Public opinion – the ambient values held by any given society – constantly evolves and changes. While such things are hard to quantify in a multicultural, diverse nation, the attitudes of a given group of people will constantly alter over time. Thus, what is acceptable in one era might not be acceptable in another. The people revered in one era might be condemned in another.
There is a current trend in toppling the statues of people associated with racism and the slave trade. Of course, I find the notion that someone could be condemned to a life of servitude simply due to the colour of their skin as abhorrent as anyone else. Yet the problem with toppling such statues is that it clears the way for other statues to be toppled; statues of people ‘we’ may currently like. If defacing the statue of Churchill can be justified, what is to stop someone with the opposite worldview to ours justify defacing the statues of Gandhi or Mandela, on the other side of parliament Square? And who’s to say that, sometime in the future, evidence won’t emerge that won’t redeem Churchill or Rhodes or Colston?
The contemporary cultural space is a highly complex one: we live in a society with lots of competing, often contradictory viewpoints. By destroying monuments to people who were once revered, we promote one set of views over another, and assert modern values are more important than those of the past; one viewpoint tries to dominate the entire cultural landscape. Surely the irony of that is, in doing so, we become just as bigoted, authoritarian and intolerant as the people whose statues we topple.
I just watched this 2016 Louis Theroux documentary about Jimmy Saville, looking back on his previous documentaries with him with the hindsight of what we now know. It is a really difficult watch: Saville was a despicable, disgusting man who thought his celebrity meant he could get away with anything he wanted. I hadn’t given him much thought before now, but, watching the doc, I was struck by Saville’s resemblance to Donald Trump. Can we not see the same sense of entitlement and self importance in both men? The same egotistical narcissism and sense that they are above others? One arsehole reminded me of the other, and I felt the same embarrassment that such a disgrace to humanity could ever have risen to such fame.
Pull down a statue, and you’ll have a mess.
The legacy of what the statue represents will remain.
History is peopled with the good and the bad.
To avoid repeating it, we need to remember both.
People who were once revered may now be condemned:
Progress, with hindsight, sometimes becomes bigotry; civilisation becomes barbarity.
We must remember both.
Lest tearing down their statues just continues the mess they started.
Yesterday evening on tv I heard someone say that one of the ways to tell how much work has yet to be done in terms of achieving racial equality is by noting the lack of black people we see on tv, in films, and in positions of social authority. That’s undoubtably true, but I couldn’t help thinking that you see far fewer people with disabilities in such places. While the majority of the cast of any given film is likely to be white, it is still far rarer to see a disabled person on our screens. When did you last see a wheelchair user or someone using a communication aid on the telly? The Black Lives Matter seems to now be gathering real pace, and hopefully will achieve real change; yet we shouldn’t forget that there are other social groups, sidelined to an even greater extent, who can make a contribution to society and whose lives matter just as much.
I now live in a flat on an estate built in the last couple of years: twenty or so flats built along two short, new streets, on two floors. It’s a nice little area, with a community feel to it. At the end of one of the rows, though, is a space which obviously isn’t intended to be lived in but for commercial uses. It has been boarded up since I moved here, with a big ‘to let’ sign. I assumed that it would eventually become a small corner shop or pharmacy.
However, a couple of days ago I saw something interesting on the community Facebook page: the space is going to become a small bar and microbrewery. Now, reading that I didn’t know what to think. Part of me likes the idea of having nearby to go whenever I feel like a drink. It’s just around the corner, so getting there and back in my chair couldn’t be much easier. On the other hand, I kind of worry about what it might do to the area, and who it might attract.
After seeing the first report I didn’t worry about it much though – it could have just been a rumour. However, I just came across this. It looks like it’ll be a trendy little place, hopefully selling some nice, tasty beers. Believe me, this is a development I’ll be keeping a very close eye on.
The walk to Charlton Park is a short, pleasant one. In my powerchair using the quickest route I’ve found, it takes less than thirty minutes. I go there every so often, but this morning on Twitter I saw that the Old Cottage Coffee Shop – the Cafe in the Park – is going to reopen tomorrow, so I thought I’d head that way again today, to see what was going on. And sure enough, there were Rudy and Mimi, preparing the place for reopening, albeit take-away only.
It then occurred to me that they might not know that Lyn had passed away. I decided to go say hi and ask how they were. I spoke to Mimi, who offered me a coffee. It turned out that they had been told about Lyn, a month or so ago.
Things are slowly returning to normal: businesses, like that sweet little coffee shop where everyone knows everyone else, will, sooner or later, be buzzing with customers again. I think I will still go there every so often, but it won’t be the same – nothing will be. The person who introduced me to this area I now know so well and which I now see as home, is no longer here. It feels like an intrinsic part of the landscape is absent. All the afternoons I spent at that cafe, all the coffees I drank and conversations I had, Lyn was there too, or not that far away. I know now that she will never be there again, and to be honest that knowledge really is painful.
Enough is enough. If America had an ounce of self respect, they would boot that shitstain on humanity they currently call their president out of the White House immediately. It was bad enough when Trump mocked a disabled reporter, but when I saw him trying to warp recent events to suit his own narrative by claiming that George Floyd would be looking down and smiling at the progress America had supposedly made, I felt physically sick. How dare he? America is in shock over the vilest incident of racist police brutality in years, yet somehow Trump seises the right to speak for the victim, twisting the focus onto himself and how great he is doing. That is utterly, utterly grotesque. How can any nation, let alone one which claims to be the world’s greatest superpower, stoop so low?
As of today I may have a bit of a problem. While I have been trying to avoid using public transport for months, there are times when it can’t be avoided. Yesterday, for instance, I was out for my usual daily drive when, almost in Charlton Park, my powerchair tyre blew. Fortunately the bus connection from there to here is quite good, and I was able to come straight back to Eltham. Apart from that, busses have been no-go areas.
Yet from the fifteenth, if I needed to use a bus, I would need to wear a face covering. These days, though, I don’t know whether it’s because I drink too much coffee or what, but I dribble like Niagra bloody falls: Any face mask I could wear would get soaked very quickly. It would be so sodden that it would probably be useless…and that’s assuming I manage to somehow get it on my face in the first place. Thus, while I certainly see the necessity of these masks – the sooner this pandemic is over, the sooner the pubs, cafes and cinemas can reopen – I think it’s worth noting that the rules in place to stamp it out could raise a few issues for the likes of myself.
This is quite a difficult position for me to get into and keep my balance, but I think it’s worth it to show my solidarity with all those currently protesting against discrimination and prejudice in America all over the world.