Sam Wood & Otamere GuobadiaIN CONVERSATION
5 MINUTES WITH WRITER AND ACTIVIST OTAMERE GOUBADIA, ON BLACK LIVES MATTER AND TAKING DOWN COLONIALIST MONUMENTS.
SW: How do you feel about the way the current BLM movement is taking action against public monuments and how does it relate to wider representations of colonial power and profiteering from the slave trade, for example the paintings of JMW Turner, who himself invested in the slave trade?
OG: I mean first of all, fuck Turner, let me just make that very clear. I think we could go a lot further, I think these museums need to give up their bounties, I don’t care if that makes them untenable, unworkable, I think they should at the very least be paying or loaning these artefacts from the countries that they looted them from in the first place.
I think that some of what frustrates me about the statue discourse is that we act as if the blacks have got their hands on our society and they’re trying to erase history in some way.
(White Historian and author Mary beard when asked about the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign in Oxford said it was ‘…a dangerous attempt to erase the past’ and, citing her own struggles as a woman as a parallel, that ethnic minority students there should look up at the statue with ‘… a cheery and self-confident sense of un-batterability’ )
OG. I don’t think any black person wants what happened over the course of hundreds of years to be erased or forgotten, but I think it’s a false argument that white people make in bad faith when they say that we shouldn’t tear down these statues because these people were complicated figures. Even by the standards of his time, Churchill was a particularly virulent racist, but that’s not the narrative we are given. So the idea that black people are somehow trying to erase history by asking for statues to be removed or rather tearing them down is nonsense.
Let’s not forget that in the case of Edward Colston numerous official channels were followed by the local community and ether glazed over or straightforwardly ignored by local authorities before someone took the decision tear it down. Finally, the real cherry on the top of the idea that we as black people are enacting some kind of erasure, is that the British Empire actively, towards the end of the empire, seized and destroyed their own records because they knew their crimes were so brutal and so abominable. I don’t just think that the statues should be torn down, I think we should go far further until something in the status quo changes, because nothing Is changing.
SW: You were at Oxford during the early days of Rhodes Must Fall campaign how was that?
OG: I used to see that statue every day, and this is how little actual people matter to large institutions like Oxford. Rhodes Must Fall were making some headway in 2015-16 when out of nowhere an incredibly wealthy benefactor threatened to withdraw millions of pounds worth of backing from the college and they abandoned the conversations on taking it down.
High profile figures like Colston, like Cecil Rhodes, like Turner cultivated their own legends and attached themselves to institutions through their donations, thereby making their actions profitable not only to themselves but also to the state that they supported and that’s exactly what’s happening now.
Many of these statues were erected well after these men’s deaths, so what are we actually trying to say? That these were complicated characters? That they have been misjudged? No, we are saying to black people that you don’t matter, that the lives of your ancestors don’t matter, the ways that you have been and continue to be brutalised don’t actually matter.
Location: LondonOtamere is a multidisciplinary writer and columnist who has written for i-D, AnotherMan, GQ, The Guardian, Gay Times, HUCK, The Independent, Conde Nast's Them, Attitude, and more. Otamere's writing focuses on desire, queerness, art, race, love, and pop culture—how these things constellate and complicate each other— refracted through the flowery, sentimental lens of someone who is at all times desirous of all things and all people.