Gratitude to Nelson ‘artist’
by Peter Thompson – submitted as a letter to the editor of the Nation newspaper and circulated on social media.
THE LAST SUNDAY SUN Editorial, No Good Reason To Deface Statue, is a lost opportunity for Nation Publishing to contribute positively to a conversation among Barbadians about the history and future together of those who are categorised as black or white. Make no mistake: this controversy is about nothing less.
It is not sufficient for our premier national newspaper to hide behind what reads like a schoolmarm’s condemnation of the bad behaviour of splashing paint on the statue. This is not about the paint; it is not even about the statue. This is about who we are as a people.
The perpetrator is not from among the elite, but their misspellings aside, the handwritten placard they left is perfectly eloquent: “This RACIST white supremacist who would rather die than see black people free stands proudly in our nation’s capital NELSON MUST GO!! Fear not Barbados the people have spoken. Politicians have failed us. HAPPY INDEPENCE (sic).”
I was born to privilege and I have led a privileged life: Harrison College education, a postgraduate degree, a Canadian passport as well as a Bajan one. It humbles and shames me that it was left to a person with none of my advantages in life to speak this truth to power. I hope that they read this so that I can express my gratitude. Thank you.
Talk about race
We have been trying to talk about this since before Independence. The Mighty Gabby sang about the pain that it causes more than 30 years ago. What will it take for us to have an honest conversation about history and race in Barbados? This perpetrator splashed some non-toxic, environmentally-friendly paint that caused no permanent damage at all and took less than three hours to clean off. Are we waiting until some impassioned fool imitates the Irish who took high explosives to their statue of Nelson?
Your editorial complains about “distortions previously fed to us that [. . .] generate extreme feelings among some sections of our people”. Someone who didn’t know better might conclude that the placard contained distortions – it does not.
Yes, there are distortions circulating on social media and Nation Publishing should have set the record straight: no, Nelson did not own slaves or engage personally in the slave trade; yes, the statue was erected to celebrate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar by racists who believed in white supremacy; no, Trevor Marshall’s assertion that “all researchers today regard Horatio Nelson as one the main factors why the British slave trade was not abolished in 1790, but in 1807 after his death in 1805” is not supported by the evidence; yes, Nelson was a racist believer in white supremacy, as were the vast majority of his British contemporaries, even among those supporting Emancipation.
We have witnessed an outpouring on social media seasoned with anger and pain. The largest ingredient was the lack of knowledge and understanding of our history. Among the conversations that I engaged in there were a few which gave me great hope – where I interacted with white Bajans who started out vehemently opposed to moving the statue and making comments that veered into overt racism, but after a dialogue agreed that the statue was in the wrong place, was offensive to their fellow Bajans, and should probably be relocated to the museum with appropriate interpretive signage to explain the context of its existence.
I think it is the duty of Nation Publishing to pay attention to this national conversation beyond a facile condemnation of defacing the statue. We need you to bring professional journalism to the critical issues that are being discussed. Examine the issues; talk to the experts; analyse the pros and cons.
This is a matter for public education, but it will not be solved by staging an opinion poll or a popularity contest. These are issues of right and wrong that strike at the core of who we are as a people, as a nation.
We need you to take a stand. Please lend your authority to the cries to do what is right and relocate the statue of Nelson to a more appropriate venue.