25 January 2022

Opinion from Adrian Leopard & Co

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History cannot be re-written – we are where we are because of it not in spite of it.
Adrian Leopard 277

History cannot be re-written – we are where we are because of it not in spite of it.

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Even if you do not like it, learn from it.

I thought I was going to limit my comments about the unfortunate events of the past days to their effect on our country’s health in relation to Covid-19 and the issues over social-distancing. Unfortunately the problems do not stop there.

I am not from Bristol; I knew nothing about Edward Colston, save that his name is attached to places in Bristol. I therefore decided to check him out on Wikipedia which has quite a helpful exposé of his life and times and it does make interesting reading and, yes, he was certainly involved in the slave trade. You can read the information here:

However, the purpose of this article is neither to praise nor criticise this man; after all he died 299 years ago and the point about history is that it is what it is and it is not for us to re-write it. Certainly we can and should learn from it but the people of the day and those since decided this man was worthy of recognition for his many acts of generosity and patronage, presumably as well as his what we might describe as “darker past”. What is inappropriate is to cite his involvement in slavery as a reason to proceed with civil unrest and damage to public property today. We live in a democracy so if his statue is to be removed, it needs to be done under the democratic process, not under an anarchic one.

I noted a young black man on television saying how unjust things were for his ethnic group. I dare say that had it not been for Colston and men like him, he may well not be living in Britain today but of course if he thinks it is so bad and offensive to be amongst the wicked and oppressive British, perhaps he would be happier returning to the country of his roots.

The truth is that this is all an excuse. I have many excellent friends from all sorts of different ethnic groups, including black, and if we look at our parliament today, probably there has never been such a mix of ethnicity. I am not saying that there are not still injustices but these must be tackled differently and it is worthy of note that many of the protestors seen pulling down the Colston statue were not black.

We still have modern day slavery and legislation to counter it.

It does not stop with Colston. I found the defacing of the Winston Churchill statue absolutely unacceptable. As I said I am no historian but for all the criticisms of this man, he was without question a national hero who saved this country and probably the rest of Europe and is someone who has lived in my lifetime. I may not have any feelings for Colston but I certainly do for Churchill and the desecration of his memory is deeply offensive to me and I am sure many other British people. Churchill, quite rightly, had a state funeral. Shame on the perpetrators – they do not represent Great Britain. The point is we honour Churchill for the good things he did for us, not for any failings he may have had. Did not the same apply to Colston? After all, no one is perfect.

You could take the matter further – the British colonised large parts of the world and made the foundations of what they are today. Perhaps the British should all be annihilated for this shameful history? And while we are about it, what about wiping out Spain and Portugal and France, just a few of our neighbours – they did something of the same too. Look at South America for example.

Should statues of Nelson Mandela be cast down? After all, he was a murderer and a terrorist at one time. Today he is a revered individual. Where would you like to draw the line?

Bristol was built on the fortunes of people like Colston; as I say if it is so bad, perhaps Bristol should be razed to the ground that such a blot on our landscape should no longer be found.

Simple – you cannot re-write history. Like it or not, we are fixed with the events of the past. What we can do is to learn from the past and work to continue to make our modern day society more just for all. I am the first to agree that there is a long way to go but I do not think that it is going to come through conflict. We are more enlightened today.

Adrian Leopard 08-06-20

Photo Alex Motoc

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