Mary Prince statue would promote more inclusive history

  • Valirie Marcia Akinstall is a Bermudian media law expert who lives in London, England

    Valirie Marcia Akinstall is a Bermudian media law expert who lives in London, England

It has come to pass, Bermuda’s first female and black Governor. Whether this appointment was shaped by the Black Lives Matter protests worldwide or, as countries rise out of a horrendous pandemic, soul-searching far beyond democratic or socialistic greed to get the ultimate point of humanity, all lives matter!

Because we humans, as a species, are vulnerable far beyond social injustice, as our environment needs immediate attention also.

Yet as BLM protests spread from one country to the next, not all protests were peaceful.

In Britain, statues were defaced or demolished and, notably, one was thrown into the river.

Yet these are statues of men that Great Britain proclaims made Britain “Great”.

Men whose magnanimous contributions to British society in the fields of philanthropy, arts, sciences, academia, medicine, etc. But nowhere are there statues that tell the story of the value, contribution, appreciation, praise, sorrow or apology for all the slaves that brought economic prosperity to Great Britain.

For on the massive economic scale that slaves, whether in Britain or through the hundreds of thousands sold into slavery in the British Overseas Territories, our foreparents’ collective labour built Britain without any type of remuneration.

So why isn’t there recognition, tributes and homage to their contributions?

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote these words in his weekly news column: “It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality — in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life.”

And Mr Johnson went on to further elaborate: “We need to tackle the substance of the problem, not the symbols. We need to address the present, not attempt to rewrite the past — and that means we cannot and must not get sucked into never-ending debate about which well-known historical figure is sufficiently pure or politically correct to remain in public view.”

But here is where my opinion diverges from the Prime Minister because it isn’t about which statues should remain in public view as we look through the lens of slavery. But why hasn’t Britain acknowledged and paid public homage to those who were forced to give their lives to build the British Empire?

Because our foreparents did not come to fight a war; they came in shackles and chains to build your nation. So why, Prime Minister, are we not lifting them up and building monuments in their honour?

But then farther down in the Prime Minister’s column, he expresses hope, offers inclusion and recognition of contributions when he states: “We have brilliant sculptors and artists. Why should they not be commissioned to make fitting additions to the landscape and cityscape? Take the great courtyard in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where stone statues of British explorers and imperialists look down from the niches. Many of the niches are for some reason unfilled.”

Now those unfilled niches should be filled by Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic who had to overcome extraordinary obstacles to succeed in Britain and throughout the British Empire.

One such person was Mary Prince. Her story is well documented in Britain, but she, like so many others, has been ignored and defaced as insignificant in British history and culture.

As the new governor takes office appointed by the Foreign Office, where the Prime Minister was once the foreign secretary, the appointment could bring a pivotal tilt towards inclusion and social justice of BAME in history and culture.

Meanwhile, it is my genuine hope that the Governor’s Office will work towards the reality of a Mary Prince statue in London, whether that be in the surrounding Westminster Palace niches — she made an indelible impact on British society through legislation abolishing slavery — or the Foreign Office niches.

Honouring Mary Prince in the manner stated here may be a very tall order for an empire steeped in racial and class disparities going back centuries. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can find ways of showing honour, dignity and respect to those whose lives still matter to us today.

Valirie Marcia Akinstall is a Bermudian media law expert who lives in London, England

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Published Jun 17, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 17, 2020 at 8:37 am)

Mary Prince statue would promote more inclusive history

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