BRUSSELS — A 150-year-old statue of King Leopold II of Belgium, whose forces seized Congo in the late 19th century and ran an exploitative regime that led to the death of millions, was removed from a public square in Antwerp on Tuesday, as protests against racism continued around the world.
It was a striking moment for a country that has struggled, at times, to reckon with one of the most sordid eras in the history of European colonialism. For decades, many Belgians were taught that the country had brought “civilization” to the African region, and some have defended Leopold as a foundational figure. Streets and parks are named after him, and statues of the king can be found throughout the country.
Yet there has been growing pressure in recent years, particularly from younger Belgians, to confront the country’s legacy in central Africa — a movement bolstered by worldwide protests prompted by the killing of George Floyd.
Last week, the statue in Antwerp was set on fire. This week, another statue of Leopold in the city of Ghent was covered in red paint.
As of Tuesday evening, 65,000 people had signed a petition to remove all statues of Leopold II from across the country.
But in an illustration of how divisive grappling with that brutal colonial history is in Belgium, a spokesman for the mayor of Antwerp, Bart De Wever, said the statue of Leopold was not being removed because of the recent outcry. The spokesman for the mayor, whose right-wing party has pushed for a crackdown on immigration, said that leaving the damaged statue in its place would pose a “public safety issue.”
New York Times
London monuments may be removed amid Floyd death
LONDON — London’s mayor said Tuesday that more statues of imperialist figures could be removed from Britain’s streets after protesters knocked down the monument to a slave trader, as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis continued to spark protests — and drive change — around the world.
On the day Floyd was buried in his hometown of Houston, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was setting up a panel to ensure the British capital’s monuments reflected its diversity. It will review statues, murals, street art, street names, and other memorials and consider which legacies should be celebrated, the mayor’s office said.
Even before the new commission got underway, officials in East London removed a statue of 18th-century merchant and slave owner Robert Milligan from its place in the city’s docklands. Joe Biggs, mayor of London’s Tower Hamlets borough, said that following the toppling of a statue of slave trader Edward Colston by demonstrators in the city of Bristol on Sunday, “we’ve acted quickly to both ensure public safety and respond to the concerns of our residents, which I share.”
The act in Bristol also revived calls for Oxford University to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a Victorian imperialist in southern Africa who made a fortune from mines and endowed Oxford University’s Rhodes scholarships.
Japan TV station apologizes for video seen as offensive
TOKYO — Japanese public broadcaster NHK apologized Tuesday for an animated video it produced trying to explain the ongoing protests in the United States that instead sparked outrage that its depiction of Black Americans was offensive.
The animated clip featured a Black man with large muscles wearing a white tank top and raising his fist on a street with fires burning and other Black men and women standing nearby.
The clip, which lasted less than 90 seconds and first aired on a Sunday evening news talk show, did not mention police brutality or George Floyd.
The case of Floyd was mentioned elsewhere in the talk show.
Social media users condemned NHK on Tuesday for lacking understanding of the issues and spreading racial stereotypes.
The clip also sparked a diplomatic response from the interim US ambassador to Japan, Joseph Young. “While we understand @NHK’s intent to address complex racial issues in the United states, it’s unfortunate that more thought and care didn’t go into this video,” Young wrote on Twitter.
NHK pulled the video from Twitter Tuesday and released a statement saying it was posted with a “lack of consideration.”
Top UK tea brands urge #solidaritea with protests
LONDON — The outcry over racial and social injustice that grew in the United States after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis has quickly spread across the globe.
Now the argument has spilled into one of the staples of British life: tea. After some on the right called for a boycott of British brands that supported Black Lives Matter movement, two of Britain’s biggest tea companies made clear their endorsement of antiracism efforts and backed each other up in an argument that erupted on social media this week.
The dispute began when Laura Towler, a Yorkshire-based right-wing YouTuber, posted on Twitter she was happy that “Yorkshire Tea hasn’t supported BLM,” using an abbreviation for the Black Lives Matter movement.
On Monday, Yorkshire Tea responded. “Please don’t buy our tea again,” the company tweeted, adding, “We’re taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism. #BlackLivesMatter.”
Some Twitter users then began messaging to say they would be taking their business elsewhere, specifically to a rival British brand, PG Tips, owned by Unilever. But PG Tips quickly made its own position clear: “If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you’re going to have to find two new tea brands now,” its official account posted on Twitter, also using the Black Lives Matter hashtag and adding a “solidaritea” hashtag for good measure.
New York Times