Colston Hall is to be renamed. Some people in Bristol objected to the former Slave Trader being honoured for his contribution to the city.
Other people in Bristol think there is nothing wrong with a former Slave trader being remembered with a building dedicated to culture.
Edward Colston was a slave trader and philanthropist. The problem I have is that these two terms are mutually exclusive – you cannot be both. The only exception is where the slave trader has an epiphany and then spends the rest of his life fighting the slave trade no matter what the cost to himself. As far as I can tell, this does not apply to Colston.
Anyone who can countenance the idea of making money from the suffering of other human beings has absolutely no regard for the rest of humanity (it should also be noted that Colston was a devout Christian).
Sometimes human suffering is a by-product of the final manufactured item but with slave trading the product starts with the suffering of human beings, this fact cannot be disputed.
The profits from slave trading were spectacular. It is no surprise therefore that many traders had more money than they knew what to do with. After the building of stately homes, philanthropy was another obvious self-aggrandizing solution to this dilemma.
The broad definition of a philanthropist is someone who considers the greater good. This suggests empathy and compassion, a regard for those less fortunate than themselves. A slave trader does not have these qualities.
What then, motivates a slave trader to give his money away?
They will be remembered for their charity, helping the less fortunate enjoy the benefits of his or her success. They will have buildings named after them so their name will linger in history as a force for good. Statues will be testament of this.
But the motivation for this generosity is utterly selfish. The money is hardly ever bequeathed anonymously, far from it, the more public fanfare of the donation, the better – hence the naming of buildings after them.
This is a crime of vanity. The crime of slave trading is therefore compounded by this second crime. As perpetrators of misery they then amplify their crime by boasting of it. This is unacceptable.
The right thing to do is to erase the names of such criminals from public buildings and to destroy their statues. The various gifts they bestowed upon society should be given the names of the slaves they exploited or if none can be found, simply renamed Slave House or Slave Park etc.
Condoning and celebrating ruthless greed is not the mark of a civilised society.