We should relocate our racist statues to museums where we can remember our racist history in the appropriate context.
By Lee Camp
Special to Consortium News
I’m a descendant of General Robert E. Lee.
My family also descends from George Washington and John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the Supreme Court. (The oligarchy was a rather small club back in the day.) And I, along with many other Lee descendants, say: Remove the statues.
Yet, this week President Donald Trump has made it his mission to catch and prosecute those who have taken down statues. I’m positive he’s not doing it out of any racist ideology, although it doesn’t help that he also retweeted a white power message soon afterwards.
With that said, here are four exceedingly stupid reasons to keep the statues in place, and how to refute them. If you agree with any of these arguments… ummm, stop doing that.
1) Removing statues means we will never again know our history.
YES! One can only learn history from metallic facsimiles which consist of 30 percent copper, 20 perent tin, and 50 percent pigeon shit. Seeing these monuments is the only way to learn about things. I myself had never heard of the existence of long pointy sticks until I saw the Washington Monument. I didn’t know of America’s love affair with beans until I saw the big shiny one in Chicago. And I didn’t know the creator of McDonald’s was a founding father until I saw the giant arch in St. Louis. (They have yet to paint it golden though.)
2) Our statues teach our children what to value in society.
I couldn’t agree more. Judging by the numbers of statue subjects, women and people of color are roughly 95 percent less important than horses. Indeed, our equine friends have exceedingly more representation in the monument world, but that is simply because they have accomplished so very much. Many of our best presidents were horses. A horse invented the light bulb. (You might argue that’s not true, but without a statue about it, you can’t prove it.)
3) The Confederate statues are not racist.
Indeed! They are just large monuments to remind us of the military prowess of brave men who fought… on the losing side of a war to keep black people as their property. Or in the case of Columbus, bravely fought… to claim he landed in India before enslaving and torturing–Let’s not get bogged down in the details. Let’s just leave it at “military prowess.”
Unfortunately, the statues are unequivocally racist. Most of the Confederate ones weren’t even put up immediately following the Civil War. I spoke with professor David Goldfield, one of the top Civil War historians in the country and the author of “America Aflame: How The Civil War Created A Nation.” He told me, “Most of these statues and memorials were put up during the height of the Jim Crow era, much less to commemorate the Confederate dead and the war itself, than to put an exclamation point on white supremacy and declare that African Americans – their past, their present, and their future – don’t matter. They’re invisible.”
And in terms of the Confederate battle flag — the so-called “stars and bars” — it didn’t enjoy much popularity either until it was used as a symbol of support for oppression. Goldfield said, “The battle flag came back in favor in the late 1940s, first as a symbol of the Dixiecrats (the breakaway faction of Southern Democrats opposed to President Harry Truman’s civil rights initiatives), and then in the 1950s when the civil rights movement launched its drive for racial equality.” So basically, the Confederate flag that we’re familiar with today was mainly just a middle finger to equality for African Americans.
4) Yes, America needs to evolve, and American policing needs to change. But don’t tear down the statues. If you do, you’ll be throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Of course, in this case the baby is racist and owns several people as property, but it’s a baby nonetheless. (Gotta be honest — I’ve never understood that expression. You’ve just washed the baby and then you throw it out with the bath water? Why would you throw out a clean baby? If you’re gonna toss a baby, ditch a soiled one. Everyone knows that. Don’t bother cleaning it first.)
Popular Mechanics – which is not as popular as the name suggests (thou doth protest too much) – recently published an article that was not meant to help people tear down statues of American racist icons but happened to be titled “How to Topple a Statue Using Science.” (Science? Ha! As if that’s a real thing. Do you see any statues commemorating it? Don’t think so.)
The article goes on to list how one could bring down a statue if one wanted to (but you totally should not read it and should not tear down a racist statue in what some consider vandalism). The article says you will likely need 70 people pulling on very strong ropes or straps to bring down a statue. (So do not find 70 of your closest friends and have a “topple the racist slave-owning dickwad” party. Do not suggest there will be free pizza there, which will help make sure people show up. Do not make sure to get the ropes or chains around the head of the statue because putting them around the feet will not create nearly enough leverage to accomplish the goal. …if you had such a goal, which you do not because you are not going to do this.)
To sum it up, we should relocate our racist statues to museums where we can remember our racist history with the appropriate context. This will make room in the middle of towns for new statues – of women, black people, Latinx, indigenous, white guys who aren’t slave-owning assholes. There must be some out there. Umm, Justin Timberlake? Um, Sherlock Holmes? How about Bruce Wayne? I think two-thirds of those are fictional, but I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
America may need to be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming, but we can do it. Let’s move past this racist shit. Let’s stop behaving as if we’re still twelve. … Nineteen Twelve.
Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special – which includes material about the Confederate statues – can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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the disgustingly traitorous whores in congress should build a statue to their dictator bibi Satanyahu
as racism is an institutionalized phenomenon in the u.s.a. it would be ridiculous to put the statues in a museum, as if we are dealing with something which belongs to the past. let the statues stand where they are, to remind all passers by what a substantial number of white people still believe in. put a sign under it which explains what function racism plays in american history and present. the way the american presidents have supported the zionist terror against the palestinian population, shows how deep the american racism is among as well the white as black americans.
