As protests against racism erupted across the world, the monuments that pay tribute to problematic historical figures have been subjected to mob justice as well.
Inspired by the protests taking place in the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd, people from around the world are taking to the streets to demonstrate against prejudice and institutional racism happening in their own countries as well. Part of which involves the symbolic purging of controversial icons by way of vandalising effigies of colonialists.
- In the UK, the statue of prominent 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston was torn down by protesters and dragged through the streets before getting tossed into a river.
- Anti-racism protests in Belgium have seen the defacement of multiple statues of King Leopold II, who oversaw the brutal exploitation of Congo in the 19th century.
- Statues of Christopher Columbus — who enslaved and used violence against indigenous peoples of the West Indies — have been toppled, destroyed and disfigured in the US.
Meanwhile, in Singapore, netizens are revisiting the legacy of Sir Stamford Raffles. A man widely thought to be the founder of modern Singapore, but in recent years has been accused of being a racist imperialist who oversaw the kidnapping of hundreds of women for sexual servitude and claiming credit for the country’s success without actually doing the heavy lifting.
Dhevarajan Devadas, a research assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies, wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post that there are arguments to be made in taking down the statues of Raffles.
“There are plenty of roads and institutions bearing his name to remind us of him. But what it does mean is that we finally acknowledge the impact of colonialism on the indigenous people of this region by vacating his place of honour,” he wrote.
"It would also be a potent signal that after more than five decades of independence. Singapore is finally ready to move out of its coloniser's shadow."
On Twitter, the discussion about Raffles' legacy in this time of heightened sensitivities to systemic racism (and statue-toppling) has been pretty active in the last few days.
Sir Stamford Raffles is celebrated for “founding” modern Singapore and historical records show that he was also, most importantly a Slave Trader as well. He was responsible for setting up a sex slave trade for his good fried , Alexander Hare. Governor of Banjarmasin pic.twitter.com/KoLbzTPAa7— Kindness Punk 💗• #BLM 🖤🤎 (@GimmeArif) June 9, 2020
For what it's worth, Singapore's bicentennial commemoration last year reflected on other pioneers of modern Singapore, apart from Raffles.