The fallout continues.
The executive editor of the Associated Press apologizes for distributing a “Thought for Today” quote from the former president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. The quote: “Never be haughty around the humble and never be humble around the haughty.” AP first retracted the quote and apologized for it. But that wasn’t enough. AP then canceled the “Thought for Today” feature while issuing another protracted apology for being so “insensitive.”
NASCAR bans Confederate flags. HBO yanks Gone With the Wind. There’s talk of renaming U.S. military bases named after individuals with Confederate links. The New York Times fires the editor responsible for running an Op-Ed from U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton saying the military should be an option to quell riots. Santa Fe authorities pull down a statue of Don Juan de Oñate, responding to those who said he was a cruel racist. In Albuquerque, a demonstrator is shot in a clash between defenders of another Oñate statue and others who want to tear it down. Our own airport Oñate/Conquistador equestrian is spray painted with racist labels. Pancake syrup brand Aunt Jemima has been dumped, and EPISD looks to rename Robert E. Lee Elementary. Texas A&M eyes removing a statue of former Texas Gov. Sul Ross because he also served in the Confederate army. On Monday, the equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt is being removed from the New York Museum of Natural History because he is flanked, on foot, by an American Indian and an African-American. Some apparently found this a symbol smacking of white superiority.
The arguments for these actions are three-fold: One is they are reminders – too painful to be allowed to exist – that slavery was an institution in this country; 2) that such symbols serve to glorify oppressors and 3) that many statues in the south were erected long after the Civil War as a thumb your nose to the elimination of Jim Crow laws.
On the latter, I think they have a point and maybe some of those monuments should be removed – but by consensus, not mob rule. Monuments should serve to memorialize the good. Yet some of the events described above and others like them are political correctness run amok.
Here’s an example from the Wall Street Journal: “Hans Christian Heg was a Norwegian immigrant to America in the 19th century who became so appalled by slavery that he became an anti-slavery activist and later joined the Union Army as a colonel in the all Scandinavian 15th Wisconsin. He gave his life for his adopted country and for the cause of ending slavery at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Yet, (Tuesday) night, some (demonstrators) tore down a statue of Colonel Heg in Wisconsin for the supposed crime of being just a white supremacist.”
And as this piece was being polished Friday morning there is word that the Emancipation Monument in D.C. has been targeted by protestors who want it removed. This monument was commissioned by former Black slaves who wanted to honor Lincoln. Go figure.
One of the upshots of this is that some white people are wringing their hands and falling all over themselves to apologize for being white (and privileged) and trying desperately to find a way to atone for the actions of their evil ancestors.
Look, they have a point but their actions don’t lead to real solutions. Slavery was an evil thing. Blacks are still suffering discrimination and prejudice today long after Jim Crow laws were struck. It is certainly true that Black men are way more apt to die at the hands of police than other races. And, yes, police use of deadly force has got to be retooled and limited. Oversight must be taken out of their hands, and the doctrine of qualified immunity must be changed.
Eliminating slavery was easy. Eliminating racism is vastly more complicated. But you cannot promote understanding and sensitivity through mob rule, and erasing history by removing all reminders of the past is wrongheaded.
Symbols commemorating good works with ties to racism and slavery need to serve as educational tools. Take the Don Juan de Oñate statue at the airport. By most accounts, this conquistador was a cruel, heavy-handed SOB. He executed uncooperative Indians and is reported to have cut the feet off 24 Indians. He was ultimately recalled by the Spanish government, banned from Mexico City and censored for his behavior – hardly what he deserved, but the fact is he was so bad even the Spanish government was appalled.
But leaving the statue alone doesn’t mean we should ignore the history it represents or some of the other uncomfortable reminders of the past. The big horse and rider at the airport needs a solid explanation that exposes the good, the bad and the ugly. Then the statue serves to understand the past and, hopefully, educate people who see it.
In Germany, most monuments glorifying National Socialism and Hitler have long since been removed. In the years immediately after the war, many Germans would not publicly admit they had anything to do with the Nazi regime – even though most every 12-year-old in Germany was a member of the Hitler youth group in the run-up to, and during, the war.
That has changed. Germany is placing a renewed emphasis on the past, especially in training its law enforcement. New police officers are required to attend meetings with holocaust survivors and to visit the concentration camp memorials. They learn first hand what the Waffen SS perpetrated on several million Jews, gypsies and people with disabilities. Credit to the Germans for turning ugly history into a learning experience.
Remember how ISIS, after it set up the so-called caliphate in Syria, tried to destroy as many of that country’s historical treasures as it could. Their rationale was that the monuments they destroyed, some thousands of years old, paid homage to infidels and false gods. People around the world were appalled. But the ISIS solution is exactly what is happening today in America. Namely, ISIS was trying to erase history and in doing so depriving the Syrian people of the chance to learn who they are and from where they come.