With “cancel culture” running amok in the United States and statues still under attack by those who insist on ascribing 21st-century values and standards to 18th and 19th-century historical figures, it was gratifying to see that Oxford’s Oriel College in the U.K., has resisted the mob’s demand to erase history by taking down a statue of Oxford Benefactor, Cecil Rhodes.
A while back I received a non-official satirical response to those who demand that Rhodes’s likeness be scrapped. It was written presumably by white students to black students attending Oxford’s Oriel College. Before I share the letter, here is a little critical background about the Rhodes controversy.
The “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign was successful at the University of South Africa. That school removed Rhodes’ statue in April 2015, a month after the protest there began. Students and anti-colonialism activists then began similar protests to remove statues at other universities, including Oxford, where Rhodes (who was born in England) remains a significant figure. Oxford University still offers the elite Rhodes Scholarship, and a statue in his likeness presides over the university’s Oriel College campus.
In January 2016, Oxford students voted to remove the statue. Later that month, the school opted to keep the statue after receiving threats from alumni to withdraw millions in donations if it was removed. The college’s decision sparked more marches and ongoing protests, maintaining the issue in the news. Eventually, it agreed to remove the statue, but in May of this year, it backtracked on that decision and decided to keep the effigy of Rhodes where it remains on the facade of Oriel College.
Oxford University’s chancellor, Chris Patten argued against the removal of the Rhodes statue during an appearance on the Today program on BBC Radio 4. However, his language was far tamer than the rhetoric employed in the following letter. Patten styled the objections to Rhodes as along the lines of the “safe spaces” policies adopted on many university campuses in Britain and the US, which critics have said are used to suppress debate on a range of issues.
“That focus on Rhodes is unfortunate, but it’s an example of what’s happening on American campuses and British colleges,” Patten said. “One of the points of a university – which is not to tolerate intolerance, to engage in free inquiry and debate – is being denied. People have to face up to facts in history that they don’t like and talk about them and debate them. Education is not indoctrination. Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudice.”
He added: “Can you imagine a university where there is no platform? I mean a bland diet of bran to feed people, it’s an absolutely terrible idea. If you want universities like that you go to China where they are not allowed to talk about western values, which I regard as global values. No, it’s not the way a university should operate.”
With that as background, here is the unabridged letter ostensibly sent to black students who are demanding that Oxford University pull down the Cecil Rhodes statue and other likenesses of him on campus. It also appeared as an op-ed on America’s Breitbart News. (Note: I have left the British spelling of certain words intact).
Dear Scrotty Students,
Cecil Rhodes’s generous bequest has contributed significantly to the comfort and well-being of many generations of Oxford students – a good many of them, dare we say it, better, brighter, and more deserving than you.
This does not necessarily mean we approve of everything Rhodes did in his lifetime – but then we don’t have to. Cecil Rhodes died over a century ago. “Autres temps, autres moeures.”* If you don’t understand what this means – and it would not remotely surprise us if that were the case – then we really think you should ask yourself the question: “Why am I at Oxford?”
Oxford, let us remind you, is the world’s second-oldest extant university. Scholars have been studying here since at least the 11th century. We’ve played a major part in the invention of Western civilisation, from the 12th-century intellectual renaissance through the Enlightenment and beyond.
Our alumni include William of Ockham, Roger Bacon, William Tyndale, John Donne, Sir Walter Raleigh, Erasmus, Sir Christopher Wren, William Penn, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Samuel Johnson, Robert Hooke, William Morris, Oscar Wilde, Emily Davison, Cardinal Newman, Julie Cocks.
We’re a big deal. And most of the people privileged to come and study here are conscious of what a big deal we are. Oxford is their alma mater – their dear mother – and they respect and revere her accordingly.
And what were your ancestors doing in that period? Living in mud huts, mainly. Sure we’ll concede you the short-lived Southern African civilisation of Great Zimbabwe. But let’s be brutally honest here. The contribution of the Bantu tribes to modern civilisation has been damn near zilch.
You’ll probably say that’s “racist.” But it’s what we here at Oxford prefer to call “true.” Perhaps the rules are different at other universities. In fact, we know things are different at other universities.
