I have just been reading my good friend Tommy Sheridan’s impassioned condemnation of slavery and racism. As ever, I have questions. I always have questions. Certain of these questions are perennial. Questions such as: Where does it end? Where is the line to be drawn? Who decides?
Of actions I ask: Why? For what purpose? What is the intent? What does the action hope to achieve? What are its likely effects?
If statues, why not buildings? If we are to destroy statues because they memorialise those who built massive fortunes on a foundation of unimaginable human misery then what about the buildings which memorialise those same people? Where is the line to be drawn? Where does it end? Who decides?
Is it wise to leave such decisions to the mob? Is it not characteristic of mobs that they are notoriously poor at imposing limits? Is it smart to have the criteria by which things are selected for destruction set by those most driven by the basest urges? Is it sensible to have the scale of destruction limited only by the human capacity for destructiveness?
What is the purpose of destroying statues honouring plainly dishonourable men? Is it to make a statement to the effect that we do not honour them? In which case, how can we in good conscience continue to enjoy the benefits of other products of slave-traders’ philanthropy – or troubled consciences? Do we not honour these men more by using the schools, libraries, museums etc. donated by them in the hope of immortality or constructed in their memory by those who sought a portion of that immortality – or to profit from said construction?
If destroying statues of those whose immense wealth derived from savage exploitation of human beings is a gesture protesting racism rather than or as much as a gesture protesting slavery, then what is the deeper purpose? Setting aside the atavistic self-indulgence which doubtless drove at least a few of that Bristol mob, what was the intent of the protesters? What did they hope to achieve by their action? What is their ultimate aim?
Do they hope to eradicate racism? Is that not a forlorn hope? Is not the capacity for irrational hate as much a part of human nature as the equally unreasoning if much less lamentable capacity for love?
Is it their purpose to address the myriad social ills which flow from the expression of racism? Do they hope to eliminate racism made manifest as in the killing of young black men by white authority? In which case, what is the connection between the two – the destruction of a statue and the manifestation of racism? In what way does the former impact the latter?
Few would deny that the intention is worthy – and those few are themselves unworthy – but is the action effective? Does it serve a worthy purpose? Might there be some good that flows from the protest much as ill flows from that which is being protested?
Others may have questions of their own. Some may have questions for me. In response to the foregoing some might demand to know what I have done to combat racism. I would reply simply that I have not committed any racist acts. I did not commit any racist acts yesterday. I have no racist acts planned for today. And if things proceed according to habit and custom, I shall commit no racist acts tomorrow.
Thus have I combated racism. In this way I shall continue to combat racism. By being aware of the capacity for racism that is in me, and keeping it there – where it belongs. By acknowledging that this capacity for racism is part of my evolutionary inheritance. By knowing that it need not be part of the person that is me. By choosing not to allow that latent racism any space in my conscious self.
Humanity is not divided into racists and non-racists. The divide is between potential racists and those who have realised that potential. Between those who recognise that racism is out of place in civilised society and those who suppose that because it is part of human nature it must be part of the ‘natural’ order.
I cannot in all honesty say that I am unhappy about the destruction of memorials to those who claimed a ‘god-given’ right to profit from one of the more appalling manifestations of racism. But I question whether it does anything by way of spreading enlightenment.
If you find these articles interesting please consider a small donation to help support this site and my other activities on behalf of Scotland’s independence movement.