British PM Boris Johnson says a statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes shouldn’t be taken down from Oxford University, as it would be an attempt to “edit our history” like a politician cheekily trying to change their Wikipedia entry.
In an interview with London’s Evening Standard newspaper on Thursday, Johnson declared that he could not support Oriel College, Oxford University’s plans to remove the statue of the 19th century British figure. The PM said he was “pro-heritage” and “pro-history,” and in favor of people learning about Britain’s past “with all its imperfections.”
Johnson told the paper that the proposed action would be like “trying to bowdlerize or edit our history… like some politician sneakily trying to change his Wikipedia entry.”
Organizers of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford’ movement, reinvigorated by the Black Lives matter protests in the US and around the world, renewed calls for the statue to be taken down in recent weeks. Campaigners argue that the figure glorifies racism and is an insult to black students.
Their calls appeared to have the desired effect, with Oriel College’s governing body voting in favor of having it removed.
In 2015, a statue of Rhodes – who has been described as the father of apartheid – was removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa following a mass campaign by students.
The British diamond magnate and imperialist, who was PM of the Cape Colony [a British colony in present-day South Africa] from 1890 to 1896, played a central role in Britain’s colonial expansion in Africa. After his death, Rhodes bequeathed a part of his fortune to Oxford to establish the prestigious Rhodes scholarship.
A political storm around the rights and wrongs of tearing down statues of figures linked to colonialism, slavery or racist policies has swept the UK in recent weeks, sparked by the downing of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston’s monument in Bristol in early June.
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