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Rhodes must fall, here and now

Perhaps the single most familiar symbol of European colonialism in history is the Oxford graduate, Cecil John Rhodes. Half a century before the formalisation of South African apartheid, Rhodes used legislation like the Glen Grey Act to have Blacks forcibly removed to reserves. He introduced policies to segregate non-whites in schools, hospitals, theatres, and public transport, imposed draconian labour laws, forced Blacks to carry passes, and removed thousands from the Cape Colony’s electoral rolls. He explained to the Cape Town Parliament in 1887, “We must adopt a system of despotism, such as works so well in India, in our relations with the barbarians of South Africa.” One biographer called Rhodes an “aggressive imperial expansionist, a crude racist, a ruthless capitalist and a supreme exploiter and manipulator”.

Yet, Oxford is full of homages to this notorious figure. There is the Rhodes House and Rhodes Trust, a statue of Rhodes at Oriel College on the High Street, a plaque honouring Rhodes in Examination Schools, and a bust of Rhodes on King Edward Street. The Rhodes Scholarship was endowed with wealth extracted from the terrorised labour of Black African miners, yet the money has gone overwhelmingly to privileged white people from the West. Rather than place a murderous colonialist like Rhodes upon a pedestal, I believe that Rhodes must fall.

At the same time, Rhodes is more than just a noxious colonialist from a distant historical epoch. Rhodes symbolises the oppressive ethos that pervades this university today.

The institution is choked with various Rhodes-like products of colonial plunder, from the Codrington Library at All Souls College, which was endowed with money from Christopher Codrington’s colonial slave plantations in Barbados, to the Pitt Rivers Museum which houses thousands of artefacts stolen from colonised peoples throughout the world.

The Rhodesian ethos also appears in the undergraduate curriculum. In subjects like Philosophy, History, Literature, Classics and Political Theory, the reading lists are dominated by the voices and perspectives of privileged white men. There are almost no non-Western or non-male voices on the syllabi in the so-called ‘humanities’. Meanwhile, Oxford has less than a handful of black professors, much like the UK as a whole, wherein only 0.4 per cent of professors are black. What kind of mindset accounts for such a white male-dominated educational framework? As Cecil Rhodes said in his Last Will and Testament, “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.”

Then comes the lack of racial awareness among Oxford students. After receiving a ‘world-class’ education, too many graduates remain oblivious to Britain’s racism. They never learn how or why black British and Pakistani babies are twice as likely to die in their first year than white British babies; how or why British whites are nearly twice as likely to get a job as blacks when applying with the same qualifications; how or why even in ‘multicultural’ London, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than whites. Could this be the relevant context to explain why 59 per cent of BME students at Oxford reporting having ‘felt uncomfortable/unwelcome’ because of our race or ethnicity?

Many Oxford students also remain ignorant of Britain’s imperial legacy. They are never taught that Britain’s industrial development was premised on a centuries-long process of genocide against indigenous populations, the enslavement of millions of Africans, and the looting and pillage of India.

Perhaps Oxford, as the intellectual heart of the British empire, could not escape manifesting a colonial ethos in a ‘Great’ Britain which has invaded nine out of every ten countries in the world. But the painful truth is that British imperialism continues in a new form today, oppressing darker-skinned peoples the world over in order to dominate their natural resources and their labour. For example, Britain has spent £30 billion killing over a million Iraqis in order to safeguard the fossil fuel interests of companies like Shell and BP.

The UK also wastes enormous sums perpetuating oppressive and murderous regimes for similar purposes in places like the Congo, Israel/ Palestine, Nigeria, and Pakistan. As Rhodes said, “The natives are like children. They are just emerging from barbarism [and] one should kill as many niggers as possible.”

Oxford has trained 27 of the last 55 prime ministers, virtually all of whom are complicit in international crimes such as these.

What connects all of these issues is the way in which Rhodesian systems of oppression – like Eurocentrism, white superiority, and male domination – have colonised the education system.

Therefore, we must decolonise Oxford. In other words, Rhodes Must Fall!

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