As We Change, So Does History | Colston Statue

A symbolic and iconic moment.

Picture taken June 7, 2020. Keir Gravil via REUTERS

The statue of the slave trader fell into the harbour, echoing how his enslaved victims would be discarded at sea. As symbolic justice, it’s hard to top.

Amidst growing frustrations with a racist world it was a cathartic moment for many.

Yet this historic and symbolic moment was not overwhelmingly supported. Despite long campaigns, there’s been opposition to both leaving it up and taking it down; until the public took action into their own hands…and ropes.

Our politicians and leaders try to follow and respect popular opinion and try to be liked by almost everyone. Marginalised and important views can get sacrificed for popular views, regardless of merit. People love integrity, and appreciate respectability, but we can’t always have both.

To complicate the chase for popularity, public opinion can change in a flash. In a few short weeks sexism became visible again for the first time since the 90’s after the #meToo movement. In the same way, the current tsunami of anti-racism protests is proving to a lot of people that racism is still far from over. Even corporations are trying to cash in – adapting to a new standard of respectability:

Sometimes, public opinion doesn’t sway. No matter how much the Flat Earthers are a ridiculed minority, or TERFs are rejected from feminism, these views persist even louder the harder the public pushes back against them. When these hardcore skeptics are threatened, their fight for alternative answers becomes louder and more convinced. The stakes for the survival of their ideas rise to impossible heights.

None of us like to be wrong. The safest place for a human is in the middle of a crowd. So why do minority views perist when it’s so obvious we can’t all be right?

Unlike bad-faith agents who live for hostility, the true believers fight for what they feel is worth saving. Whether it’s for children to be “chemical free” or for skepticism about “green” companies, it’s what they see as virtuous reasons that keep them going.

Yes, some of these views seem easily disproven. For an lazy example: flat-earthers. It baffles most people to ignore high altitude photography, the existence of space, but the evidence is not a deciding factor in the fight for science cynicism, the value they are alienating themselves to defend.

As a left-hander, I often think of anti-left bias. Freedom of handedness is a recent and non-universal development. The ability to use a left hand is not a given. Is left-handedness important to defend? The answer depends on when and where you come from.

People defend all sorts of views, including the right of racist slave-trading statues to exist in the center of modern city streets, despite that statue’s judgement and sinking by a righteous crowd. Are they right to defend the memory of a hated figure? Personally, I think not. We know the statue will now be moved to a museum, complete with ropes, graffiti, and an updated plaque – this is the opposite of being removed from history, this is history as an ongoing process.

Despite this being public knowledge, not everyone is going to agree. As their opinion becomes a minority, some people will become even louder. But it’s okay, because society doesn’t need to be unanimous to move forward. And nothing will last forever.

A banner is taped over the inscription on the pedestal of the toppled statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, England, Monday, June 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

A statue made in 1895 put up to honour a 18th century town-benefactor, becomes a statue pulled down in 2020 to symbolically avenge the people he stole.

Public opinion is ever-shifting, like a statue pulled from a plinth.


Thanks for reading.
I am now trying to start an independent business, so I’ll be reducing how much time I spend on this blog, down to once every other week. If you enjoy my writing, please subscribe by email, follow my Facebook page to see when I next post. I appreciate all support.

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