A GROUP which works against racism in sports has criticised the stance taken by Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie in the Blackboy clock debate.
Following calls for the Black boy clock statue – described by campaigners as ‘racist’ and ‘dehumanising’ – to be taken down, the debate about the clock’s future has gained nationwide attention, appearing in the Observer, The Times and the Telegraph over the weekend.
The sculpture depicts a small boy with red lips holding a club and it is located above a clock on the side of a privately owned Grade II listed building in Castle Street, Stroud.
After being inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests last year, which saw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston toppled in Bristol, artist Dan Guthrie, 21, brought the statue to the attention of Stroud District Council.
Mr Guthrie, who describes the statue as an ‘offensive racist relic from the transatlantic slave trade’ is now part of a panel leading a council-run consultation, which could see the figurine moved to the Museum in the Park.
MP Siobhan Baillie has not backed the removal, saying the statue provided context to the journey the country had been on with regards to equal rights.
Anti-racism group Kick It Out – which has been working with Ms Baillie on tackling anonymous racist and misogynistic social media trolls – has now released a statement, criticising the stance taken by the MP, and imploring her “to work with the groups fighting for a Stroud that respects all of its constituents”.
Tony Burnett, CEO of Kick It Out said: “We firmly disagree with Ms Baillie on the matter of this statue, and her attitude towards anti-racist groups in her constituency.
“The statue depicts an enslaved Black person with clearly racist characteristics, and it has no place standing where it does in Stroud. The idea that public symbols of slavery and colonialism should remain on show, without a care for how they impact the lives of our increasingly diverse communities is a stark reminder of the racism that still exists in this country. We support the local groups campaigning to move this statue to a place where the public can engage with its history and context in full.
“Whether it’s on the football pitch, online or in our town centres, we have to fight racism wherever we find it. With that in mind, I would remind Ms Baillie that her work with Kick It Out on online anonymity does not give her a free pass to undermine anti-racist groups.
“We appreciate her efforts to stop online hate, but implore her to work with the groups fighting for a Stroud that respects all of its constituents.”
In response to Mr Burnett’s statement Ms Baillie said: “I will continue to tackle online hate in all its forms. There are, of course, lots of views about historical statues.
“I will fight for anyone’s right to speak their mind within the law and without fear they will be abused or cancelled.“
This is the MP’s original full statement, to which Mr Burnett was referring:
“Removing this statue or any other will not end the scourge of racism and its disappearance from our community into a museum could be counterproductive in the longer term.
“We might run the risk of future generations not understanding the journey this country has made when it comes to equal rights.
“We will always need a context – good and bad – to that journey in our public spaces if we are to understand our history, our progress and our mistakes, then reconcile to it.
“I am also concerned that a certain minority of people with loud voices have an unquenchable desire to be constantly finding things to be outraged at.
“This can never be a way forward in my view. It is divisive, and division never solved a single issue.
“I think the best way to really get people to understand our history is to leave all statues in place and commission others to reflect our country’s journey in the 20th and 21st centuries toward equality.
“It is a journey we are still making and there is some way to go. I understand and share the anger about racism, but effectively banning past prejudice by making it physically disappear from our parks, buildings and roads is not valid in a mature democracy.
“I accept that an improved context of certain historical statues might sometimes be helpful.
“Adding factual information about this statue and the origins of its imagery rather than removing it may, I believe, serve a much greater educational purpose, encourage debate and be a compromise.
“On a practical level, I would welcome people supporting my work to tackle the racism that is happening right now.
“I am working with organisations like Kick it Out and the Football Association to tackle anonymous abuse online with a verification campaign to stop the hate.”