Statues ‘honouring’ the UK’s racist past are starting to fall. As Black Lives Matter protests continue, this is hugely symbolic. While it may not tackle the deeper issues of systemic racism, removing racist statues is powerful. And that power’s outraged white right-wingers. On 10 June, the Daily Mail‘s front page took this to a new level. But this also shows why these protests can’t stop.
On 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters in Bristol tore down a statue of Edward Colston – a slave trader. By 9 June, a statue of slave owner Robert Milligan had been removed from London Docklands. Meanwhile, in Oxford, protesters demanded the removal of a statue of racist colonialist Cecil Rhodes.
Enter the Daily Mail‘s Sarah Vine. On the paper’s front page she screamed that this makes her “fear for our future”:
History has a rightful place in books and museums. Slave traders should not be held in such high esteem where we have to look up at them as if they were gods. Its not our future it’s theirs, the young, and I applaud them for trying to erase the bullshit so they see the truth. pic.twitter.com/i1kaOJFUyi
— kath 🙀😷❄️🇪🇺✊🏾 (@KathyBurke) June 10, 2020
Vine insists that the UK is “one of the most tolerant, fair and least prejudiced nations in the world”. Apparently, it “appears to have been infected by the same sickness that, for the past decade or so, has been tearing America apart”. She thinks “sheer ignorance” underpins these protests. Her entire article drips with word after word of white privilege, thinly masked as entitled self-righteousness.
Vine entirely sidestepped the shocking economic inequality people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) endure. She also ignored the continued “scaremongering and prejudice against migrants and people of colour”. She reduces a systemically racist police force and criminal justice system to a few “bad eggs”. There’s no mention of the Windrush scandal, of continued deportations, or of the disproportionate number of Black people who’ve died during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The UK’s history is a racist legacy. A report from the Runnymede trust noted: [pdf p5]
The British Empire meant that a global working class was put to work. From the indentured labourers working in sugar cane fields in Fiji, to those working in the mills in Wigan, and all of those enslaved across the Empire – all contributed to the wealth of the landed gentry and indeed all were oppressed by a system of power that privileged a handful at the top.
One Black academic summed this up perfectly:
"No monument or statue immortalising British Imperialism is more important than a Black life. The Union Jack isn't more important than Black Lives. No desecration of monuments is as violent or devastating as desecration of Black lives" @SholaMos1 👏🏽👏🏽🌟✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 #BlackLivesMatterUK
— Dr. Ruth Agbakoba (@RuthAgbakoba) June 9, 2020
Defending the indefensible
On 9 June, the Daily Mail slapped yet more racist cards on the table. It published an article that discussed the ‘pros and cons’ of key figures in the UK’s colonial and slave history. No really.
The Daily Mail have written an actual article about slavers and colonialists called " Racists or Heroes" which contains a "good" and "bad" columnn pic.twitter.com/CqDrhbhX5O
— 'Client Journalism' Expert (@PopulismExpert) June 10, 2020
So Vine’s article continued this trend. She wrote:
Complex questions of politics, race and identity have become sharply polarised, stripped of all nuance, simplified beyond all reason and presented as moral imperatives, a simple case of good versus evil, love versus hate, and yes, black versus white.
Not surprisingly, Vine’s article caused outrage:
Sarah Vine is worried that tearing down Slaver statues is erasing history. No, history is erased when we fail to teach about it, ignore it, rewrite it, or dumb it down with non-information and disinformation . I think Vine’s column regularly uses all of those mechanisms
— Clive Peedell (@cpeedell) June 10, 2020
To erase racists makes Sarah Vine afraid for her future? Probably the most honest thing she’s ever written.
— Phil Sherry (@nonswearyphil) June 9, 2020
Others, meanwhile, drew attention to Vine’s ongoing role in entrenching racist tropes:
ALSO: If Sarah Vine and her readers want to keep insisting the UK is the most tolerant nation on Earth, they may want to stop comparing #BlackLivesMatter to ISIS and telling anyone who doesn’t agree to leave the country… pic.twitter.com/d202RntuZf
— The DM Reporter (@DMReporter) June 10, 2020
Her sheer ignorance about toppling statues that ‘honour’ the slave trade also provoked comment:
“It’s erasing history”?? You don’t need to worry, slavery fans – the murders, the abuse, the torture all happened. No one can take that away from you. Some people don’t want to celebrate it, that’s all.
— Stephen Mangan (@StephenMangan) June 10, 2020
Vine and the Mail can’t cope with the true significance of removing these statues.
In a few days, #BlackLivesMatter protests have achieved what public statues of slave traders and Empire builders couldn't in over a hundred years: educating people about racism.
It’s time to take them down and start teaching this history in our schools.pic.twitter.com/AucSruytfs
— Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (@BellRibeiroAddy) June 10, 2020
Vine’s article encapsulates what we’re all up against from the entitled, white, right establishment. It’s no surprise that the racist, right-wing Mail published this article. But the right shouldn’t be surprised that this fuels the need for these protests further.
Featured image via screengrab
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