On the 25th May at 17:30, around 250 protestors demanded anti-racist measures from the government and the University. The protest marked the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and criticised Oriel College’s decision not to take down the High Street Statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes.
The protest began at Bonn Square, with a speaker criticising the UK government’s denial of the institutional racism. He said “What happened to George Floyd has happened in the UK,” with protesters holding up signs saying #UKisNotInnocent. Individuals came forth and read out the names of UK victims of police brutality. The crowd then shouted the names as an act of remembrance, known as #SayTheirName. The protestors took the knee in solidarity, and raised their fists into the air.
Next, a speaker from Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford. Referring to the statue of Cecil Rhodes, she said: “The statue is still standing. Shame on you, Oriel College.” Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford’s main campaign against the statue began in 2015, following successful ‘Rhodes must Fall’ protests in Cape Town 2020. Protests resurged with the BlackLivesMatter movement in Summer 2020, leading Oriel College to express its desire to see the statue removed. However, after an independent commission suggested the statue be removed, the college has chosen not to take down the statue due to “regulatory and financial challenges”.
The protestors then marched towards Oriel College itself, shouting “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace”. Oxford citizen Shaloma said: “As a black female in the UK, I am very aware of racism even if it’s sometimes very under the table. I want to see my black women and sisters freed. And I think we’re the generation that will make it happen.”
Once arrived in front of Oriel College, the protestors assembled on the pavement opposite the college, and chanted “Rhodes was a racist” and “De-de-decolonize / Oriel is full of lies”. Oxford student Wallerand Bazin said: “The statue is a symbol of the University’s support of colonialism. History is a construct, and the University must decide what it wants to keep. Keeping the statue is an act of discursive violence, and an act of violence against those who have been protesting against it for years.” Student Eve Devillers highlighted that not just Oriel, but the University must be held accountable, while another student emphasised that it was important to be a “white ally”.
Two minutes before the end, the protestors stood in the road in front of Oriel College, chanting “Rhodes must fall / Rhodes must fall / Rhodes must fall”. To end the protest, the organisers called for a minute of silence. The protestors reassembled on the pavement opposite the Rhodes statue, with their fists in the air as an act of remembrance and defiance.
This article was edited on August 18th 2021 to correct a quote’s attribution.
Oriel College Oxford has been contacted for comment.
Image Credit: Matilda Gettins