I began yesterday early with an interview on Radio Gloucestershire on the publication of our council report into the review of statues and monuments in our district, most notably the Blackboy clock and statue in Stroud.
I am very proud of the community-led process we put in place to review the street names and the statue. I would recommend reading the report and understanding all the work and careful consideration that was given to all views in making the many recommendations that the council will consider next week, which are about much more than the statue.
Most won’t read all of it, of course. All through the day people commented online about it, some good, some bad. And today I even got an irate email telling me I was an ‘idiot councillor’, no doubt on the back of a Mail Online piece published today. The comments are mushrooming below the line on there too.
Our Tory MP is quoted in that Mail article, as she opposes the recommendation for removal, stating “I oppose removal of history and statues.”
I don’t know if she has read all the reports before commenting. I do hope so.
Later that morning I did a TV interview on the same story, and afterwards, looked up at the little statue, which has caused all this.
I cannot understand why there is anger from a minority of people about the recommendation to remove a racist caricature of a black person and put it in a museum where it will be contextualised. Not forgotten, not cancelled.
If we get to the end of the process, if the statue’s owners agree, the planning permission is granted, if the powers that be, from Historic England to Michael Gove, can all agree to the request for removal, then we shall all be better for it.
We will be more informed and more conscious of how depictions of black people are embedded in our history and culture in many discriminatory ways. Also, as one of the other recommendations, we will be restoring the Anti-Slavery Arch, and seeking to commemorate and celebrate the real history of black people who settled in our district in the past.
We are not ‘cancelling’ or ‘removing’ history. We are enriching our understanding of our past. So we can celebrate the best of it, the people and the events that we are proud of. And be honest about what has been wrong in our past.
War is still raging on our continent. I ended the day with the Dursley weekly vigil for Ukraine at the marketplace, and a councillor briefing session on the definition of Islamophobia we are also recommending for adoption at next week’s council meeting. It is time we joined the other councils who are adopting this, taking a stand against another form of racism that blights our community.
And in between this I walked with my daughter by the woods on Stinchombe Hill and saw the bluebells, cowslips and wild violets – the beautiful colours of spring.
In this week, in the days between the Anglican and the Orthodox Easter, in this holy month of Ramadan, it is a time for reflection.
The statue, the vigil, our aim to stand with others against Islamophobia: this day seems to have a common thread.
We don’t need to turn to anger as soon as we read a few words online. We can listen to what people are saying to us. We can make a stand against prejudice and for tolerance, and look clear-eyed at the truth about where we have come from, about our shared history. This is the true patriotism, the true love of country and pride of who we are – a richer, nobler, pride, that includes rather than excludes, one based on love, not hate.