The president of the University of Texas at Austin, Greg Fenves, ordered the removal of three statues of Confederate figures from the main campus in the dead of night last Sunday. He said the racist events in Charlottesville on August 12 “make it clear, now more than ever, that Confederate monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism.” Really? I wrote an article a while back entitled History is Written by the Victors. By Fenves’ logic, the white supremacists are the victors. Are these few hundred or few thousand people, who think they are superior to other people, really redefining historic symbols? For whom?
When I see a statue of some guy on a horse, I think it must be a general who led a battle in the area a long time ago. I either move on and ignore it, or want to learn more. Do President Fenves and the other people with power who decide to remove statues and change the names of buildings understand that they are actually trying to [please forgive the awful, unintended pun] whitewash history? “Out of sight, out of mind” may appease some people who are offended, but it does nothing to change history, and certainly does nothing to educate people on the causes and consequences of the past.
In June Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Langevin Building across from Parliament Hill would be renamed because Sir Hector-Louis Langevin had been associated with the Indian residential school system. Hector-Louis was also one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, and had done at least one or two good things. Consider Tommy Douglas, once the premier of Saskatchewan and our most-revered father of medicare—something we Canadians hold sacred. Should we denigrate him because he advocated the benefits of eugenics? Back in the 1930s it was a popular, science-based idea that promoted sterilization of mentally disabled people to create a world of healthy, presumably better, human beings. When the Nazis took eugenics to its extreme, most thinking people, including Douglas, rejected it.
So, where does it stop? And who gets to decide who is “good enough” to warrant official recognition?
I would prefer to see a plaque beside every “offensive” statue or on every “misnamed” building, that puts the person and his/her actions in the context of history. I would like to learn from history rather than try to superficially erase it. I would like my fellow citizens to do the same. What about you?