Tearing down a statue of Columbus however isn’t really that controversial imo. The guy wasn’t just a white colonist, he was particularly brutal, and not wanting to continue venerating him isn’t a rejection of our history.”
On statues of Christopher Columbus, Confederate generals, and Tyrants, oh my.
I love old statues.
I love history.
How’s the quote go? If we don’t learn from history, we remain forever a child. Something like that.
So yeah, I love statues.
But if they’re of a Hitler, a Mussolini, a Stalin, a Mao, a Confederate, a Columbus, a tyrant, a murderer, a rapist—and, let’s face it, that’s far too many statues—let’s remove that history from the commons, and place it mindfully in a museum where it can be seen in an educational context as history, instead of erasing it on the one hand (Lenin, Saddam) or glorifying it on the other (Confederate generals, Columbus).
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Protesters have been dismantling and defacing monuments of Confederate leaders, slave traders, and other individuals with anti-black legacies in the wake of George Floyd’s killing and the resulting protests against police brutality and racism. The debate over monuments to racist and anti-black historical figures has been going on for years, particularly in the US. It remains to be seen whether the protests can overturn opposition to the removal of these statues. It’s also unclear what impact the protests could have on changing the police policies that disproportionately impact people of color. But as they continue, it is clear that they have already helped prompt the dismantling of some of the symbols those American inequities were built upon. Photo 1: A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, on June 4. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that the state would remove the statue “as soon as possible.” Photo 2: Protesters in Bristol, England, throw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the harbor on May 25. Photo 3: After the monument to Edward Colston was tossed into the harbor in Bristol, England, a protester taped a sign to the statue’s base. It reads, "This plaque is dedicated to the slaves that were taken from their homes." Photo 4: Philadelphia police stand near a vandalized statue of Frank Rizzo. A former police commissioner and controversial mayor of Philadelphia who served from 1972 to 1980, Rizzo was criticized for his racist and homophobic beliefs. City workers removed the statue on June 3. Photo 5: A vandalized statue of Louis XVI, the last king of France before the French Revolution, in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, on May 29.
Monticello does a good job of this, in not only being open about but talking about the slaves who lived and toiled there as human beings, which they were—not just as property.
One of my favorite TV shows was Mad Men, for this same reason. It didn’t Disneyify or whitewash history, making it all easy and sweet and saccharine and safe. It showed the anti-Semitism, the racism, the sexism, the sexual predation…and it sure didn’t glorify it or back it up. It showed it bare, raw, as it was—sick, cynical, ridiculous.
I don’t want my future children growing up in a world that seeks perfection, tho, either. FDR is one of my heroes—he did many good things for Civil Rights and equity—I can list some for anyone curious—and he did one very bad thing, or went along with it. Perhaps two that I know of. It’s important to see his goodness, and to see his failings, both.
But then there’s another class of human—murderers, authoritarians, racists—they deserve no glory, they deserve to be held up only as lessons to our generation and future generations. We can see racism rise again when we hide history away—see the abrupt and frightening rise of racism in Germany—or, our US. And so, as with the Holocaust museum, we must remember and learn from horror, just as we remember and learn from art, science, and achievement.
Any thoughts welcome. I am here to share what I have learned, but I am here to learn and listen to you, too.