Neither George Floyd, the victim, nor Derek Chauvin, the executioner, nor Darnella Frazier, the teenager who filmed the scene, suspected that this precise moment of May 25, 2020 would cause a shock of such magnitude as symbols centenarians were going to be swept away. From Minneapolis to Antwerp.
We’ll see how long it lasts. This is one of the lessons that my years of living and working in the United States have taught me: never overestimate the craze of the moment for an individual, a cause, a cry of rage.
The most charismatic politicians – Obama, for example – come and go without more influence. The most intense outrage – the killing of children at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut, in particular – resulted in no tightening of gun control. And the death of an African-American by an act of brutality by the police – I will not begin to list them – is shocking and enraged … until the next blunder.
The impulse of the day is to unbolt who better. Under the impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement, monuments and statues honoring the Confederate soldiers – those who fought the United States to defend the maintenance of slavery – were assaulted, vandalized, overthrown.
A FUR ALREADY SEEN
Everyone has heard of the cemeteries of Stalin and Lenin statues in Eastern Europe. No image shows the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship better than the tumbling of his statue on Firdos Square in Baghdad in April 2003. And if the monuments did not matter, the Felquists would not have wanted them so much at the Nelson column.
On this side of the border, they are far from insignificant, the statues paying homage to Confederation. By the end of the 19th century, they had been drawn up in parallel with what were dubbed the “Jim Crow Laws” which imposed racial segregation in the southern United States.
A fascinating report from the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2016 tells how these monuments were part of a vast campaign of terror against black people. It is this “domination” that is rejected by those who are in full swing today.
MEMORY, A BATTLEFIELD
The death of George Floyd has also proven to be the spark – in Europe, in particular – of a comparable movement to question a colonialist and racist past. In England, the statue of Edward Colston – a wealthy slave trader from the 17the century – ended up in the Avon River which flows through Bristol. In Belgium, the monuments to King Leopold II – who had made the Congo his personal property and atrociously exploited the local populations – are vandalized.
France is not immune to this with efforts to dismiss tributes to Colbert, an illustrious minister of Louis XIV, but, more troubling, the editor of the Code noir, the text framing slavery in French territories. And that’s not counting the repeated profanations of just about everything that celebrates Christopher Columbus.
It remains to be seen whether knocking out a statue is more than pretending to eliminate a problem. We may well throw the object into the sea; Will mentalities follow?
Monuments contested, vandalized, overturned
- Edward Colston (1636-1721)
- Wealthy slave trader
- Leopold II (1835-1909)
- King of Belgium
- “Owner” of Congo
- Responsible for the deaths of millions of Congolese
London, GREAT BRITAIN
- Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
- Prime Minister, famous anti-fascist, known racist
- Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683)
- Minister of Louis XIV
- Editor of the Edict on the Slave Police, overseeing slavery on French territory
- Robert E. Lee (1807-1870)
- Commander of the army of the Confederate States of America who insisted on the maintenance of slavery
- Christopher Colombus (1451-1506)
- Navigator and “discoverer” of the Americas
- Responsible for the genocide of the Amerindians