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Postcolonial Attitudes Matter: the Rhodes Must Fall resurgence in Oxford

Sam Arnon

On 9 June 2020, over a thousand protestors gathered on Oxford’s High Street in front of Oriel College’s statue of Cecil John Rhodes, calling for its removal. An offshoot of a wave of protests that have swept the globe following the murder in the US of George Floyd, the protest represented a resurgence of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement’s Oxford chapter, 2014-16, which asked the College to remove the statue of the former imperialist whose controversial past is often associated with ambitions of white supremacy and the atrocities of imperialism.

Up to two hours before the protest, the only clue that it was imminent was the quantity of journalists and the police, whose presence around the statue could be felt throughout, with police horses down each of the side alleys and vans regularly patrolling up and down. However, as 5 o’clock approached, peaceful protestors started to congregate around the statue. The street, originally meant to stay open, was steadily blocked up as chants such as ‘Rhodes must Fall’, and ‘Decolonise’ started to reverberate around the street. Placards and banners bore such important messages as ‘Silence=Violence’ and, resonantly for this website Writers Make Worlds ‘Postcolonial Attitudes Matter’.

The various speakers, amongst them Oxford’s own Associate Professor of African Politics, Simukai Chigudu, repeated messages conveyed in a letter written by the city councillors that ‘the presence of this statue on our high street is incompatible with our city’s proud internationalist heritage and commitment to anti-racism’, whilst also making broader points about the institutional racism that still plagues systems worldwide, not least in Britain.

Perhaps the most impactful scene of the day, however, was that of the protestors all sitting down or taking a knee for the length of time, 8 minutes and 46 seconds that it took for George Floyd to be brutally suffocated by police. The buzz and chanting that had made the street so loud previously was replaced within seconds by a respectful silence that was maintained throughout, as the protesters reflected on the embodiment of Oxford’s colonial history that stood before them, and the changes that will surely follow in the coming months.

Cite this: Arnon, Sam. “Postcolonial Attitudes Matter: the Rhodes Must Fall resurgence in Oxford.” Postcolonial Writers Make Worlds, 2020, [scf-post-permalink]. Accessed 29 January 2022.