The Charles Dickens museum in Kent has become the latest target of this year’s anti-racism movement after a former local councillor daubed the building with graffiti calling the author a racist.
Ian Driver targeted the museum in Broadstairs, Kent, late on Saturday night, scrawling the words 'Dickens Racist, Dickens Racist' on the Victorian cottage that now welcomes hundreds of visitors a year to celebrate the author's life and works.
Mr Driver also defaced a nearby street sign, spraying black paint over the lettering of ‘Dickens Road’.
Remarkably, the former Green Party councillor publicly admitted he was behind the vandalism this afternoon on his personal blog, where he published photos of himself carrying out the act.
Describing Dickens as “an extreme racist”, Mr Driver said he does not mind being arrested for the incident because he believes he has a defence under equality legislation.
The father of two is currently under investigation for a separate criminal damage incident involving a plaque for the controversial blackface minstrel Uncle Mack - also located in Broadstairs - which he thinks should be “broken up and tossed into the sea”.
“I told the police I was going to do more direct action so they were fully aware,” Mr Driver told the Telegraph. “I am expecting a knock at the door tonight or tomorrow. I am not hiding from them, I know they have a job to do.
“I will help them in any way I can. I believe I have the right to do [the graffiti] and I will argue that in court.”
Mr Driver, who is aged in his 50s, claims he has a defence under the 1971 Criminal Damage Act which permits such behaviour if “the force used” or “the damage caused was reasonable”.
“I tried to use the political system and it didn’t work,” Mr Driver said. “I also believe the local authority has failed to carry out their public sector equality duty which they are bound to under the 2010 Equality Act and I think I can put forward a very strong defence for what I did.”
Mr Driver said he was “propelled” into defacing the Dickens building - which was the author’s inspiration for the home of Betsey Trotwood in his novel David Copperfield - after he claims that the local town council voted to keep the plaque to Uncle Mack.
Campaigners have tried to get the plaque removed, saying it is “an embarrassment and a shameful spotlight on Britain’s racist past” and “a monument to colonial-era bigotry and racism.”
Mr Driver said he was “exasperated” by the decision and felt “morally compelled” to do something about it.
“I targeted four or five areas on Saturday night,” he said. “The reason was because I was exasperated by the authorities and their lack of action on what I believe is institutional racism and the support of well known racist figures using public money.
“I think it is morally unacceptable for a public authority to support such a person without having some forward explaining the other side of Dickens’ views. But the council is totally reluctant to do that, so I felt I had no choice but to take direct action.”
The Great Expectations author is the latest target of the anti-racism movement sweeping through the UK, which has seen statues pulled down and landmarks vandalised in Bristol, London and Bournemouth.
Despite his notable sympathy with the working class throughout his works, Dickens’ “grotesque” attitude towards Native Americans, Indians and Jewish communities has faced growing criticism from modern academics.
The author’s view on “colonized peoples” sometimes reached “genocidal extremes”, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens is accused of using anti-semitic tropes in his portryal of the gangmaster Fagin, who is referred to over 257 times in the first 38 chapters as "the Jew".
In 1854 the Jewish Chronicle asked why "Jews alone should be excluded from 'the sympathising heart' of this great author and powerful friend of the oppressed".
On his last trip to North America in 1868, Dickens wrote a letter to his friend and biographer John Forste in which he criticised the “melancholy absurdity” proposal to give African Americans the right to vote.
Dickens said “their enfranchisement is a mere party trick to get votes.”
A spokesman for Thanet District Council said: “As a council, we comply with our Public Sector Equality Duty and are committed to tackling racial inequality but there is still more to be done.
“The Black Lives Matter protests are an important reminder that we must never become complacent about any form of inequality.
“The Leader of the Council made a decision last week to remove the Uncle Mack plaque in Broadstairs and we are reviewing all the statues and commemorations within the district. We do not, however, condone damage to public property and have had the graffiti removed this morning."
A spokesman for Kent Police confirmed this weekend’s incidents were being investigated.
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