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And They All Came Tumbling Down: Activists Target Racist Statues and Symbols

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Confederate flags and statues that honor historical racist figures are under attack in cities across the nation and abroad. Calls to have the memorials removed, especially from public and civic spaces, are not new but have intensified since George Floyd was killed by a former Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day

Christopher Columbus, the notorious mariner falsely credited with discovering the “New World” of America, was an atrocious slave trading, murderous man. His exploits in America, which he stumbled on accidentally, are responsible for near decimation of Indigenous populations. He mutilated, raped, enslaved and sold native people in places where statues honoring his legacy stand. In recent days, Columbus statues have been beheaded, torn down and vandalized by activists who’ve had just about enough of seeing him celebrated. 

 

But Columbus is far from the only racist being targeted as the world erupts in protests and demands for racial justice. 

In East London Tuesday, a statue of Robert Milligan was removed at the direction of the city’s mayor in an effort to “recognise the wishes of the community.” Milligan made a name for himself with the West India Dock Company but is also known for having owned more than 500 slaves who worked on his sugar plantation.

Over in Bristol, an Edward Colston statue was taken down and thrown into a harbor on May 25. Colston was a prominent figure in the Atlantic slave trade.

Gov. Ralph Northam of Richmond, Virginia announced he would remove a statue of Robert E. Lee “as soon as possible” after protesters spray painted the structure with several “Fuck 12” references. 

It’s happening all over the world, people are making a stand against constant reminders of historical figures who oppressed, murdered and tortured their ancestors. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi penned a letter requesting that all Confederate soldier statues be removed from the U.S. Capitol. In contrast, Donald Trump came out in strong opposition to removing Confederate leaders’ names from military bases.

The movement to rid spaces of memorials that honor a racist past is picking up steam despite Trump’s disapproval. In a surprising turn Wednesday, NASCAR announced that the Confederate flag would be banned from races. Several fans have taken issue with the decision and driver Ray Ciccarelli announced Wednesday that he “will not participate after the 2020 season is over” because of the “direction Nascar is headed.” The organization also recently allowed track personnel to kneel during the national anthem and Bubba Wallace, the only full-time black NASCAR driver, had the words “Black Lives Matter” added to his car. 

There is a definite shift in thinking about matters related to racist history and whitewashed interpretations that don’t consider the impact on people of color who have been victimized and oppressed by that same past. There’s a reckoning happening in the U.S. and all over the globe in the wake of Floyd’s death.

It’s not clear why the world is reacting in this particular moment, at this velocity, in ways it failed to react after countless other unarmed black men were killed by police, but it is clear, statue after statue and protest after protest, that the time for change is now.       

 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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