Winston Churchill Protests
By Edozie Umunna
Twenty-four hours. That’s all the time it took for everything to change.
The day was June 12, 2020. The warm sun smiled down on London, England on this summer day. Down the road, final preparations were being made for the restart of the Premier League. Across the street, Big Ben stood, the hands on his ancient face reading the time. But it wasn’t the weather, sports or surroundings that made this day special.
It’s what was happening in the street.
Almost every inch of St. Margaret Street was flooded with protesters. The sea of people marched with authority and purpose. While unarmed, they were equipped with the weapon of their voice, bellowing out chants in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Chants of “say her name” and “no justice, no peace” rang out through the city. At that moment, the message was clear; change was going to be made that day.
But what change could be made that day? Yes, they could sway the minds and hearts of spectators with their words, but that wouldn’t change the overarching problem. The deep-rooted institutionalized racism at the heart of the country, coupled with the vile slavery that England was built on, formed what seems like an insurmountable mountain in the way of people of color marching through the streets. Something had to give. Something drastic.
Then it happened. The opportunity to make a statement. The opportunity to tear down a stronghold.
It was a statue, but not just any ordinary statue. People had taken down several statues of racist leaders in the past, but this one, in particular, was unlike any they had ever come across. It was the statue of Winston Churchill.
And so they took action. With spray paint, toilet paper, and whatever else they could find, they destroyed the image of ¨The British Bulldog¨. Finally, they sealed their work with one final act. The word racist was printed in big, black letters on the front of the statue. Forever labeled.
The protesters made a statement. Britain’s racist past needed to be torn down, and people were willing to do it themselves should they have to.
Then the next day came.
“If you don’t like it here, fuck off back to Africa!”.
“Those lot wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him!”.
“Show some respect you fucking dickheads”.
These were some of the words that rang out in the exact same location. The sunny sky had been replaced with joyless clouds. The statue had been boarded up. And most importantly, the diverse group of protesters had been replaced by a band of white nationalists.
This group’s goal was the opposite of the prior day’s protesters. They were there to protect what they felt was their heritage, and something that was a part of Britain’s identity. They refused to let go.
And so, we come to a moment where there’s a sense of division between two perceptions of Winston Churchill. The one who saved the British economy or the one who “did not think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people."? The one who fought off the Nazis or the one who said that Britain’s “Aryan stock is bound to triumph”? The one who kept England free or the one who boasted about “killing savages”?
So the question becomes, do the man’s accomplishments cancel out his character?
And if we’re ever going to make progress as a society concerning racial injustice, the answer to that question has to be no. We can not, in good faith, continue to glorify those who so blatantly held a hatred for certain members of our society. You cannot hold onto just the triumphs in war. You either hold onto the vile bigotry along with the success in battle, or you hold on to nothing at all.
It’s time for everyone to stop holding on.