Sunday, June 21, 2020

Petition to remove Gandhi statue called a "massive distraction" from BLM

The current worldwide trend for tearing down the statues of racists and slave owners has extended, once again, to Mahatma Gandhi. There is a petition to remove the statue of Gandhi in Leicester, England, on the grounds that he was "a fascist, racist and sexual predator".
This is not the first time that Gandhi has been in the cross-hairs of the fierce British anti-racism movement: less than a year ago, there was a vociferous call to disallow a Gandhi statue in Manchester.
If all this surprises you, and you have difficulty reconciling this with your image of the little wizened old man doggedly pursuing a path of peace and non-violence in his fight to release India from the yoke of British imperialism, then you should know that the young, unformed Gandhi, who lived in South Africa from the age of 24 to 43, and campaigned there for the rights of Indians in colonial Africa, was not quite the paragon he later became.
Gandhi in South Africa campaigned for Indian within the paradigm of British rule, and was not above throwing the local Africans under the bus in the process. Among other things, he was wont to call the local Africans "dirty", "savages" and "Kaffirs" (a pejorative term).
Of course, many other people, both black and white, British and South African, are countering that, although Gandhi's record may have been flawed, particularly in his early years, his overall legacy remains positive, and indeed he inspired many African leaders, including Nelson Mandela in South Africa, as well as black activists like Martin Luther King in America.
Local Leicester MP Claudia Webbe (a black woman) calls the petition a "massive distraction" from the real issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. That sounds about right to me.

As more and more statues are threatened - the latest such are the moves to topple the statue of Theodore Roosevelt in Central Park, and that of Ulysses Grant, who technically inherited slaves on his estate, but who actually worked to protect the civil rights of freed slaves, and extend voting rights to Black people - and street and even city names are being reconsidered, it was refreshing to hear a thoughtful contribution from a well-regarded radical Black American painter.
His stance is that, if the choice is a binary one of leave them up or tear them down, then sure, tear them down. But Kaphar recommended thinking outside the box a little, and suggested leaving the statues (with a suitably altered explanatory text), and pairing them with a new, contemporary work of suitable power and eloquence that would serve to put the dusty old bronzes into historical and artistic perspective, presumably along the lines of the Fearless Girl statue outside the New York Stock Exchange.

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