While Winston Churchill is often remembered in a positive light for his role in helping lead the Allies to victory during World War 2, his racist past has sparked controversy in recent years. Was Winston Churchill involved in Slavery?
Slavery was banned in the British Empire in 1833, well before Winston Churchill was born. However, many have accused Winston Churchill of being racist and a strong supporter of British imperialism.
Read on to learn about some of the evidence that points to Winston Churchill being racist.
Winston Churchill’s Racism
In exploring how Winston Churchill may have had racist beliefs, it may be most useful to examine some of his own words.
U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace once wrote that during an encounter Churchill remarked:
“….. why be apologetic about Anglo-Saxon superiority, that we were superior, that we had the common heritage which had been worked out over the centuries in England and had been perfected by our constitution.”
The most compelling evidence of Churchill being racist may lie in India, which was known as the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire during Churchill’s lifetime. Churchill once remarked that people from India were “a beastly people with a beastly religion.”
Churchill has been heavily blamed for the Bengal famine of 1943, which killed 2.1-3 million people. This famine was caused by the stockpiling of food for the British war effort, despite receiving constant information on what was happening to the starving population of Bengal.
In the context of the British empire of his lifetime, Churchill strongly believed in Britain keeping its imperial holdings. He strongly resented rule by indigenous populations and believed that nations were in better hands when controlled by white rulers.
Churchill supported the use of chemical weapons to quell rebellion within the empire, stating:
“I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”
Churchill does get some minimal credit for advocating the use of nonlethal forms of gas. One could also point out that he also supported the deployment of chemical weapons on white German soldiers during World War 1. However, this use of chemical weaponry to quell non-white dissent within the empire definitely points to racist ideology.
Upon visiting Asia Churchill remarked:
“I hate people with slit eyes and pigtails. I don’t like the look of them or the smell of them – but I suppose it does no great harm to have a look at them.”
He also admitted once that he “did not really think that black people were as capable or as efficient as white people.”
All of this evidence undoubtedly points to Churchill having many racist beliefs that revolved around white, Anglo-Saxon superiority over other ethnicities. However, it must also be pointed out that these racist beliefs were very common throughout the white British population of Churchill’s time.
This statement on India made in 1943, while not absolving him of his past racial remarks, may show a change of heart or at least a slight departure from his racial ideologies:
“The old idea that the Indian was in any way inferior to the white man must go. We must all be pals together. I want to see a great shining India, of which we can be as proud as we are of a great Canada or a great Australia.”
Whether this was a truthful belief of his or it was a statement used for political maneuvering we may never know.
The Defacement of Statues
In the summer of 2020, amid the George Floyd protests centered around police brutality and racial injustice in the United States, the defacement of the statues of historical figures spread throughout Britain.
Winston Churchill’s statue in London’s Parliament Square was defaced with graffiti that said: “was a racist.” The defacing of statues has caused a divide in the British population between those who believe in preserving the legacy of leaders despite their flaws and those who want their monuments removed from public spaces.
This defacement was spurred by these historical leaders’ role in racial injustice during their respective time periods. This has sparked philosophical questions about not only racial discrimination but history itself.
Should historical figures be held to the same societal standards of today? Does a leader’s involvement in racist practices that were perceived as acceptable at the time rob their legacy of its accomplishments?
These questions will take the center stage in the debate over how racial discrimination should be remembered.