All Systems Go?

A rolling Colstone gathers no moss. And so, the debate rolls on, even if the statue itself managed only 30 metres.

It is clear that opinion is divided on events, which is fine because what comes next is what counts. But for the moment, let’s consider the now infamous petition for removal. Now, that did get me thinking about the 473,000 who hadn’t signed it.

97.7% never cared enough about the issue to even plonk down their moniker. Now I know that people cast petitions aside like fast-food flyers. But this is a little different. The subject is human rights, not a BOGOF pizza. And yet, as a topic of relevance, it barely scratched the surface of the city’s consciousness, or indeed its conscience.

Surely what the statue symbolised pales into insignificance compared to what that 97.7% symbolises. Resolve that, and it’s all systems go. Quite literally because this is all about systemic racism and the apathy – driven by selfishness – that allows it to function.

The apathy that allowed the statue to stand for so long is the same apathy that has allowed racism to prosper. The racism and inequality in the political, economic, educational, social apparatuses, and every other aspect of UK life.

The proverbial man in the street reacts to brutality when it’s in their face, but otherwise things wash over them, and they remain passive. It’s how inequality has the space to bed in and fester, unattended. Comparatively few think about the stuff that works insidiously and that anchors inequality. Mainly because they lack the perspective and therefore the insight and empathy. There’s your large mass of passives. They are not racist per se, but racism and what it entails just do not enter their world.

These are the ones – the floaters – who need to be activated and educated. It’s why people need now to listen and understand. To become fully paid-up members of the human race.

And that doesn’t mean changing your social media profile with some crass filter or frame, or sharing an inspirational quotation, or trying to retrofit some egalitarian substance to your life story.

Listen, understand ,and then change what you do.

So, what does our current predicament say about all the activists out there and what they have achieved? Well, not a lot really. It’s been 44 years since the Race Relations Act hit the statute, yet here we are. Can they truly claim to have made compelling arguments? I can’t help feeling that the subject is so emotive and so righteous that they feel that a case for equality does not need to be made.

And all things being equal, they are right. But all things are not equal. And as a result, that case and the educational piece – and the part that seeks to understand the perspective of the apathetic – have not been bottomed out and addressed. It has become a ‘because it is’ argument. Yes, having to justify equality sticks in the throat (and is itself reflective of inequality), as does hearing out bigotry, but it is pragmatism.

On the other hand, many of these so-called ‘activists’ enjoy the means rather than the end. It’s an activism that pays the mortgage and charges the glasses. It’s slacktivism.

This self-serving ineffective posturing and unwillingness to engage perhaps explain in part why a compelling case was never presented to the Council in the first instance. Moreover, you might wonder why the Council had never taken action of their own accord. Well, they’re part of the system. Comfortable, steady politics pays the bills.

Nevertheless, brace yourself now for some serious reverse-ferreting from councillors and other bigwigs who will be scrambling to de-Colstonise Bristol, and probably others who will run diversity audits on statues and monuments in their towns before hoisting many of them out. Once they’ve re-established an equilibrium that keeps them afloat, it will be job done.

But they’ve already been rumbled. They had never even considered this before, and now they’re desperately clinging on to a votes bandwagon – and because they’re fearful of a troupe of not-so-merry troubadours wreaking havoc on their doorstep.

So, for all the furore of the statue tugging and dragging, where does the debate go from here?

We’ve seen outrage, and we’ve seen reactions to incidents. We’ve seen a lot of woke posturing and self-serving, bogus solidarity. And we’ve seen professional activists who love activism but who have been exposed as ineffective slacktivists. And a few statues are going to be mothballed.

But in the long run – and it will be a long run – this is all only symbolic gesturing. Without reflection, education, and a plan, it’s all going to fade away.

That’s when the Black Lives Matter profile pictures will be replaced by the next big thing. It was only a year ago that all the same people and the corporates were wrapping up their worlds with rainbow ribbons for gay rights. That’s all now whistling in the wind because there’s nothing in that gig for them anymore.

The problem with the current impetus behind BLM is that so many of the passive majority, who are essential for change, are fake followers. They’re along for the ride insofar as it benefits them.

It’s why years of so-called work to address structural racism has failed. I’ve heard in recent days that much of it has been lauded. Well, that sounds like some pretty desperate gaslighting to me. But don’t take my word for it. Do we really think that anything other than window-dressing has been achieved in the past 40 years?

We’ll see change when that majority understands and acts with determination, not just self-serving hot air.

A statue may have fallen, but the system most certainly has not.


  1. Me again. Some really good points made. I believe we have made tremendous strides in race relations over the past few decades. My personal opinions here – I believe Britain is one of the most tolerant western nations. I say this, because I have lived in Romania and Bulgaria and believe me as a black man – the casual and overt racism over there is alive and well. I’ve also spent time in Spain and again, people are less tolerant. It is just my observation and I am not demonising these countries. Romania and Bulgaria were under the yoke of the USSR for many years so this may have something to do with their less tolerant attitudes.
    Human beings are by nature – tribal creatures. We can get along with other races and cultures. Overall, the vast majority prefer to be with their own race and culture, whether it be black, Asian, white or other. Again, I’m not quoting from any sources, just from life experience. I don’t believe racism will ever truly be stamped out as it’s a part of human nature. an ugly one, but there it is. We can educate. We can be more inclusive. But true racial harmony is impossible, in the same way world peace is impossible. We just have to try and get along the best we can.
    Going back to Edward Colston, I find myself wanting to learn more about the 17th century Bristol and the world that he lived in. My knowledge of this period of British history was scant until recently. It was a harsh, cruel world – with death and disease that today’s inhabitants of Bristol can’t imagine. I prefer the term “wealth privilege” rather than “white privilege” as to be rich in those times afforded escape from poverty on the scale seen in parts of Africa today. If anything, this statue uproar has piqued my interest in this country’s history. I had never heard of Edward Colston until recently. Slavery was a terrible stain on this country. We like to think we’re above all that now. Yet, it persists to this day, in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. I would like to see the same outrage over this, yet there seems to be a muted response. Is it because it’s taking place far from Britain and thus, out of sight, out of mind? Are we so afraid of seeming racist that we’re turning a blind eye to modern slavery?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for these comments and insights, Andy.

      Your final points on modern slavery are very pertinent. It exists openly in other areas of the world, yet this appears to attract little attention.

      In the UK, cases of exploitation (largely of vulnerable adults) are policed, but tend to attract surprisingly lenient sentences in court (8-10 years being commonplace) and comparatively little outrage.

      And the term ‘wealth privilege’ is an interesting one that I’m going to ponder. It certainly widens the debate and is a good example of not simply accepting established terms and all their associated assumptions…


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