Historian explains why UK must review colonialist statues and street names

9 June 2020, 20:54

By Fiona Jones

This historian explained why it is important to review colonialist statues and street names in a powerful speech, after Iain Dale asked what real change it would make to racial inequality.

The London Mayor has announced a commission to review the statues, plaques and street names in the capital to reflect "London's achievements and diversity".

This announcement comes after the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled by Black Lives Matter and thrown into Bristol Harbour. Following this demonstration hundreds have gathered outside Oriel College in Oxford to demand the statue of Imperialist Cecil Rhodes is removed.

Bristol-based historian Dr Edson Burton says the Black Lives Matter protests have shone a light on our country and the UK has not done enough.

Iain asked how tearing down statues and changing street names will aid racial equality.

Protesters in Oxford calling for Cecil Rhodes statue to be removed
Protesters in Oxford calling for Cecil Rhodes statue to be removed. Picture: PA

"Let's look at Black Lives Matter as a complex movement...part of that movement is about the story, the story of a country and what we are and who we are, and why we have managed to come to this point of structural inequality?

"Partly because of how people have been racialised historically. And that's to do with slavery and to do with colonialism. And that's then to do with when people arrived here because of the heritage of racialisation, they find themselves at the bottom of society."

Dr Edson said these oppressive deaths of black people are connected: "Whether it's right to pull down a statue or not, it's about looking at those contested ways we look at our history. What is our story?"

Iain called Sadiq Khan's diversity commission a "knee-jerk reaction" and suggested it might cause divisiveness.

Dr Edson said commissions led to some change and shift, citing the Scarman report after the Brixton riots in 1981, "it's about a commission having teeth."

"One of the profound things about this pandemic is the level of care that has issued in the population generally for each other and I think everyone has acknowledged that BAME deaths have been much higher and in the service of the wider population," Dr Edson said, predicting that actually the commission will be welcomed.