Oxford dons should stop "throwing tantrums" over statues and focus on addressing the inequalities of today, Oriel College’s only African tutor has said.
Rather than "virtue signalling" about a historic figure, academics should channel their energies into promoting equality in contemporary society, according to Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda.
Dr Daouda, from Morocco, said she was "perplexed" by the recent condemnation by Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations of the decision to keep a statue of Cecil Rhodes in place at Oriel.
Writing for The Telegraph, she said: "As an African female tutor at Oriel, I would be glad to see less emotivity in the way some members of the university deal with Rhodes and with the whole race craze in general."
Earlier this month, the Department of Politics and International Relations published a statement condemning Oriel’s decision to keep the statue in place given Rohdes’ "racist and patriarchal" views which are "clearly at odds" with the values of the university.
But Dr Daouda said patriarchy in Victorian Britain was "in many ways still better than the conditions girls and women currently endure in several African countries".
Dr Marie Kawthar Daouda, pictured outside Oriel College
Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley
She said the politics department was in an "ideal position" to promote equality by "raising awareness about places in the world where there is still much more work to be done than under the dreaming spires".
Making a fuss over a statue was a "dazzling sign of Western privilege" and would be a luxury that no one could afford in other countries, she added.
Last month, more than 150 Oxford dons announced that they would boycott Oriel and refuse to teach its students in protest at its decision to keep the statue.
Dr Daouda, a lecturer in French, said she had covered a tutorial that a fellow academic had refused to teach as part of the boycott.
She added that "anti-Rhodes virtue signaling" has "little to no effect aside from showing the students that they are expendable hostages and teaching them that even respectable academics from one of the most prestigious universities cannot see a statue without throwing a tantrum".
In May, Oriel’s governing body ruled that the controversial statue will not be taken down from the college’s main facade.
Students began campaigning for the Rhodes statue to be taken down in 2015, but the toppling of a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol at the height of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests reignited the "Rhodes Must Fall" demonstrations.
Rhodes, a British imperialist who founded Rhodesia and served as prime minister of the Cape Colony in the 1890s, donated a huge sum to Oriel in his will. He was not a slave trader but supported apartheid-style measures in southern Africa.
A year ago, Oriel’s governing body said it was its "wish" to remove the statue and established an independent commission to examine the key issues surrounding it.
In May, the commission concluded its inquiry, saying it backed the college’s original wish to remove the statue. But Oriel’s governing body has decided it should stay for the time being on the basis that it would take too long and cost too much to remove.
Fussing over a statue is a dazzling sign of Western privilege
On July 2, the Department of Politics and International Relations of the University of Oxford issued a statement regarding the Cecil Rhodes statue in Oriel College.
The department "decided to express its disappointment and perplexity at the decision of Oriel College not to seek to remove the statue". The grounds were that Rhodes embodies racist and patriarchic views that are "clearly at odds with the university of today".
I am perplexed that the faculty would be so surprised to see Oriel following the recommendations of the commission. And as an African female tutor at Oriel, I would be glad to see less emotivity in the way some members of the university deal with Rhodes and with the whole race craze in general.
Rhodes funded a race-blind scholarship. I am more comfortable with that than with wondering whether I got my position because of diversity quotas. Equally, Victorian and Edwardian patriarchy was in many ways still better than the conditions girls and women currently endure in several African countries. On the virtue-signalling scale, some causes definitely score higher than others.
Protesters call for the Rhodes statue to be taken down last summer
Credit: Adrian Dennis/AFP
The Department of Politics and International Relations is in an ideal position to promote equality and diversity by raising awareness about places in the world where there is still much more work to be done than under the dreaming spires.
Fussing that much over a statue is a dazzling sign of Western privilege. In countries where statues – if they still exist – are bombed or beheaded, it is a luxury no one could afford. The concern for equality is a legitimate one – however, it could only emerge from a background so wealthy that the last privilege to conquer is the moral high ground.
Earlier this summer, the only disruption following the call for boycotting Oriel only affected a single one-hour tutorial, which I ended up teaching.
The anti-Rhodes virtue signalling has little to no effect aside from showing the students that they are expendable hostages and teaching them that even respectable academics from one of the most prestigious universities cannot see a statue without throwing a tantrum.
More importantly, while the faculty’s statement claims to be anti-racist and anti-patriarcal in the purest abidance with intersectional dogma, it perpetuates the distinction between the "rational West" (as in "white, modern, educated saviour") and the "irrational other" (as in "poor, oppressed over-emotional non-white/female").
It ventriloquises students from ethnical minorities and holds them in a permanent state of emotional immaturity, teenage over-reaction and lack of resilience.
Has Ireland asked North African countries for reparations over slave-trading Berber raids? Why is no one protesting around the Catholic and Protestant martyrs memorials on Broad Street and Holywell Street?
Memorials also help to see that history moves on. Oxford is now a thriving multicultural university. Students come here from all around the world in pursuit of truth. Caring about emotions and opinions more than about learning defeats the very purpose of higher education.
Rhodes Must Fall and the media piled up erroneous information about Rhodes, making him a slave owner and a genocidal warlord. He is now a scapegoat, and his statue the propitiatory victim that 21st century Oxford has to sacrifice to purify itself from its own past, as though the ghost of Rhodes was out and about, ready to jump at slightly tan members of the university to micro-aggress them.
Yet the only way the Rhodes statue could hurt you is if you crane your neck looking at it for too long.