London Mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to personally "review and improve" diversity in the UK capital by removing statues of slave traders and monuments linked to slavery. The 49-year-old politician said that the names of the city’s streets and buildings, as well as memorial plaques, would be reviewed by the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm that the official launched in response to the demonstrations against racism.
"I’m all in favour of our city reflecting the values we have but also the diversity we have. There are some statues that are quite clear cut: slavers, are clear cut in my view, plantation owners are quite clear cut. It is an uncomfortable truth that our nation and city owes a large part of its wealth to its role in the slave trade and while this is reflected in our public realm, the contribution of many of our communities to life in our capital has been wilfully ignored", Khan said.
The London mayor stressed that he did not condone unlawful acts and wanted a proper process for the removal of statues linked to slavery. "I’m quite clear the law has to be followed", Khan told the BBC. His statement came after demonstrators in the UK city of Bristol on Sunday tore down a statue of Edward Colston during a protest against racism. Colston, a merchant and slave trader who played a key role in the Royal African Company, which transported thousands of enslaved Africans, is one of the most famous citizens in Bristol's history.
The move was criticised by high-ranking officials, including Minister of State for Crime, Policing, and the Fire Service Kit Malthouse, Home Secretary Priti Patel, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. While Johnson acknowledged that it was "a cold reality" that people of colour have experienced discrimination, something that the British PM said his government is committed to eradicating, he condemned the move, describing it as a criminal act and said that those who desecrate monuments should face "the full force of law".
Protests against racism erupted across the world after George Floyd, an African-American man, died at the hands of a white police officer in the United States during his arrest. The incident sparked huge outrage, which turned into massive protests and riots in more than 70 cities across the United States. It also reignited a longstanding debate on racial discrimination in the United States and across the world. The protests then swept into other countries, including Canada, Germany, Spain, France, and Britain.
Members of the Black Lives Matter movement, which claims to be aimed at stopping violence and racism against black people, have identified 60 statues in Britain that they say celebrate slavery and racism. Some of the UK’s most famous people are on the list, including Cecil Rhodes, who served as the prime minister of Britain's Cape Colony.
Last weekend, protesters in London desecrated a monument to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who led the country in the Second World War against Nazi Germany, but who has also been criticised for remaining indifferent to the famine in Bengal, with demonstrators writing "was a racist" beneath the late PM's name. When Sadiq Khan was asked whether Churchill’s statue would be included in a review by the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, he said that the statue should stay up. "Nobody’s perfect, whether it’s Churchill, whether it’s Ghandi, whether it’s Malcolm", Khan told the BBC, adding that history should be taught "warts and all".