Two weeks ago, Samina, a member of the consultation team for Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Charity, facilitated a listening exercise with our women group. The aim of the session was to ask the women about their opinions on the statues of Guy and St. Thomas. These individuals and their statues are now receiving lots of attention, similar to the Colston Statue in Bristol. The accumulation of their wealth depended on slave labour in the time of the British Empire. Therefore, there is a discussion about what should happen to the statues and the histories that accompany them.
Firstly, Samina asked us to create our own statues and to think what messages they would symbolise. All of our statues were powerful symbols of love, compassion, kindness and community but also critical addresses histories of racist oppression.
The second part of the session was more about the women’s perspectives on these two concrete statues and what they think would be the best solution. We had a really interesting discussion and many different suggestions about what to do with these statues. Some of our members suggested to honour the many (migrant) NHS workers that have contributed to the hospital with statues instead.
After the session one member of our women group wrote this really powerful piece:
“Should colonial statues be removed and destroyed, if not where should they be placed?
The charity organisations and artists who made the statues have invested time and money in producing these statues and to destroy them will be a waste of resources. However, they should certainly be removed as they are a good source of historical information due to their connection to slavery and be put in safe places.
It’s been argued that these statues provide avenues to learn about the past through figures like Thomas Guy, Robert Clayton, Edward Colston etc., and this is why they are being maintained in public areas but we know a lot needs to be learned about the participation of these figures in slavery and all this cannot be properly learned while on the go but in a more calm and secure environment like the libraries and in the museums where people can even be charged tokens to view them to generate income.
The black life matter protests demonstrate well through social media that we live in times now where past and present social injustices are being challenged and as far as people feel they are still being ignored and excluded from participating fully where they are, they will feel a need too, to pull down and destroy anything viewed as barriers or reminders. This is why protesters were seen pulling down these statues because they were vivid reminders of the oppressions that took place during slavery time.
Alternatively, in place of these colonial statues, statues of symbols of love, peace, equality and justice can be displayed rather.
Are the colonial masters good people?
The colonial masters at the time had big industries like cotton plantations which are big like modern industries. Industries have social responsibility in the form of paying tax and supporting good causes. Therefore, by supporting a worthy cause like the hospitals does not necessarily mean the slave owners were good people but were merely paying their dues to avoid social criticism as we know that most slaves in their care had no access to care and often died of poor health.”