The pathetic revolt against Rhodes
Oxford dons seem to think an inanimate object is the source of racism on campus.
I grew up in Oxford. I walked past Oriel College countless times on the way home from school. Yet for most of my childhood, I didn’t even realise it had a statue of Cecil Rhodes above its main entrance. Nobody ever talked about it. Nobody ever really cared about it.
What a difference a few years can make. Today around 150 Oxford University lecturers are refusing to teach Oriel’s undergraduates or attend talks at the college until it takes the statue down. They are furious that Oriel has backtracked on its plan to remove the statue, and are withdrawing their labour in protest.
In a statement, the academics say that ‘Oriel’s stubborn attachment to a statue that glorifies colonialism’ leaves them ‘no choice’ but to boycott the college. They believe that Oriel is undermining other colleges’ anti-racism efforts. Oxford ‘can only effectively and credibly work to eradicate racism and address the ongoing effects of colonialism today if all the colleges do so’, they say.
Usually, people go on strike over low pay or poor working conditions. These lecturers, in contrast, are protesting over an inanimate object. Leaving both their critical faculties and their perspective at home, they have gone to war over a lump of stone carved more than a century ago.
The main losers in their campaign against Rhodes are, of course, Oriel’s present and future students – none of whom is responsible for the statue or the legacy of the man it depicts. The boycott also covers Oriel’s outreach work. In other words, these academics are refusing to help under-represented communities get places at the college – including ethnic minorities. Clearly, the revolt against Rhodes has little to do with tackling real-world inequalities.
This is just one of many instances recently in which Oxford academics and officials have shown themselves to be as woke as any student. Last year, Oxford announced plans to ‘decolonise’ the university’s maths and science courses by ‘embedding teaching on colonialism and empire’ in the curriculum. In May, Oxford academics said that imperial measurements – like feet, yards and inches – were ‘tied deeply to the idea of the empire’ and should be ‘decolonised’. Unable to find real evidence of ‘systemic’ racism at universities, activist dons are trying to find it in their courses.
The Oriel protest reminds us that the campus culture war is not a battle between woke students and bemused staff. Time and again, lecturers have joined in the witch-hunts and the cancellation campaigns against those who dissent from the identitarian ideology – even against their own colleagues.
There are many reasons why the Rhodes statue should stay standing, but one of the strongest is also one of the simplest: it will act as a reminder to staff and students at Oxford that the world is a complicated place full of things they might not like – and that they’ll just have to grow up and learn to deal with it.
Paddy Hannam is editorial assistant at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @paddyhannam.
Picture by: Getty.
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