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Oriel College, Oxford University: Remove the racist statue of Rhodes immediately

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We, the undersigned, call upon Oriel College to take down the statue of Cecil Rhodes that sits overlooking the High Street. This statue is an open glorification of the racist and bloody project of British colonialism. An architect of apartheid in Southern Africa, Rhodes is the same apartheid colonialist who said: “I prefer land to niggers...the natives are like children. They are just emerging from should kill as many niggers as possible.” Rhodes’s actions in Southern Africa were informed by this philosophy, and in putting his murderous colonial project into practise - he committed a multitude of crimes that deserve international outrage instead of tacit complicity.

We find it deplorable that Oriel College continues to glorify an international criminal through its uncritical, deeply violent iconography. As long as the statue remains, Oriel College and Oxford University continue to tacitly identify with Rhodes’s values, and to maintain a toxic culture of domination and oppression. We believe that the colonialism, racism and patriarchy this statue is seeped in has no place in our university - which for many of us is also our home. The removal of this statue would be a welcome first step in the University’s attempt to redress the ways in which it has been an active beneficiary of empire. While it remains standing, the statue of Rhodes remains a celebration not just of the crimes of the man himself, but of the imperialist legacy on which Oxford University has thrived, and continues to thrive. While the statue remains standing, Oxford University continues to condone the persistent racism that shadows this institution.

At the University of Cape Town, the statue of Cecil Rhodes has fallen and uncritical memory of his legacy has been discredited. It is at the University of Cape Town where the Rhodes Must Fall movement, a student-led movement to decolonise education, challenges the active influence of colonial relations in Africa, and caused the removal of the statue of Rhodes that overlooked the campus. Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford supports and continues this vital work by looking to critically interrogate the colonial relations on which Oxford University is founded, not just in Africa, but worldwide. We see no reason why here, at the heart of the High Street, at the heart of Oxford, Rhodes cannot also fall.

For centuries, the University of Oxford has produced, profited from, and memorialised the violent conquests of Rhodes and other ‘great’ imperial men including Christopher Codrington, Benjamin Jowett, and Augustus Pitt Rivers. The University is strewn with visible symbols of its colonial inheritance, and remains the intellectual heart of unjustly attained global privilege. At Oxford, those whose histories have been marred by imperialism are shadowed by statues of their oppressors as they walk through their own university, and find their history held hostage within the archives of their oppressors. Here, a growing number of students are pained by the absence of legitimate critical means to articulate their experiences, and excluded from a culture rife with colonial apologism.

This exclusion violates the university’s own purported commitment to “fostering an inclusive culture which promotes equality, values diversity and maintains a working, learning and social environment in which the rights and dignity of all its staff and students are respected”. Whilst we emphasise that we do not wish to be included in a structure that remains violent towards us, that we, as agents, will continue to agitate for its reformation, we wish to highlight that having a statue of Rhodes violates even this low threshold, and provides a sufficient basis for its removal.  

The University of Oxford continues to colonise the minds of future leaders through its visual iconographies, the concepts and histories on its curricula, the gross underrepresentation of people of colour and other marginalised groups in its staff and student community, the exclusionary networks of power, the cultural capital, and the ‘civilised’ culture of ‘taste’ into which students are steeped. This will never be able to change if statues of racist and murderous men maintain their position and visibility as a part of Oxford. There is no place for Cecil Rhodes on the High Street or anywhere in the world. The statue must fall.


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