Wrong Side of the Law, Right Side of History


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

As a history student, people sometimes ask me what my opinion is on removing statues. From an academic standpoint, pulling down statues and monuments which celebrate bad or problematic people is not erasure of history.

The idea that it would be is completely ridiculous. I have never seen a statue of Hitler (except for a bust in the Tower of London), yet I know who he was and what he did. The pulling down of statues is in itself a historical event which will be remembered, in the same way that demolishing the Berlin Wall was a symbolic and important event in history. The collapse or downfall of something is often more important than its beginning.

But, it is sometimes illegal.

There seems to be a moral high ground which people use to justify their opposition to causes which are morally just or necessary. In a black and white view, if it breaks the law, it is bad. So, people cannot lend their support to actions which break the law, even if they are sympathetic to the cause.

However, history was not made by those who did nothing. And to challenge the norm, it sometimes means breaking the rules. It is important to remember that many of our modern-day rights were awarded as the result of the struggles of people on the wrong side of the law.

The institutions which have oppressed various groups throughout history have been within the law, yet this does not make them right.

Globally, slavery was conducted with the endorsement and protection of the law, so was apartheid, segregation, and other civil rights abuses. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until 1967, and remains illegal in many countries today. Even where it is legal, there continues to be abuse of LGBTQ+ people, even openly from society’s elites. Furthermore, despite homosexuality being decriminalised, a widespread practice and endorsement of conversion therapy to ‘cure’ LGBTQ+ people persists, despite its damaging effects.

In the UK, abortion was only legalised in 1968. Marital rape has only been illegal since 1992. As a woman, I would not be able to vote, if not for the actions of female suffrage groups who frequently crossed the line of the law in the pursuit of their goals.

There may be a sense that we live in a modern country and we have enough rights already – surely the law has got it right by now? Well, no.

There is a reason for the Black Lives Matter protests. There is a reason we are pulling down statues. There is a reason for protesting for LGBTQ+ rights, for women’s rights, for protection of minority communities. The law does not stand with them, and so it is up to other people to take the initiative in the pursuit of affecting change.

Whilst they may not be on the right side of the law, they will be on the right side of history.


History student and Sub-Editor for Politics and Features

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