Saturday, 27 June 2015

Flags and Statues etc

In the centre of my native City of Bristol, U.K. stands a statue of  Edward Colston (2 November 1636 – 11 October 1721). 
He was a Bristol-born English merchant and Member of Parliament. Much of his wealth, although used often for philanthropic purposes, was acquired through the trade and exploitation of slaves.



Erected in 1895


The name Colston is commemorated in the name of the concert hall in Bristol  (The Colston Hall); in three schools, and in several streets.

From time to time there have been calls to have the statue removed on account of Colston's important role in the Slave Trade. 

Those who wish the statue to remain say that it honours his philanthropy.

Please note that the statue was erected in 1895  -  a time when British Imperialism was at its zenith, (that should tell you something).

Nonetheless, I am amongst those who believe that the statue should be left as it is: save for an additional inscription, viz  "He was a Slave Trader".

I am disturbed by cultural iconoclasm.

I fear historical amnesia.

Let the statue stay, but let the inscription tell the truth.

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When I was young (1944-1964) the only time I saw the flag of St. George was when it was hoisted above (Church of England) Churches on April 23rd (St. George's Day).



Sometime later (maybe in the 1990's) the St. George's flag was co-opted by English Nationalist ( i.e. racist) groups. It was in danger of becoming a symbol of dirty racism.

In more recent years the St. George's flag has been flown as a symbol of  pride in our English heritage: with all of its glories,  and with all of its grimness.

I truly like the (English) flag of St. George.  But I am aware that it has "meanings"  which are both noble, and nefarious.

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Lord knows how many years ago it was that I was with my German friend Pascal in an evening visit to Stuttgart, Germany.

We heard sounds of celebration.  Following our ears we came across a host of Scots who were in Stuttgart for a soccer game between the Glasgow Rangers (firmly Protestant)   and the local Stuttgart team.

(Glasgow Celtic is the Catholic team).

These young Scots were waving the Union Flag (far right)


An explanation of the flag, correct except that the flag on the right  is more correctly described as the Union Flag,


 
I asked one of the young Scots why he was waiving the Union Flag rather than the Scottish flag of St, Andrew.
 
 
He quickly dis-abused me by saying that he, as a Protestant,  believed that the  cross of St. Andrew was  no more nor less than a saltire on the U.K. flag,
 
This young Protestant Scot saw  the Union Flag as a blessing, and  the St. Andrew's flag as a curse.
 
 
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Flags and Statues have deep meanings (and counter-meanings) in my native U.K.,  and in  my adopted U.S.A.







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