edward Colston’s ridiculous bronze-figured iconography hauled off its plinth and rolled into Bristol harbour. It should stay there as a memorial to the event – and have that section by the river wall sectioned off and made an outdoor museum installation with clear water containment lit through the dark water at night so that Bristol’s visitors and strollers peering over the harbour wall would clearly discern a shameful statue lying in river silt.

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