As far as I know, Michelangelo wasn’t convinced that black people were as good as white ones, that heathens were as good as Christians. Would you suggest to smash his statues as well? Spray some graffiti over his paintings? Yikes, dumb question – you’re Americans, of course you would. You destroy anything that doesn’t fit your current agenda. You don’t know any better.
Apropos graffiti… I remember watching a news report on TV, where your president walked to some place to hold a speech – guess it was the one at some church where everybody was upset about protesters being cleared away. What struck me was the image of a head of state walking past the ugliest graffities on dirty, soiled walls. The place looked like the back wall of some railway station toilet. All that was missing was a couple of drunks and junkies sleeping in the dirt. And I thought how shameful this was, what an embarrassing picture. The president of the USA in such rot. How the mighty have fallen.
What do you hope to achieve with your Orwellian demolition run through the cultural remains of your past? You want to pretend it never happened? Fat chance. You’re fighting one war after the other. You destroy country after country. Ever since your foundation you had, what?, three or four years in which you weren’t fighting a war somewhere in the world. You killed about 20 million of people after WWII alone and God knows how many before that and you’re still at it. You’re the biggest and bloodiest terror state the world has ever seen. You seriously believe anyone will ever forget that? That bloody terror you’re spreading all over the world is still going on! And on! And on! I truly doubt that much hated Confederate rebel flag had caused even 1.5 per cent of the bloodshed that your regular flag has caused. Maybe you should consider an exchange.
As for racism – if I recall that right, your last president was a black man. And who woulda thunk, he was just the same sort of warmongering bastard like those before him. Not much of a difference. If anything, he started even more wars and made extrajudicial murder per drone fashionable. I remember the euphoria when the guy was elected. I also remember how half of America was foaming at the mouth with rage and hysteria when they got a new president who wanted peace with Russia.
Really, having America signalling virtue and good deeds is like having Jack the Ripper lecturing about proper conduct towards women.
Robert E. Lee was actually a good man. The US of A never had much good men, it doesn’t have any now and will likely never have any again. I would keep his statues for that reason alone. They’re quite pretty, too.
On the other hand, half destroyed chunks of concrete smeared with ugly graffities are so much more befitting to your ‘exceptional’ nation. Especially when splashed with red. If you want some new statues on top of the smeared blocks, I suggest Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Pretty much the first things jumping into everybody’s mind when thinking about American culture, anyway.
And if you have a minute, you might ponder what on earth distinguishs you from the Taliban or the bad guys in Orwell’s 1984.
Yes, I was thinking about a statue of Porky Pig per 1984, perhaps bedecked with medallions and a general’s cap. The angry assertions of the power of the people destroy always much good with the bad. But I don’t regret many of the statue demolitions, because they are primarily state propaganda.
I like it. I agree. I have always heard that Robert E. never wanted any statues, either.
I am convinced there are more creative ways to deal with the removal of offensive statues than destroying them. Destroying them eliminates the need to think critically about our racist history. As a curator of contemporary art, I would suggest that once these statues are moved into museums, contemporary artists be invited/commissioned to create installations that properly contextualize the original sculpture and perhaps even incorporate it. Like Lee, I am a proponent of humor as a subversive tool and I would encourage its use as one of many possible approaches.
Definitely these (boring – all such statues are incredibly tedious) statues need to be either removed an put in museums with a very detailed history attached, making abundantly clear their bloody, atrocious history; or as suggested by John Mocan – left in place complete with graffiti PLUS a clear, transparent history of their actions, views on (likely necessary) plaques around them.
“Sherlock Holmes”, Conan Doyle already has a statue in Edinburgh; he’s Scottish. Now there is an appropriate statue; an iconic man who has given many lasting entertainment; as well as illustrating analytic thinking-you could say he was an educator. If Americans could think the way Holmes did; we wouldn’t have so many phony crooked pols.
I’ve been hearing that bullshit line about “preserving history” a lot lately.
I have no problem with the removal of statues memorializing the leaders of the Confederate slave state, but those are not the only monuments currently under attack. On Sunday, Charles Blow of the NYT published an opinion piece calling for the removal of the Washington Monument on the grounds that George Washington was an “immoral monster.” Statues of Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and anti-slavery abolitionists such as Robert Gould Shaw and Hans Christian Heg have also been vandalized. I get removing racist statues, by why go after statues of men who fought with might and main to end slavery?
Extending the call for the destruction of racist statues to abolitionists and the leaders of the Union army of emancipation is in keeping with the racialist narrative pushed by the Times and the Democratic Party. Instead of considering people and events in their historic context, they anachronistically apply modern ethics to all of the American past. Therefore, Abraham Lincoln, despite having been martyred for ending slaving, is an irredeemable monster because he was too slow about it and because he made a few racist comments earlier in his career. Therefore, Thomas Jefferson, despite crafting the words, “all men are created equal,” which inspired a revolution overthrowing slavery in Haiti and generations of abolitionists in the US, is an irredeemable monster because he was a slave owner. History is never so black and white. The question is not whether or not a historical figure embodied 21st Century morality, but whether they sided with progress or reaction during their own time.
Right on man. Good article.
“We should relocate our racist statues to museums where we can remember our racist history in the appropriate context.”
Reading this I got the idea of letting the populous topple,deface, or whatever the people decide to do. Leave them in place and put a plaque explaining the context of what happened.
Well said. If public statues were meant to teach history then I suppose science played absolutely no role in our history.