Should Statues Of “Racists” Be Removed? Is our history and heritage being threatened?
Hi, this is Eshaan Walia! Today, I believe we must deliberate on the important matter at hand : the removal/vandalism of racist symbols as a result of the now globalized Black Lives Matter movement.
Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Earlier, they dragged one of Christopher Columbus into a pond. A bronze monument of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, met a watery demise. In Boston, a statue of Columbus was beheaded. The viral removals of monuments symbolizing racial terror are a corrective to a culture that valorizes violence and embeds false narratives about history into its landscapes. But to what end? Is this really the right thing to do?
I believe it is. The sooner we rid ourselves of toxic symbols, which promote ideas of supremacy and discrimination and are a threat to unity and harmony, the better. Well of course we ought to extensively debate and research on which of these statues or monuments to remove, and not just do things impulsively which may bring about problems such as multiple petitions calling for the removal of statues of Mahatma Gandhi across the UK and Canada.
As protesters and public officials remove statues and memorials to conquerors, oppressors, enslavers and murderers, people like King Leopold II of Belgium, Cecil Rhodes, Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus, it is often complained that such acts erase or deny history. Vice President Mike Pence made exactly that argument in 2017 as he explained why he opposed removing statues of Confederate leaders.
But historians almost universally reject such arguments. This is because they know that knowledge of the past comes from the archive, documents and objects preserved in libraries or museums. They scour through these and then teach what they’ve learned to students and so on. The vigorous public conversation about Colston (whose statue is removed), and the lack of current interest in many other confederate leaders (whose statues stand) suggests a gap between public monuments and historical memory. None of this requires statues. Indeed, the process of removing monuments and renaming streets, squares and even cities themselves has always resulted from remembering the past.