In this week’s blog, our CEO discusses the controversy around statues
The removal of statues that no longer reflect and uphold the current values of a country is a common practice. In Germany the statues symbolising the Third Reich were destroyed as soon as the war was over. Other statues have been more contentious and uncertain in their future. The statues of the Confederacy across the southern states of America commemorate their ‘history’, but the figures they celebrate are ones who were fighting to retain slavery in the United States. In 2015 the movement to remove these statues started, gaining traction in the recent months as more people join the voices campaigning for their removal. The argument against the removal of statues is that it distorts or obliterates history. However, I agree with the historian David Olusoga who commented in the Guardian following the removal of the slave trader Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol “whatever is said over the next few days, this was not an attack on history. This is history. It is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were.”
In Britain the protests and increased national consciousness about the full history of some of our statues has seen the removal of several due to their links with slavery and there is an ongoing discussion about the removal of statues of people whose legacy is being revaluated when judged by the values we live by today. In some cases it feels obvious that they should be removed. Edward Colston particularly is directly responsible for enslaving 84,000 Africans and the deaths of 19,000 people in horrific circumstances. Many regard him as the orchestrator of genocide or mass murder.
In other cases the debate about removing statues is more contentious. There are particularly diverging opinions in respect of Winston Churchill. Undoubtedly his actions and leadership during the war saved millions of lives, inspiring the respect and gratitude of the British people (he was voted the Greatest Briton of all time in 2002). However, he was directly responsible for the death of over 3 million Indians during the Bengal Famine and he used racist language (calling people savages, barbaric and uncivilised).
What is irrefutable is the lack of statues of the Black individuals who have contributed massively to our society. There has been a renewed interest in the celebration of these individuals in the last 10 years but this has never been without controversy. For example, Mary Seacole has long been a respected figure in the history of nursing with her contributions to tending the sick and wounded during the Crimean War but attempts to have a statue of her at St Thomas’ Hospital have been heavily opposed by supporters of Florence Nightingale, despite Nightingale’s other statue in London.
Health and Social Care has a wealth of Black individuals who made significant contributions both in its history (for example Chief Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, the first black nurse to work for the NHS) and those who are currently leading the sector (for example Professor Donna Kinnair, Head of the Royal College of Nursing).
As part of Black History Month in October we are creating a special edition of our Creative Life Magazine to celebrate Black leaders, share our progress on our BLM Action Plan and reflect the voices & stories of our Black service users & staff. If you would like to be part of this, either sharing your story or being part of the wider development we would be grateful for your input. Just drop an email to our marketing team (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I look forward to hearing your stories!