Further Black Lives Matter protests took place yesterday in the UK, in response to the death of a man at the hands of a Minnesota cop a fortnight ago. So far the tally from the London protest includes not only the now traditional mass-breaking of the government’s Covid guidelines, the graffiti-ing of the Cenotaph, the statues of Sir Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, but also the injuring of 27 police officers in what the BBC nevertheless persists in calling 'largely peaceful anti-racism protests'.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 7, 2020
27 police officers injured during largely peaceful anti-racism protests in London https://t.co/vIq1VL1aiT
Which brings to mind something important that has been too little discussed in the days since the last London protests, four days ago. That is the video – which made the rounds online and then onto some news websites – of a suggestive standoff.
After a recent protest in Washington DC a video went around online from there of three women, who happened to be white, trying to scrub graffiti off the Lafayette Building. The video that did the rounds showed these women being berated by a passing motorist. ‘Why do you want that to come off?’ demanded the woman in the car. ‘Because this is a federal building’ said one of the women. ‘So you don’t care about black lives then?’ said the woman doing the interrogating. ‘That’s not at all what we’re saying’ one of the white women says. ‘We certainly do care about black lives.’ ‘Not enough to leave up a message’ shoots back the woman in the car, adding the removal of graffiti to the ever-lengthening list of racist acts.
The London video was in some ways even more suggestive. It featured a number of young British people cleaning the graffiti off one of the monuments in Whitehall with their own hands. These turned out to be members of the Household Cavalry, who came around after the protests had dwindled and started to scrub the graffiti off the statue of Earl Haig on Whitehall. This was shortly after at least one other protestor had been pictured clambering over the Cenotaph (Britain’s memorial to the fallen of the two world wars).
— Paul Embery (@PaulEmbery) June 4, 2020
I’m with the kids cleaning the memorial, not those berating them. pic.twitter.com/IN8j3HdB3A
The Whitehall statue had been spray-painted with the letters ACAB, which apparently stands for ‘All cops are bastards’, an extension of the point the protestors had made earlier in the day when they had shouted ‘Fuck the police’ at policemen and women outside Downing Street.
However, it was the response to the young graffiti-clearers that was most interesting. A young woman with a camera-phone was clearly looking to ‘shame’ the people cleaning the monument. Various people also taunted the young soldiers for their acts. Firstly for clearing away some of the protest banners that had been left littered around Whitehall. And secondly for daring to try to clear the graffiti. ‘Couldn’t even wait a day’ one woman taunted them. ‘Not one day. Because of their precious memorial.’
There are several things to say here. One is that yes – the memorials on Whitehall are precious: even the one to Earl Haig. Because citizens in the United Kingdom do feel strongly about the sacrifice that previous generations made on our behalf. It isn’t a funny thing. Nor is it a shallow thing. It goes exceptionally deep. And with good reason.
But the word here that is even more interesting than that woman’s derogatory use of the word ‘precious' is her use of the word ‘their’. Knowingly or otherwise the woman who said this is standing on a landmine, and I suspect that the British press (like their US counterparts) knows this and that is one reason why most of them are trying to steer clear of this.
Either the memorials to the dead of the world wars – and indeed the buildings and monuments that fill the nation’s cities – are ‘ours’, or they belong only to certain groups of people. If they are ‘theirs’ then they are not ‘yours’. Or not ‘ours’. This is not a small issue. Because as a country an awful lot of people from an awful lot of different backgrounds have expended an awful lot of energy over an awful number of decades to ensure that the thing we call ‘our country’ is indeed a collective effort. If you feel a part of it then you will contribute to it. If you do not think it is yours then yes you might feel a number of other things towards it: including (though not limited to) a desire to mock its holy places, deface these and even tear them down.
We have heard an awful lot about racism in recent days and will doubtless hear much more in the days to come. And that is one reason why it would be good if someone could let the BLM protestors know that racial harmony is something that is built together and that racial divisiveness can come from many different directions, including from those who present themselves as opposed to it.