Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Not Lived Up To

Oriel College, Oxford, is trying to figure out what to do about its giant statue of Cecil Rhodes after students at the University of Cape Town decided they had had enough of their own Rhodes statue, which was removed from its pride of place on the UCT campus last April after a student named Chumani Maxwele flung a bucket of poop over poor closeted old Cecil, thereby igniting a series of protests that became known in the press as “Rhodes Rage.”

There have been a lot of attempts at revisionism this year, one way and another. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is changing the titles and descriptions of various exhibits with a view to eradicating racist words such as “negro,” “Moor,” “Mohammedan” and so on, changing, for example, the title of a painting from “Young negro girl” to “Young girl holding a fan.” Woodrow Wilson’s racist and segregationist beliefs were characterized as a “toxic legacy” by the New York Times Editorial Board last month, as student protesters demanded the renaming of Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs. (...)

Cecil Rhodes, zillionaire founder of the DeBeers diamond empire, was a fucking monster. He is a real embarrassment to anybody who would defend the patriarchy. Here he is in 1887, addressing the government on whether or not to permit “the natives” of South Africa the vote:
Does this House think it right that men in a state of pure barbarism should have the franchise and vote? The natives do not want it […] let them be a subject race, and keep the liquor from them […] We have to face the question and it must be brought home to them that in the future nine-tenths of them will have to spend their lives in daily labour, in physical work, in manual labour.
Today, black Rhodes Scholars from Africa attend Oxford. William Jefferson Clinton, also something of a monster—though substantially less of a monster than Cecil Rhodes—was a Rhodes Scholar. There are just a handful of tenured professors at the University of Cape Town who are black. Wilson was a segregationist horrorshow, and also he was the president of this country, if a weak one; a founder of the League of Nations, and a pacifist. What I mean by all this is that every institution we possess is irremediably tainted.

We don’t want to get rid of the past; what we want is to regret it. Move the statue, yes, but don’t destroy it. We must supply ourselves with plenty of buckets of poo, and never forget a thing. Oxford classicist Mary Beard made a similar point a few days go in the Independent, expressing admiration for student activism and resistance to racism, but cautioning against what she saw as a “dangerous attempt to try to erase the past.”

“Of course Rhodes was a racist,” she said. “My worries are about the narrower historical point: that history can’t be unwritten or hidden away, or erased when we change our minds. We need to face the past and our dependence on it and do better than it… that’s what the past is for.”

In other words, if we get rid of the statue, where will we even aim the poo.

by Maria Bustillos, The Awl |  Read more:
Image: Star Wars