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The Colston Verdict: demanding civilised change

Ria explores the aftermath of the Colston verdict on 5 January 2022.

I think a lot more can be understood about people by seeing their reactions in the aftermath, rather than just by how they act in the moment.

I have low expectations of how the world deals with the aftermath of race related crimes. I think this is common. When I saw that the ‘Colston 4’, as they have now been dubbed, were found not guilty of criminal damage when toppling Colston’s statue in Bristol, I felt the incredibly rare sensation of relief and, in fact, joy… at news about race.

Rhian Graham, Milo Ponsford, Sage Willoughby and Jake Skuse all shamelessly took accountability for toppling and throwing the statue into the river Avon but denied criminal damage. In fact, they pleaded that the statue being there in the first place was a hate crime.

Here, we have four white people unapologetically owning their commitment to anti-racism and not running away in fear of being convicted. These are four people who truly understand the impact of their actions where time hasn’t dampened their beliefs. A year and a half later, they are still showing up.

This outcome is a catalyst that progresses our collective consciousness and belief. This is proof - in a discourse of race where proof is expected but certainly not necessary - that people want progress and accountability from history, they don’t want to live in it. Again, as is usual, this comes from the actions of younger generations.

morals vs the law.

Unsurprisingly there is a huge anger at this outcome as it seems to be lawfully skewed for morality. But doesn’t that say everything - a world that is more concerned with rules that keep people in their place than the moral impact of them on all of us?

I want to highlight that this isn’t to say all rules are irrelevant and I can understand how people will likely use this for the argument of uncivilized anarchy. Ultimately, if we go down the avenue of all or nothing, we discount history and the many moments like these from every societal group. For me, this debate reframes their actions out of a context of protest and into one of civility and therefore, once again, the issue at the core of this (racism) comes second.

The Colston verdict is integrally about race - civility has long been a tool of control in the belief of race.

Really, the toppling of a statue isn’t what angers people. What angers people is the loss of control and the realisation that their generational influence is slipping away from them. People have been trying for years to not only remove Colston’s statue but get Bristol to face it’s history - this concept is nothing new. But what is new is being undeniably shown that the word of Britain’s colonial past is not gospel. It’s ironic that the same people that don’t want to own a history built on the backs of slaves are so intent on holding grasp of Colston.

Simply, there is a fear that Britain really isn't as "Great" as so many people believe it to be.

The Colston verdict puts a mirror up to Britain and people don’t like what they see.

People seem to feel conflicted by this issue or find the debate is convoluted. Actually, I think it’s pretty simple. If this is what gets people to think harder and work harder to understand Britain’s past, if this moves people to shift out of their comfort of racial privilege and face their impact, then it is absolutely the right thing. Ultimately, if it gets people to better grips with their morality in relation to the slave trade, then it is the right verdict. Often issues like these come back to the way privilege allows some of us to commentate on the way something’s done because the reason it’s being done does not affect us.

As a non-black person, how can I compare the dealing of a statue with the trauma and emotional labor tied up in Colston’s history?

These things at heart, for me, are incomparable.

What makes this example powerful is that it’s opened the door for scope on racial discourse and perhaps next time, we will be able to actually get council approval for statue removal rather than needing to surpass the rules. Petitions in this case had no effect. No real world change ever came without radicalism or going against rules because it’s the rules themselves that keep people in their place. Again, that control slipping away is fear of ‘Great Britain’s great persona’ unveiling the awful history beneath it. This is what scares people into demonizing things like anti-racism and the BLM movement because after all, isn’t it much easier to hate what threatens the establishment than face the hate the establishment is built on?




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