We’ve watched with horror at what has been happening across the pond from the University of Missouri to the University of Virginia and even to revered institutions like Harvard and Yale: the “safe spaces”; the #blacklivesmatter; the creeping cultural relativism; the stifling political correctness; what Allan Bloom rightly called “the closing of the American mind.”
At Oxford, however, we will always prefer facts and free, open debate to petty grievance-mongering, identity politics, and empty sloganeering. The day we cease to do so is the day we lose the right to call ourselves the world’s greatest university.
Of course, you are perfectly within your rights to squander your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue political campaigns. (Though it does make us wonder how stringent the vetting procedure is these days for Rhodes scholarships and even more so, for Mandela Rhodes scholarships)
We are well used to seeing undergraduates – or, in your case – postgraduates, making idiots of themselves. Just don’t expect us to indulge your idiocy, let alone genuflect before it. You may be black – “BME” as the grisly modern terminology has it – but we are colour blind.
We have been educating gifted undergraduates from our former colonies, our Empire, our Commonwealth, and beyond for many generations. We do not discriminate by sex, race, colour, or creed. We do, however, discriminate according to intellect.
That means, inter alia, that when our undergrads or postgrads come up with fatuous ideas, we don’t pat them on the back, give them a red rosette and say: “Ooh, you’re black and you come from South Africa. What a clever chap you are!”
No. We prefer to see the quality of those ideas tested in the crucible of public debate. That’s another key part of the Oxford intellectual tradition you see: you can argue any damn thing you like but you need to be able to justify it with facts and logic – otherwise, your idea is worthless.
This ludicrous notion you have that a bronze statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed from Oriel College because it’s symbolic of “institutional racism” and “white slavery”. Well even if it is – which we dispute – so bloody what? Any undergraduate so feeble-minded that they can’t pass a bronze statue without having their “safe space” violated really does not deserve to be here. And besides, if we were to remove Rhodes’s statue on the premise that his life wasn’t blemish-free, where would we stop?
As one of our alumni Dan Hannan has pointed out, Oriel’s other benefactors include two kings so awful – Edward II and Charles I – that their subjects had them killed. The college opposite – Christ Church – was built by a murderous, thieving bully who bumped off two of his wives. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves: does that invalidate the US Constitution? Winston Churchill had unenlightened views about Muslims and India: was he then the wrong man to lead Britain in the war?”
We’ll go further than that. Your Rhodes Must Fall campaign is not merely fatuous but ugly, vandalistic, and dangerous. We agree with Oxford historian RW Johnson that what you are trying to do here is no different from what ISIS and Al-Qaeda have been doing to artifacts in places like Mali and Syria. You are murdering history.
And who are you, anyway, to be lecturing Oxford University on how it should order its affairs? Your #rhodesmustfall campaign, we understand, originates in South Africa and was initiated by a black activist who told one of his lecturers “whites have to be killed.”
One of you – Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh – is the privileged son of a wealthy politician and a member of a party whose slogan is “Kill the Boer; Kill the Farmer”; another of you, Ntokozo Qwabe, who is only in Oxford as a beneficiary of a Rhodes scholarship, has boasted about the need for “socially conscious black students” to “dominate white universities, and do so ruthlessly and decisively!
Great. That’s just what Oxford University needs. Some cultural enrichment from the land of Winnie Mandela, burning tyre necklaces, an AIDS epidemic almost entirely the result of government indifference and ignorance, one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates, institutionalised corruption, tribal politics, anti-white racism, and a collapsing economy. Please name which of the above items you think will enhance the lives of the 22,000 students studying here at Oxford.
And then please explain what it is that makes your attention-grabbing campaign to remove a listed statue from an Oxford college more urgent, more deserving than the desire of probably at least 20,000 of those 22,000 students to enjoy their time here unencumbered by the irritation of spoilt, ungrateful little tossers on scholarships they clearly don’t merit using racial politics and cheap guilt-tripping to ruin the life and fabric of our beloved university.
Understand us and understand this clearly: you have everything to learn from us; we have nothing to learn from you.
Free Thinking Students of Oriel College, Oxford
*Autres temps, autres moeurs – Other times, other customs: in other eras people behaved differently.