Eviction Notice: Colonial Statues, a Signifier of Racism

In this age of Information, willful ignorance cannot be an excuse.
Tears being shed as a result of the tearing down of colonial statues should not be mistaken as a patriotic gesture, rather it is a signifier of the inherent racism that rigs the system.

From one ‘Canadian’ coast to another, the symbols of white supremacy are evident in public statues, architecture, societal structure, the nomenclature of institutions, syllabi of educational institutions, racial economic disparity, language, legislation, prison population demographics, societal values and so on. Although this brief letter focuses on the public statues that ‘dignify’ the Canadian landscape, it is important to note that colonial statues, as a representamen or sign of white supremacy, are tightly intertwined with the above-mentioned representamina, or, in other words, symbols.

“Black and Indigenous peoples across the globe have come to an unwavering consensus that; the ubiquitous presence of these statues among the public consciousness, is a form of literal violence towards the racialized population”

Public art in general engages the consciousness of the masses, and therefore plays various important roles in society. Historically and presently; music, painting, sculptures, and architecture were, and are, used to induce an aura of sanctity, reverence, and fear in religious institutions. Core values of age-old religions are also reflected in their public art and items of worship, which were therefore tools of subconscious indoctrination and control. Colonial statues are not mere sculptures, they epitomize the worship of a phallic power utilized by white supremacy, in raping the land. They are reminders of the perpetual violence enacted towards Black people, and more importantly Indigenous people. They are symbols of conquest upheld by whiteness, and that is why they are so protected by the colonial bureaucracy.

The Canadian colonial leaders who these statues are coined after laid the legislative foundation that is responsible for the displacement of Black and Indigenous lives; be it the intergenerational and persistent systemic wealth gap between folks of Caucasian descent and other races, or the destabilization and tearing apart of Black and Indigenous families. These so-called Canadian forerunners also laid the legislative foundations upheld by the industrial prison complex and its disproportionate population of racialized individuals. On the global lens, they were also active players in the filthy game of imperialism, partaking directly or indirectly in the ruthless exploitation of other countries and racialized individuals within their borders.

With the outrage accompanying the death of George Floyd, also came an awakening of conversations surrounding the subconscious traumas that are often rekindled when in the presence of these monstrous artifacts. Black and Indigenous peoples across the globe have come to an unwavering consensus that; the ubiquitous presence of these statues among the public consciousness, is a form of literal violence towards the racialized population. From Africa to Europe to the Americas, statues that represent oppression were removed one after the other.
Some of them were torn down, others were defaced with paint, some statues were even set ablaze.

We are fortunate to live during this era and witness an important segment of history, where the ‘erotic’ will for freedom is the order of the day. Just like sex, the will for freedom is innate in human nature. The tearing down of the statue of Edward Colston was rather erotic, a collective sexual climax was reached as the protesters drowned his statue into the Bristol harbour. The beheading of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston was an orgasmic gesture.

The July 18 occurrence in Toronto, was an important contribution to this global conversation. The defacing of the statues of Edward VII, John A. MacDonald and Egerton Ryerson was a conceptually layered action. One layer that stood out in this event was the colour of the paint used in defacing the statues. Pink as a colour is often gendered as feminine, pink has also been a representing colour for certain segments within LGBTQ+ communities. The splashing of pink paint on the statues goes beyond destroying the artifacts but also subverts the phallic power inculcated in these colonial artifacts. White supremacy was built on structures of heteronormative patriarchy, and patriarchy thrives off misogyny. Heteronormative patriarchy ascribes weakness to the colour pink, due to its feminine connotation. Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLM Toronto) took a revolutionary approach in simultaneously combating white supremacy and heteronormative patriarchy.

Aside from physical statues, other metaphoric statues still reign supreme in all levels of society. One prominent statue that needs to be taken down hastily is the cruelty enacted by educational institutions to racialized populations. White supremacy is the bedrock of the syllabi of educational institutions throughout Canada. The naming of educational institutions after bloodthirsty, genocidal, racist, slave-owning, colonialist monsters like John A. Macdonald, Egerton Ryerson, George Ramsey, George Brown, Wilfred Laurier, James McGill, etc. is unsettling.

In Zina Saro Wiwa’s ontological film on African masks, titled, Worrying the Mask, she explored the politics of authenticity and contemporaneity in worlds of African art. The following quote is a stinging statement she made in her film: “maybe their work has only just begun, maybe they chose to be stolen, transacted and transported, maybe this is their technology for moving around, maybe they have a job to do, maybe they have us exactly where they want us.”

If we put this quote into the present conversation about colonial statues being torn down, one is made to ask: is this the long-awaited vengeance of the African ancestors living in relics of African art trapped in Western Museums? What if stolen African and indigenous sculptures have teamed up to avenge the violence perpetrated toward racialized ancestors?

The Canadian state swears by these statues, therefore waiting for the government to take down the statues is counterproductive. If they really wanted to, they would have removed the statues since yesterday. In an age where all regard for Lord Lugard is lost, let us chase Columbus out of town.


Photo: Michèle Pearson Clarke / Instagram @mpclarke

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