Letter from Oxford: Revising History to Placate Contemporary Views and Prejudices

Ronald E. Yates is an author of award-winning historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy.

The following letter came to me via The Internet. It is a non-official satirical response written presumably by white students to black students attending Oxford’s Oriel College as Rhodes Scholars wanting to remove the statue of Oxford Benefactor, Cecil Rhodes. Before I share the letter, here is a little critical background about the Rhodes controversy.

 The “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign was successful at the University of South Africa. That school removed Rhodes’ statue in April 2015, a month after the protest there began. Students and anti-colonialism activists then began similar protests to remove statues at other universities, including Oxford, where Rhodes (who was born in England) remains a significant figure. Oxford University still offers the elite Rhodes Scholarship, and a statue in his likeness presides over the university’s Oriel College campus.

Statue of Cecil Rhodes being removed at University in South Africa

In January 2016, Oxford students voted to remove the statue.  Later that month, the school opted to keep the statue after receiving threats from alumni to withdraw millions in donations if it was removed.  The college’s decision sparked more marches and ongoing protests, maintaining the issue in the news.

Oxford University’s chancellor, Chris Patten argued against the removal of the Rhodes statue during an appearance on the Today program on BBC Radio 4 in January 2016. However, his language was far tamer than the rhetoric employed in the following letter. Patten styled the objections to Rhodes as along the lines of the “safe spaces” policies adopted on many university campuses in Britain and the US, which critics have said are used to suppress debate on a range of issues.

“That focus on Rhodes is unfortunate, but it’s an example of what’s happening on American campuses and British colleges,” Patten said. “One of the points of a university –