Kick Over the Statues
The 'Black Lives Matter' movement emerged in order to counter the patently obvious fact that Black lives do not matter. This is not just a question of economics or materiality, it is also about seemingly 'ephemeral matters' like the impact on our psyche and associated questions of representation and spirituality.
It has been interesting observing the concern of some white people for matters of law and order and governance and property re: the tearing down of the Colson stature in Bristol. I worked for a year in Bristol and was confronted with the sight of statues built in honour of men who enslaved my ancestors. Polite petitions to move these and other statues were ignored.
Long before a so called mob tore this one down Black activists asked for it and other statues to be move to museums where those who deliberately wanted to see them could, but saving those of us who didn't, the ignominy of having the lives our oppressed ancestors constantly insulted. White authority ignored our claims, BECAUSE OUR LIVES DON'T MATTER and in the face of White complacency and disregard, OUR FEELINGS DO NOT MATTER EITHER.
In 2007, I along with many others, campaigned for a national monument to mark the epoch of the slave trade and the countless millions who died under the yoke of British slavery. We were peaceful, respectful and went through the usual peaceful channels and first the Labour government under Blair, then The Coalition and finally May's government all summarily ignored our pleas. We were peaceful and respectful and made our entreaties in the time honoured and peaceful way. But we were ignored BECAUSE OUR LIVES AND FEELINGS AIN'T WORTH JACK!
We campaigned for an apology for Britain's involvement in the Slave Trade and Blair gave us deep sorry but no apology because the slave trade, sanctioned by greedy white mercantile interests, said it was legal at the time. So no apology and certainly no reparations. Once again, we were not hectoring or behaving like a mob. We made arguments, some of us wrote books, essays and articles and it still made no difference.
So we continue to live with the psychological and spiritual damage of witnessing monuments to the people who made millions from peddling the Black flesh of our ancestors, and this is before we even get to the tangible manifestations of economic hardship and the social deprivation facing Black bodies in postcolonial Britain.
So I find it interesting that following the pulling down of a statue, we have the usual concerned voices of White people sharing their concern for law and order and the dangers of mob rule. Where we their voices when all the aforementioned was happening? Where was the British academy and theologians commenting on the collusion of the Church in the slave trade and the later colonialism that enriched all the historic churches, but taught Black people to hate themselves?
My friend and fellow Black theologian in Britain Dr Delroy Wesley Hall speaks of Black people living in Britain struggling with a form of existential crucifixion. We are mired in our continued 'Holy Saturday' following our social and collective crucifixion, but with no 'Easter Sunday' on the horizon.
So White people can complain about our not abiding by the rules when our attempts to do so have been ignored completely and treated with contempt! So at this moment in history, I am not going to thank White people for issuing apologies and 'taking the knee' and writing statements and going on marches that don't cost them anything, when we are dealing with existential crucifixion that leads to us being more likely to struggle with mental ill issues, such as schizophrenia.
I am not going to 'educate' White people on how to deal with their discomfort and emotions when I and countless Black people are afraid to go out of our houses lest we end up as part of the disproportionate numbers who are stopped, detained and questioned by our supposedly benign police for breaking lockdown restrictions. Some of us have simply had enough of White hypocrisy and the sudden interest in our concerns having shown scant regard for them in years gone by.
Systemic racism didn't start with George Floyd's death nor will end with White people wringing their hands in liberal guilt, telling us how sorry they are for racism that blights our lives and not theirs! Some of us will continue to fight, but we are tired and more angry than you can ever imagine, so please don't you dare tell us how we should behave, because when we played by your rules of civility, you didn't give a damn!
Anthony Reddie is one of the foremost Practical Black theologians in the world. He is the Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture, at Regent's Park College, Oxford University