• Dozens of Confederate statues and other hateful symbols were removed after George Floyd’s death, but many more remain.
  • Floyd’s uncle has become the target of harassment following his effort to have the Confederate flag removed from a police logo.
  • Arguments over whether and how to remove such symbols have persisted in a number of countries.

Tensions over the public display of divisive symbols have persisted, following an initial wave of reflection on systemic racism and statue razing after the killing of George Floyd.

In fact, a member of Floyd’s family has now been directly affected.

Selwyn Jones, who successfully sought to have the Confederate flag removed from the police logo in his South Dakota hometown not long after his nephew’s death, has become the target of hate and harassment as a result.

The strife in South Dakota is not unique: a Confederate monument in Lexington, North Carolina, has stirred months of competing protests; a bid to remove a statue of a Confederate general in Virginia is headed to trial; and a push to remove Confederate monuments from Washington, D.C., has been criticized as an effort to “airbrush the Capitol.” Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, which features a relief sculpture of Confederate leaders bigger than a football field, drew right-wing protesters and Black Lives Matter supporters to a violent clash in August.

According to one recent tally, there have been votes or decisions to protect 28 Confederate monuments since Floyd’s killing this past May. Meanwhile there were 59 Confederate symbols removed, relocated or renamed between his death and August of this year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center – but nearly 1,800 remain on public land.

Disputes over these symbols point to a deep discord that threatens to undermine a post-pandemic Great Reset aimed at bolstering social justice. Poll results in July showed a slight majority of US voters supporting the removal of Confederate statues, compared with 2018 results that reflected satisfaction with allowing them to stay. Yet, opinions on what exactly should be done now with the statues vary – both among all voters, and between white and Black voters.

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The holiday observed earlier this week as Columbus Day in much of the US proceeded as expected: with protests targeting statues of the European explorer, who is credited with “discovering” the Americas and bringing violence, slavery and disease to indigenous people in the process. Many different types of monuments have met a similar fate in recent months around the world, from the likeness of a Spanish missionary in California to statues of Captain Cook in Australia.

Yet, in the US, it is the monuments and symbols commemorating the Confederacy – a failed effort to keep millions of people enslaved based on the colour of their skin – that have sparked some of the strongest reactions. A Black veteran recently recounted what it was like to serve in a military that’s frequently named its bases and installations after Confederate soldiers. Removing such hurtful labels is “just the right thing to do,” she said.

That’s a sentiment shared in many other contexts and countries. In the Netherlands, calls have been made to remove the statute of a Dutch East India Company officer who oversaw the massacre of indigenous people in Indonesia. In Senegal, a square in the former capital once named after a French colonial governor has now been renamed. And in Vienna, a statue of an anti-Semitic former mayor has been repeatedly defaced.

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For more context, here are links to further reading from the World Economic Forum’s Strategic Intelligence platform:

  • “Why now?” For 114 years, the statue of a generic Confederate soldier in front of a Virginia courthouse went mostly unnoticed. This journalist and local resident reflects on a recent decision to remove it, and how the argument hewed to a broader political divide. (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • While Southern Republicans have generally opposed Democrats pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments in recent months, this research finds that up until the 1990s there were actually no partisan differences among white southerners on the matter. (LSE)
  • “Fallism” is an African movement – from the moment of independence, it was understood that colonial statues did not just represent colonizers, they operated as enduring and active forms of imperialism, according to this report. (New African)
  • NASCAR banned the Confederate flag in June, and had previously sought to distance itself from the symbol. But according to this research, the auto racing giant intentionally used the flag during its early years to sell tickets and appeal to southern, working-class fans. (Harvard Kennedy School)
  • The tallest sculpture in North America – 45 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty – is a likeness of Christopher Columbus looming over the shores of Puerto Rico. According to this report, locals there are calling it a “tribute to genocide” that should be removed. (Mother Jones)
  • Britain’s landscape remains full of monuments to slave owners and those closely associated with the slave trade, according to this analysis – and while symbolic acts like toppling them are good for kick-starting public conversations, more is needed to instigate real social change, the author argues. (LSE)
  • Three scholars of business and management in the UK write that removing the names and statues of slave owners from their institutions must be accompanied by commitments to dismantling oppressive hierarchies of power – as the inequality in business schools goes much deeper than their names. (The Conversation)

On the Strategic Intelligence platform, you can find feeds of expert analysis related to Systemic Racism, Human Rights and hundreds of additional topics. You’ll need to register to view.

Image: World Economic Forum