"People only take notice of these statues when people suggest they come down."

9 June 2020, 18:27

By Seán Hickey

An expert in public history branded Edward Colston an "evil man" that should have never had a statue erected in his honour.

David Olusoga is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester and also a BAFTA winning TV presenter and producer. He joined Shelagh Fogarty to dissect the significance of the toppling of the Edward Colston statue on Sunday in Bristol.

Shelagh said that there had been "reflections of the permanence of the impacts of these events" in the days since Sunday, but wanted to know if Professor Olusoga thought that "something deeper is happening" in Britain, as protests take place in towns and cities nationwide tonight calling for the removal of other statues.

Mr Olusoga told Shelagh that the toppling of the Edward Colston monument "was a historical event." He was not surprised by the intensity of demonstrations in Bristol however, as "Bristol is a very radical and riotous sort of city" historically, he told listeners.

He went on to tell Shelagh that "statues are about hero worship" and putting people "on a pedastal" for their contributions to society. Professor Olusoga told Shelagh that in his view "Edward Colston was not a great person, or even a good person, he was an evil person" and should have never been honoured in this way.

Shelagh wondered if the current rhetoric of getting rid of all of these statues is "the right approach" for protesters, to which the Professor suggested that "for the most part we don't care about statues" and in the UK "we only take notice of them when people suggest they come down."

The statue of Edward Colston was toppled by protesters on Sunday
The statue of Edward Colston was toppled by protesters on Sunday. Picture: PA

Professor Olusoga suggested that the only point that can be made about the removal of the Bristol statue should be that "Edward Colston would have happily shipped off white people to work on plantations in Barbados if he'd have gotten away with it."

When quizzed on Boris Johnson's address last night on Black Lives Matter, the history expert told Shelagh that he finds it "very difficult to take pronouncements on race by somebody who uses the word piccaninny in describing black people."

Shelagh wanted to know "if there is opportunity around this" movement of removing statues from the streets of Britain, to which Professor Olusoga thought that it has shown how the new generation of British minorities are braver than the last in questioning the cities they live in.

He told listeners that people have been doing "everything they could to get people to understand" the offence a statue such as Colston's causes for black people in Britain.

"Why in the 21st century do we have educated people in the United Kingdom trying to defend the indefensible – the career of a mass murderer."

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