Churchill the racist – understanding why his plinth was defaced

Churchill’s bust was defaced on Parliament Sq this past weekend (Getty Images)

Black Lives Matter protesters in the UK have confronted Britain’s ugly racist past by falling the statue of a slaver in Bristol. In London on Churchill’s statue in Parliament Sq, they wrote that Churchill was a racist. Why? Because he was.

It’s not something we’re taught in history or we’ll even find in the British history section of our bookstores. His administration was responsible for the death of 3 million Bengalis. (Read Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II by Madhusree Mukerjee.  You’ll unfortunately not find this in the British history section of many bookstores.)  To prevent the successful invasion of India by Japanese troops from Burma, Churchill’s administration saw that Bengali means of food production and food storage were destroyed and remaining supplies were diverted to troops fighting Britain’s war. Bengali lives did not matter to Churchill.

He referred to the Asian as the ‘brown rat’ and the white man’s rival. Of black people, he referred to the colonial enterprise of making them ‘less crudely animal’. Here’s more excerpts of his racism in his own Nobel literature prize winning words from his book My African Journey, available for free on the Gutenberg Project’s website. He published this aged 34 in 1908.

‘It is unquestionably an advantage that the East African negro should develop a taste for civilized attire. In no more useful and innocent direction could his wants be multiplied and his desires excited, and it is by this process of assimilation that his life will gradually be made more complicated, more varied, less crudely animal, and himself raised to a higher level of economic utility.’

‘A Government runs risks when it intrudes upon the domain of fashion; but when a veritable abyss of knowledge and science separates the rulers from the ruled, when authority is dealing with a native race still plunged in its primary squalour, without religion, without clothes, without morals, but willing to emerge and capable of emerging, such risks may fairly be accepted [ . . . ]’

‘No one can travel even for a little while among the negro tribes without acquiring a liking for these light-hearted, tractable, if brutish children, or without feeling that they are capable of being instructed and raised from their present degradation.’

‘The African protectorates now administered by the Colonial Office afford rare scope for the abilities of earnest and intelligent youth. A man of twenty-five may easily find himself ruling a large tract of country and a numerous population.’

‘On our homeward ride in the early morning we passed a Swahili village. These Mohammedans have penetrated deeply and established themselves widely in the Eastern parts of Africa. Armed with a superior religion and strengthened with Arab blood, they maintain themselves without difficulty at a far higher level than the pagan aboriginals among whom they live.’

‘”We mean to make East Africa a white man’s country,” cries, in strident tones, the Colonists’ Association on every occasion. Truly a respectable and impressive policy [ . . . ]’

It is the brown man who is the rival [  . . . ] And here strikes in the Asiatic. In every single employment of this class, his power of subsisting upon a few shillings a month, his industry, his thrift, his sharp business aptitudes give him the economic superiority, and if economic superiority is to be the final rule–as it has never been and never will be in the history of the world–there is not a single employment of this middle class, from which he will not, to a very large extent, clear the white man, as surely and as remorselessly as the brown rat extirpated the black from British soil.’


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