By Kareem Smith
The wave of black consciousness currently sweeping over the western world is attracting calls for lingering symbols of slavery and colonialism to be removed – starting with the notorious statue of Horatio Nelson in Bridgetown, Barbados.
And it appears that it is the younger demographic calling for more appropriate symbols of heroism to be displayed. An online petition calling for the statue’s removal from the capital city’s Heroes’ Square, has already garnered more than 5,300 signatures.
Alex Downes, who started the petition just two days ago, told Barbados TODAY that amid sweeping protests against racism and social injustice across the world, many young Barbadians are eager to see relics of white supremacy taken down.
“Although we are talking about North America and the US right now, here in Barbados, there are a number of things that we need to pay attention to,” said Downes, a 30-year-old journalist with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and a Master of Laws.
“I know that Nelson has been a topic of hot discussion previously, but I think we need to sit and think about the message that we are sending when we display someone that was pro-slavery in our National Heroes’ Square,” he added.
While popular uprisings in the United Kingdom and Africa have seen the fall of similar statues across the world, on this occasion, Downes is seeking buy-in from a Mia Mottley-led administration that promised in the Barbados Labour Party (BLP)’s 2018 election manifesto to promote a “new national consciousness”.
“We are essentially asking the Government to start with the low-hanging fruit. Nelson is something that is visible, known and talked about and can be easily removed. We are 95 per cent black and even if you are not black, you live in a predominantly black country and you are a part of the culture that makes us all Barbadian,” Downes contended.
“The type of Barbados that we should all want is one that is progressive and forward thinking. I feel this is low hanging fruit that can be used to get the ball rolling. It would give us the momentum to get the ball rolling when it’s time to start talking about legislative changes,” he suggested.
The statue of Nelson – a British Navy officer was erected over two centuries ago in honour of his victory against French forces in the Valley of Trafalgar. However, Nelson’s staunch support for the Transatlantic Slave Trade has attracted tremendous criticism in recent times.
Since the period of slavery, Downes says the country has undergone numerous periods of social evolution, which now should be reflected in the country’s national symbols.
“We knock down buildings all the time that may have had significance and we change the names of places to reflect those who have made contributions to the country.
This statue is a part of our history, but I don’t think it’s a part of our history of which we should be proud. This is a National Heroes’ Square; we have national heroes and I think this should be transformed into something that reflects what the people have been through, what the country has been through and where we are looking to go,” Downes added.
He is hoping to attract 10,000 signatures by Sunday, after which he intends to engage numerous social and religious groups, before calling on the Government to finally take down the monument.
Instead of destroying it, he believes the statue can be placed in the National Museum and discussed in the spirit of its historical context. In the meantime, the young man wants to see Heroes’ Square decorated with monuments that reflect the country’s “true heroes”.
“The same way they removed the old National Insurance Building, this area that is in the heart of the city can be redeveloped and beautified. I really think that we can do better and we know we can do better. So there’s really no excuse,” Downes concluded.
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