Social Issues

Activists confront UK’s history of slavery

By Viviana Garcia

London, Jun 12 (efe-epa).- Anger over the killing of George Floyd in the United States has spread across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom.

Thousands of Brits, especially young people, have taken to the streets to denounce one of the country’s ugliest moments in history: the 17th-century slave trade.

A growing number of people have been calling for statues of slave traders and colonial figures to be removed from the UK’s streets and squares.

Floyd died on 25 May in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

His death triggered protests across the US which have since spread around the world.

UK authorities have come under criticism for failing to confront the country’s central role in the transatlantic slave trade as well as racism and discrimination in today’s society.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he supports peaceful, lawful demonstrations but his government was also quick to denounce a minority of violence and vandalism that has occurred.

“I truly believe that we are a much, much less racist society than we were, in many ways far happier and better,” Johnson said in a statement.

“But we must also frankly acknowledge that there is so much more to do – in eradicating prejudice, and creating opportunity, and the government I lead is committed to that effort.”

Protesters in Bristol, in the west of England, tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, dragged it through the streets and dumped it in the city’s docks.

A statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill in London’s Parliament Square was also daubed with graffiti denouncing the wartime leader as a racist and a monument of Queen Victoria in Leeds was scrawled with “murderer” and “slave owner.”

There have also been calls for other statues to be removed, including an effigy of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Oxford University.

The university vice-chancellor Louise Richardson said “hiding our history” is a mistake and that “we need to confront our past, we need to learn from it.”

“We need to understand this history and understand the context in which it was made and why it was that people believed then as they did,” she added.

Activists have also called for a stained glass window at the University of Cambridge commemorating biologist Ronald Fischer, who was a racist and a eugenicist, to be removed.

Liverpool University, in the north of England, has agreed to rename a building commemorating William Gladstone, a politician who lobbied against the abolition of slavery because his family owned plantations in the Caribbean.

Olivette Otele, professor of history of slavery at the University of Bristol, warned that the removal of Colston’s statue could give the wrong impression that racial problems have disappeared in the country.

“What we need to do is have a strong dialogue and talk about these things because if we just remove them people will think that this is the end of racism, discrimination and all these things – all these things will carry on after the statues have been removed,” she added.

Historian Simon Schama said he is in favor of removing the Rhodes statue in Oxford.

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