Who ever heard of a ‘Hitler Street’?
Contributor Edition | Iniye Spiff
What’s the Chop?
Remember that scene in Hunger Games where protesters toppled the statue of a renowned slave trader, Edward Colson, and tossed it into the Bristol Harbour? No? That’s probably because it wasn’t a scene in 2012’s renowned YA film, but instead is one of the very interesting developments of our 2020 thriller.
What’s going on?
In the off chance that you’ve been on a super-zen no-news, no-social media, no-people retreat over the past few weeks ( p.s. I’m jealous) let me bring you up to speed: people across the world have been protesting against racism, and things have come to a head with the destruction of statues and monuments of slave traders, confederators, and colonisers.
What do statues of dead men have to do with anything?
The real question is, what don’t statues of dead men have to do with everything? Seriously. Statues and monuments represent the values that a society wants to preserve and honour. They remind people about history and the individuals that should be revered as well as the stories that a society wishes to tell and preserve. But the fact that statues of men like Christopher Colombus, Edward Colson, Winston Churchill and the infamous King Leopold II litter major cities across the world subconsciously (or maybe quite consciously) upholds and glorifies racist and discriminatory ideals. And, even worse, the history they represent is told in a very selective manner.
Let’s take two examples, shall we:
- Edward Colston, whose statue was recently hauled into Bristol Harbour, is widely glorified as a philanthropist, but he worked at the Royal African Company and made most of his money from the enslavement of Africans in the Caribbean.
- Then there’s the infamous King Leopold, whose statues were vandalized and removed in Belgium. He masterminded one of the most inhumane colonial regimes in the Congo, which led to mass killings of over 10 million Congolese people. Let’s put that into perspective, during the Jewish Holocaust in WWII, six million Jews were killed and every year since 1945 the world mourns with Jews. King Leopold is worse than Adolf Hitler, and yet, he is glorified as a hero.
Let’s bring this home, shall we?
In Nigeria, we are also guilty — in varying degrees — of eulogizing villains of our history. We have universities named after Ahmadu Bello, a man who publicly expressed discrimination against Igbo people. General Murtala Mohammed is on Nigeria’s 20 naira note and has three airports named after him, and yet, he was implicated for ordering the execution of Biafran prisoners of war, and played a pivotal role in the Asaba massacre. Or should we talk about Port Harcourt, the capital city that was named after the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lewis Vernon Harcourt because there was no ‘convenient local name’; mind you, Lord Harcourt was a known sexual predator.
So, down with them all?
Bringing down these statues symbolises a shift in social consciousness; people are challenging historical values and history itself, as a way to right social wrongs. But I’m not sure that’s the answer or the ultimate solution. Some people have said that these monuments should remain, because removing them is like airbrushing the past. And they have a point. Statues and national monuments are symbols and markers of history, identity, and evolution, and they mean something. But there’s a place for the statues of history’s most infamous and controversial men/women — it’s called a museum. In fact, if there was ever a reason to maintain and fund museums, it’s so that we can go there and learn about humanity’s wicked past, so that we do not repeat the mistakes.
By upholding the glorification of certain statues, monuments or city names, we are playing a passive role in the subjugation and misrepresentation of history, and the importance of certain people over others. Think about this: Is the decolonisation of African countries complete if we do not confront our history with the honesty it deserves, and thus, present it in the right ways to generations to come?