By Bryony Toon
Oriel College has announced that it wants to take down the controversial statue of Cecil Rhodes. The governors of the Oxford University college voted on Wednesday to remove the statue of the colonialist.
Originally directed at a statue in Cape Town, the Rhodes Must Fall movement in Oxford is aimed at the statue of Cecil Rhodes above the door of Oriel College and decolonising education. The movement first gained ground in 2015, but the passion was reignited following the tearing down of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. The statue represents a history of colonialism, imperialism, racism and slavery and taking it down would start to show a move away from this brutal history.
On Tuesday 9th June 2020, hundreds of people lined the streets outside of Oriel College chanting “Rhodes must fall!”, “take it down!” and “Black lives matter!” I headed out on to High Street in my mask and gloves to join the socially distanced crowds. Protestors were not only advocating for the removal of the statue, but also for Oxford to decolonise its curriculum. The protestors also ‘took the knee’ for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in a poignant act of memoriam for George Floyd and other black people who have lost their lives to police brutality and racism. After this, people led chants and moving speeches about the impact of the racism on them and why Rhodes Must Fall. Signs around me read “Oxford’s legacy is one of blood” and “Oxford, what do YOU stand for?” and people of all ages were sharing one aim. There were elderly people and children as young as five or six in front of me with signs saying, “we love everyone in the world”.
Many people contest the removal of the statue, believing that to remove it would constitute erasure of history and it should remain up as a painful reminder of Oxford’s uncomfortable history. However, many students believe that maintenance of the statue is one of the ways in which Oxford fails to address institutional and systemic racism.
It is important to recognise the existence and implications of systemic racism in society. The Black Lives Matter movement is not a trend and we should all make efforts to recognise and dismantle racism in society. There are petitions and fundraisers on all social medias and also many lists of different ways in which we can educate ourselves, including books to read, podcasts to listen to and programmes/films to watch. I implore you to spend time over the summer to educate yourself and have what may be uncomfortable conversations.
Black Lives Matter.