Truly, this time we seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole to a world where nothing is how it seems, where Humpy Dumpty tells us “when I use a word, it means exactly what I want it to mean; nothing more, nothing less” and our understanding of universal facts is simply wrong (with reference to that last one, just consider the US teacher who tells us that the idea that 2+2=4 is not a mathematical reality, but rather just a manifestation of western imperialism and colonialism……..).
Regular readers of this may recall that I have written before of poor old Cecil Rhodes, teetering in his alcove on the facade of Oriel College on Oxford High Street, with the baying mob of #rhodesmustfall below him. Now, actually I do understand that one could have a legitimate discussion about Cecil, and whether he should be prominent in this way in one of our leading academic institutions (although from my own memory and a brief straw poll of some of my University contemporaries, none of us were in fact aware that it was him standing up there, even though we walked past him many times a week for at least three years, so it can’t have been too disturbing). After all, although he was a generous benefactor, he probably wasn’t a very nice man, although he was of course a man of his time.
Anyway, it seems it’s no longer only Cecil who is the problem. In one of the suburbs of north London, there is an institution called the Rhodes Avenue Primary School. It’s situated on a street called Rhodes Avenue, after which it is named. Rhodes Avenue, in turn, is named after a man called Thomas Rhodes, who was a local landowner in that area when it was still rural, in the latter part of the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth centuries. Thomas was in fact the great-uncle of Cecil, although as he was born ninety-one years before him, it’s probably unlikely that they ever met; not impossible, though – Thomas lived to ninety-three, so he could have had some malign influence on the baby Cecil……
I guess you can imagine what is coming next, and you’d be right. Campaigners are demanding that the school changes its name, because – well, it’s the same name, so must be bad. Mmm. Rhodes is not that unusual a name. Off the top of my head, I can think of a man called Mike Rhodes, who plays rugby for Saracens – he’s South African, as well, so what chance does he have? Then, a hundred or so years ago, there was a very famous cricketer, Wilfred Rhodes; frankly, whenever I see his name, I immediately think of nineteenth century western imperialism, so he needs to go. Sadly, for the Greek island of Rhodos, we imperialist British know it as Rhodes. What to do? Raze it to the ground and salt the earth? And then, most disturbingly, this morning I noticed that one of the cabinets in one of the bathrooms in my house has a manufacturer’s name on it. The name? Roper Rhodes……..I’m already poised with the can of petrol and the matchbox……
Seriously, how have we reached this point? Yes, by all means have a discussion (not a mob-driven riot) about statues – I have my views, others have different ones; I’m sure compromise agreement is possible (I would normally be very unlikely to reference Rosa Luxembourg, but I’m with her in her remark that freedom does not exist unless it includes freedom for those who think differently) – but just to rename things because they carry a surname of somebody you don’t like? Should we expect the political hard-right now to start demanding the destruction of Marx Brothers films, because, you know, the name?
And what about all those C&W music fans? Country whats are going to take them home???????