Protests against racist symbols have erupted from the US to Australia.

Protests against monuments that celebrate historical figures known to be racists, are not new. But the death of George Floyd, a Black man, has galvanised the feelings against open symbols of racism and colonialism in several countries like never before. 

From Jacksonville in the United States, to Bristol in the United Kingdom and Antwerp in Belgium, activists and supporters of Black Lives Matter have besieged, disfigured and, in some cases, torn down the statues of people who have a controversial racist past. 

While in some instances these monuments have been torn down by protestors, in other cases, local authorities have simply brought it upon themselves to relegate them to cemeteries and museums. 

Cecil Rhodes is a British colonialist who made money exploiting South Africa’s diamond mines.
Cecil Rhodes is a British colonialist who made money exploiting South Africa’s diamond mines. (AP)

Here’s a quick look at what’s happening around the world.

Dealing with a racist past 

Across cities in the US, there is a drive to remove the statues of Confederate soldiers from parks, universities and other public places. 

For white supremacists, the Confederate monuments are a symbol of Southern America’s fight for its autonomy. But the whole truth is much uglier. The Confederate states, such as Alabama, fought in the American Civil War to preserve the institution of slavery. 

Now, people are demanding that racist monuments be taken down - and authorities are obliging in the wake of massive protests to end police brutality and systemic injustices faced by Black Americans. 

Just this week, the John Breckenridge Castleman monument, a statue of a Confederate soldier, in Louisville, Kentucky, was removed. In Jacksonville, Florida, a 122-year-old statue and plaque that honoured Confederate soldiers, was taken down as the city's mayor declared that other such symbols would be removed, too. 

Earlier this month, demonstrators tore down the 112-year-old monument that commemorated Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General. It had been standing in front of a high school in Montgomery, Alabama. 

Lee has been a controversial figure and his immortalising in such a symbol, has been at the centre of the race debate for years. In 2017, a woman was killed when a white supremacitst drove a car into a crowd of protestors who were demanding the removal of the statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

A 2019 study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, found that there were more than 1,700 symbols of Confederacy in the US including statues, names of schools and highways. 

Since 2015, more than 130 Confederate monuments have been removed from public view. 

A long way to go 

Across the Atlantic, in the UK, a similar drive has gained momentum. Over the weekend, young activists pulled down the statue of 17th century slave trader, Edward Colston, and deposited it into a river in Bristol. 

Protestors have now set their eyes on the monuments of Cecil Rhodes, a British colonialist, who made money exploiting South Africa’s diamond mines. 

Hundreds of students marched under the banner of ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ and have demanded for it to be removed from its prominent position at Oxford University. 

Rhodes Must Fall emerged a few years ago in Cape Town, South Africa, where his statue was removed from a university after similar protests. 

There's a campaign to remove the statues of Belgian King Leopold II who is known for the murder of 2 million Congolese people.
There's a campaign to remove the statues of Belgian King Leopold II who is known for the murder of 2 million Congolese people. (AP)

Other historical figures, such as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, considered by many as a national hero, but seen by others as a racist, have come under attack. 

Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, Westminster, was defaced when the word “racist” was graffitied across it.

In addition to this, people of South Asian descent have taken to Twitter to point out how Churchill let the Bengal famine take place. Millions were killed. 

In Australia, some people are promoting the removal of the statue that commemorates 19th century politician, Charles Cameron Kingston, considered to be the architect of the ‘White Australia’ policy. 

Protestors have also called for monuments of colonists and explorers such as Captain James Cook in Sydney - considered offensive to indigenous Australians - to be taken down. 

Leopold’s ghost

Authorities in the Belgian city of Antwerp removed the statue of King Leopold II after anti-racist protestors vandalised it with paint. It once stood beside a church, but it will now spend its days in a museum.

Between 1865 and 1909, Leopold II oversaw a brutal Belgium regime in the Congo during which millions were killed, and the hands of women and children often amputated for not meeting production targets in rubber plantations. 

Rights activists have long campaigned for the removal of public signs that celebrated his legacy. 

Belgians remain bitterly divided in their opinion of the king. Some say that he was not a “slave king.” 

Taking down all of these monuments, and their combined weight, can make storage a challenge, Catherine White, a museum educator, wrote in a Foreign Policy article

The trick is also to avoid moving them to a place which will then become a site of worship for white supremacists, she writes. 

Source: TRT World