I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip…sneer of cold command,
…And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘I am Rhodes, diamond king and white supremacist:
Look on my works, ye begrudged, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.[Adapted from Ozymandias with apologies to P.B. Shelley]
Shelley’s superb short 1818 poem, slightly cannibalised here, aptly describes schools of resentment in Oriel College, Oxford (below), Capetown University and other campuses where, to quote E.G.Whitlam, ‘the impotent are pure.’ The lone and level sands of intellectual purity stretch far away.
The statue of pukka-alpha-white-male Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) at Oriel (beneficiary of scholarship funding from the old guy for many generations) is certainly a horrendous piece of work aesthetically, a seemingly bleached cross between Roy Rene and Colonel Sanders. It has become a cause célèbre because of a burgeoning movement, “Rhodes Must Fall”, dedicated to the worldwide removal of statues to an avowed racist and aggressive coloniser.
The bleached look is apt, for the campaign tries to whitewash historical figures whose views are now considered nasty. We won’t take any blood money, will we? The entire paternalistic beneficence must be (pardon us) blacked.
This pure stance is commendable, in a specious way. Wouldn’t the better revenge be to take the guilt-cash, and prosper? Your way looks churlish, smacks of an inferiority complex, and taken to its logical conclusion, could have inconvenient consequences.[UPDATE: May 2021: Oriel College has decided that the statue stays, evoking predictable fury from blacktivists and their small retinue of cockroaches. They should really have campaigned against Cecil on aesthetic grounds: truth be told, it is a rather mediocre piece of sculpture.]