On fallen statues and the future

During recent protests agains Racism, a number of demonstrators took to toppling statues of people they deemed racist, as a way of making their point known. While I understand the anger and frustration of these demonstrators, I cannot understand - nor condone - this particular behavior... here is why:

When a society, at some point in time, chooses to erect a statue to an historical figure, it is a reflection of what the society thinks and feels at that particular time. Today, we wouldn't raise a statue in America or even in Rusia, to Lenin; yet in the times when Marxism motivated Soviet society, they did. This means that statues are documents of how society feels and thinks at a specific moment in its development.

Take the statue to Theodore Roosevelt outside the American Museum of Natural History. The statue, honors one of the greatest advocates of preserving Nature in his time (he started the idea of National Parks), and fairly liberal (for his time) on the issue of minority rights. The statue, however, features Teddy Roosevelt in an heroic posture on top of his horse, flanked by a native American and an african American, both on foot. The statue is said (with reasons) to be promoting racial superiority ideas. But it is also judging the artist retrospectively and applying today's standards to yesterday's actions. This is called anachronism.

In other situations, statues have been brough down because those represented were racists or owned slaves. One such case is the one from Ulyses S. Grant, past President of the United States. While he was the most important General of the Union Army, fighting against the Confederacy, he owned one slave and was also responsible for General Order 11 - the only case in American history when Jews, as a class, were expelled from any portion of American territory. So down with the statue? - Grant freed his slave later in life, and also became the first American President to appoint Jewish governors to US territories, and Jews as Ministers in his cabinet. Yes, at some point in his life he was a racist antisemite - but he changed, he grew as a person - Should we deny him the credit for rising above his prejudices?

In yet other situations, people associated with the Confederacy are automatically considered racist because people associate the South with Slavery. History lesson: The Civil war started over growing tensions regarding State rights, and slavery was just one more issue in that list. The Union, however, very succesfully, made it the central issue of the war. While I'm happy that happened, because Human freedom and dignity must always, in my opinion, be upheld, I also questioned whether every southerner was an advocate of slavery and whether every northerner was against it. When I dig in historical documentation, I find out that the ture is, as always, more nuanced that what they want us to believe.

But it is not just about defending the historical value of the statuary that led me to write this blog. As a matter of fact, there is a far more important reason: Toppling statues does not change society nor does it improve the world; it is a useless waste. When trying to "topple then idols", whichever they might be, it is always better to focus the energies on righting the wrongs than to focus on symbolic acts which, satisfying as they might be for me, change absolutely nothing.

So in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, we need to demand Police accountability and reform to prevent things like that to ever happen again; we need to focus on promoting color and gender-blind hiring practices and college admissions and scholarships in order to fight the inequalities that still ail or democracy. We need to engage in the aspirational project that embody the opening words of the Constitution "WE the People"

Of course, this is just my opinion.



Add Comment