Yes, the statue of Cecil Rhodes must fall. But I was a black student at the university, and I know tackling prejudice has to go beyond that

Cecil Rhodes on Oriel College in Oxford
Cecil Rhodes on Oriel College in Oxford. ‘The trickle-down effect of imperialist culture, from its celebrated history to its quiet present, is more oppressive than its symbols.’ Photograph: The Independe/REX/Shutterstock

It was a work colleague who first said that he was surprised to hear I had gone to Oxford because I was black. While I had encountered similar reactions before, this was the first time it had been stated so explicitly. The notion that “black” and “Oxbridge” don’t mix is one that seems to go largely unquestioned.

When I heard of the #RhodesMustFall movement in Oxford, it was from an enthusiastic academic urging me to show my support. Rhodes Must Fall is a protest movement that began in the University of Cape Town in South Africa, directing its attention towards the removal of a Cecil Rhodes statue on the campus. It has since gathered momentum within South Africa, and throughout the world. Its intention being to decolonise education, it has largely focused on removing statues and plaques in university spaces that commemorate colonial history. It is a progressive step and an important one – distancing ourselves from the brutality and evil that was colonialism is an action well overdue.

Students attack the Cecil Rhodes statue in the University of Cape Town
Students attack the Cecil Rhodes statue in the University of Cape Town. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

But the imperialist structure is not confined to physical structures. As a minority in Oxford, I did not buckle under the oppressive weight of history that took form in the monuments to historical figures. In an English class our tutor followed a discussion of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with a video of a comedian speaking with a distinctive Indian accent. After everybody in the room laughed except me, the comedian on the video then explained why to laugh was to mock the Indian individual, at which point everyone in our class proceeded to get angry. I buckled then, sitting silently as a class of opinionated white students declared the racism in Conrad’s novel unworthy of discussion, and derided the comedian’s comments: unconscious bigotry was unworthy of reflection.

A black Rhodes scholar recently wrote an article about his minority experience at Oxbridge. It involved being repeatedly questioned when walking the college grounds and being mistaken for a construction worker on many occasions. When I posted his article to my Facebook page, a former Oxford student of mixed heritage described an experience where she entered a student bar and was immediately dismissed as a potential employee, vying for a chance to serve the students of Oxford.

These are not isolated experiences. I have heard many others, casually relayed as anecdotes by black students. To be mistaken as an employee, to be deemed as something other than a student, is incredibly common for a minority. #RhodesMustFall will do a lot of noisy and symbolic things – but the removal of a plaque or a monument honouring a brutal imperialist won’t insulate minorities from this quieter, more insidious form of imperialism.

Allow me to spell out clearly what these everyday experiences mean. They say repeatedly that Oxford is an institution that accepts a certain calibre of people, and that black people are not intrinsically of that calibre. Blackness is not associated with intellect. More important, blackness is at odds with intellect. Blackness is associated with servitude and thus, upon entering predominantly white establishments, black people are expected to fit into those very roles.

One of the #RhodesMustFall campaigners stated: “There’s a violence to having to walk past the statue every day on the way to your lectures.” But violence is not the only form of oppression. The trickle-down effect of imperialist culture, from its celebrated history to its quiet present, is more oppressive than its symbols. It is more oppressive because the subtlety of its prevalence garners plausible deniability, because unconscious bias and unthinking generalisations are harder to prove and explain. It is easier to dismantle something on the grounds that it is evil in an environment where people strive to be good. It is much harder to tell people who strive to be good that their actions, thoughts and intentions facilitate oppression.

So let the statue fall. But insist that racial prejudice follow. The two movements need not be in competition; we can easily spread our focus. But it needs to be done, and imminently, otherwise Rhodes may fall, but racism will thrive.

[Source:-the gurdian]

By Adam