Submitted by Tee White (article submitted to the Nation newspaper)
I was shocked to read your article in the Nation of 18 June, which reported that Minister of Culture, John King, is opposed to ‘dumping Nelson’.
Mr King is, of course, right that everybody can form their own personal opinions about any issue, including that of racism. However, the problem is that as Minister of Culture, he represents the people of Barbados. How would it reflect on our country if in international meetings he is defending the maintenance of statues glorifying racists and mass murderers even as countries all over the world are removing these offensive objects from the public space?
Mr King says that he has been reading the cabinet papers from previous discussions of this matter but demonstrates a shocking lack of understanding of the issue. I will pass without comment his preposterous statement that removing symbols that glorify racism, such as Nelson’s statue, amounts to visiting the horrors of chattel slavery on others. He appears to think that taking a stand against racism amounts to excluding non-Africans from the history of Barbados. According to this logic, every Bajan of non-African descent supports anti-African racism and the glorification of its architects. This is a terrible insult to those Bajans of non-African descent who strongly oppose racism and also demand the removal of statues and monuments that glorify it. Is John King not aware that the earliest rebellions in Barbados saw enslaved Africans and indentured Irish people fighting together against the oppressive powers of that time? Does he not see across the whole globe that millions of people of all nationalities and colours are taking a united stand against racism, and those who seek to glorify it?
The thing is that the foundation of racism, upon which modern Barbados was established, cannot be incorporated into any new Barbados in which we simply see each other as human beings because racism is opposed exactly to this concept and insists on categorising people into superior and inferior groups. That is why today, people are demanding that racism has no place in the modern world. You cannot defend racism and its symbols and at the same time claim to be against it. Would anyone take Germany seriously if it claimed to be against Nazism while maintaining statues and other monuments glorifying Hitler and the other leaders of the Nazi regime?
I wonder if Mr King’s comments about the parliament building, the wharf and elsewhere are serious comments. If they are, he really does have no understanding of this issue. Wasn’t Barbados itself around during slavery and playing a part in it? What are we to do with it? Throw it in the sea? The demand is very clear. Statues and monuments are some of the ways in which society honours individuals from the past. Those that glorify racists and people involved in the commission of crimes against humanity should be taken down from the public space because they are a statement that the society honours racism and crimes against humanity in the here and now.
There are, of course, many other issues in Barbados that need to be addressed in order to build a new and inclusive society that works for all Barbadians. However, we will make no headway with these if we are unable to confront and overcome the monster of racism that still disfigures our island. The taking down of Nelson is a small step in this effort.
On this issue, Minister King is quite simply wrong.
Read Minister John King’s article published in the Nation newspaper 18 June 2020
King not on board with dumping Nelson
MINISTER OF CULTURE John King is not in support of the wholesale removal of Lord Nelson’s statue in The City.
He told the media yesterday his opinions on Nelson and race on the whole were personal and he would stick by them, even if they cost him.
“There are a number of papers I am now studying, from about 2009, on discussions various Cabinets would have had on this issue, but on a personal note – and I know what I am about to say is going to upset a lot of people – I would agree that if you’re talking about Heroes Square,there are validations to the varied opinions. But I will not – and it could cost me everything – be a part or party of trying to do to others what we say has been done to us,” he said.
Calls for the removal of the statue were made again during last Saturday’s protest march through Bridgetown in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United Sates and across the world.
King said he did not believe in “stripping down everything and throwing it away”, saying there was a history before slavery and it was now time for a new mindset.
“If you are saying that during enslavement and the colonisation process, that our history, culture and way of life were wiped out and we came into places like the Americas as minorities, why would you now turn around and advocate to do the same thing to somebody else? The discussion we should be having is, if we want to remove this statue, where do we put it?
“How do we recognise the collective history of Barbados is not relegated solely to Barbadians of Afro descent? How do we also incorporate the history of the indigenous people who were here [first]? How do you incorporate
all of the groups that make up Barbados? Let us look at these things for what they are and use them to inspire ourselves to change our prejudices and look at each other as human beings,” he urged.
King said the Parliament Buildings
and the Wharf were around during slavery and played a part in it, asking if those too should be thrown away. He said the Nelson statue should be utilised to the advantage of Barbados while not disadvantaging anyone.
As for the Black Lives Matter movement, King, who as a calypsonian and Pic-O-De-Crop monarch performed social commentaries such as
Fool’s Paradise, How Many More? and I Want A Plantation, said he was accustomed to speaking out against social injustice on his own and would only join any group if and when he felt it necessary.
“I’ve always been advocating against racism, as an entertainer performing overseas and from growing up in England, so I know it well. What is going on in the Unites States has been going on for eons but it is now easier to see due to social media.
“[However] there are other issues right here I don’t hear people talking about, issues some people don’t want to protest, such as classism, which is also a knee on people’s necks. We need to talk about the violence in our own communities . . . and I don’t hear anyone talking about the history of the people we call ‘red legs’ in St John. I hope our future generations find themselves in a different place,” he said.