When I visited South Africa, (the birth place of my mother) in 2015, it became clear to me as soon as I walked off the plane into Johannesburg that the country was not beyond its history of extreme racial tension. The traumatic mark left by the colonial era lives on through the South African higher education system. In April of that same year, the Rhodes Must Fall movement began. This protest started as direct action to encourage the removal of the bronze statue of a seated Cecil Rhodes outside the University of Cape Town (UCT). However, it soon grew as “a collective movement of students and staff members mobilising for direct action against the reality of institutional racism at the University of Cape Town.”. This even opened out into a nationwide campaign against institutionalised racism in the education systems of South Africa.
I chose to re-stage this protest image because I found it fascinating that a young south african white woman is protesting against what Cecil Rhodes represents. As a middle-class, white, British female descended from a family that settled in South Africa from Scotland, my family massively benefitted from the Afrikaans middle-class that grew out of Rhodes’ ideologies. However, there is a challenge within this to recognise privilege and hereditary guilt. In my own eyes, I have an obligation to use my position to rebel against the institution which so unfairly favours me purely on basis of skin colour both economically and in education. As a female, I think there is an extra level of solidarity with this problem as institutionalised sexism also puts a barrier between me and certain occupations. I am not comparing these things directly as they are far from the same thing in gravity and severity – in South Africa particularly – however, this identification highlights the intersectional nature of protest. I’m aware that my privilege puts me in a position where protest is almost too easy and the power of resistance is hardly anything compared to the people who are actually effected protesting. I don’t want to undermine this and I think it’s important to acknowledge that I really don’t suffer. You can read more about my exploration of the connection between race, class and creative dissent in my post: https://what-do-you-think.blog/2020/04/22/art-activisms-problematic-existence-within-global-structures-extinction-rebellions-creative-resistance/.
The tape(or improvised tape as is the case in my photo) really reiterates a powerful point surrounding censorship. Education affects the way people communicate and even think of the world around them, a failure to expose unjust racist ideologies, such as that which came from Rhodes, silences the voices of those the ideology oppresses. For this reason, the mask covering the mouth is a solidarity with those muted by colonial powers.
I found this such an interesting discussion and reading up on it inspired me to re-stage the protest in front of my city’s town hall. Liverpool is a city built on the wealth and influence it gained as a major port during the transatlantic slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries. This is illustrated in the opulent architecture of the city’s town hall which sits on Castle Street in all of its imperial glory with images of African slaves and chains carved into the top of its façade. The centre of politics in my locality is still literally built on the economic exploits of slavery. This very literal manifestation is perhaps a representation of a continuing issue with institutionalised racism within this country, particularly in politics, in the wake of the fall of the British Empire.
The suggested removal of these architectural reminders of Liverpool’s past raises questions around whether or not this would censor history? Others have raised the point that doing such a thing may remove a helpful reminder of the past horrors? However, I believe that this is the wrong type of reminder. We can’t go on as a society with physical trophies glorifying the gruesome methods which held up the British Empire? Surely these monuments of the past are what fuels contemporary populism? If we want to move forward we must do so mindful of such events but not in their spirit.