In the wake of the Charlottesville riots, and the removal of confederate statues in southern United States, it behooves Belgium to rethink the blemish on its historical record: the slaughter of millions of Congolese under the brutal reign of King Leopold II.
Keep the statues, some say, but perhaps add a historical note so that people don’t forget.
It is my opinion that the place to critically deconstruct a myth, and to assess collective culpability is in schoolbooks, and by means of a broadly carried public debate. Belgium arguably hasn’t even come close to beginning this process. I also feel that we, privileged white descendants of colonizers, can understand and debate what has happened. We can even appreciate how the genocides of yore echo into the now, how structural racism is alive and kicking. But we don’t feel it daily. We choose when to talk about it, but discrimination is not shoved in our faces when all we want is a mocha frappuccino or, god forbid, a job. We are invisible to the racists among us. In that sense, we don’t feel what Leopold on a prancing horse means to a Congolese person. This hipster monster is dusted history, for us. But here’s a shortcut: could Germany have reasonably left a few bronze Hitlers* gazing over prominent squares? Would it be less or more offensive to descendants of his victims if, for critical reference, we add a few chimneys?
*Godwin’s Law applies