Sunday, July 12, 2020

It Has Got to be More than Pulling Down the Monuments  

One fact of our history... indeed the history of the world ... is that slavery, and racial prejudice, has happened.  There is not a white person in history who has not carried a prejudicial view of people of color.  That includes black people and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans.  There has also been a history of prejudices against particular groups of white people. German immigrants in the 18th  Century, and  Irish immigrants in the 19th Century faced wide-spread job discrimination.   At the turn of the last century it was not uncommon for accepted white people to categorize Italians along with blacks.  

White people are not the only people  with  built in prejudice.  Chinese have long considered themselves superior to everyone, as have the Japanese, who historically have treated Koreans the way Americans treat blacks.  In the Middle East racial animosity is as powerful as religious animosity.  Iran is not just Shiaa Muslem, it is also Persian.   Iraq is Arab.  Afghanistan's biggest problem is  that tribes divide on racial and cultural lines.  The Hazara stand in for black people.   In truth, prejudice is a tribal mechanism that likely dates back to the beginning of community and the need to be wary of strangers.  We need to figure out a way to get over it.

Actually owning slaves was common in 18th and 19th Century America.  Numerous of our founding fathers were slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson, whose writing provided the foundation for rights and privileges we now insist must extend to all Americans.   Most abolitionists, who insisted that slavery was evil, did not believe that blacks and whites were equal.   U.S. Grant married into a slave holding family and owned a slave.  He also won the Civil War and enforced the civil rights laws, preserving rights for black citizens till the end of his administration.  Grant and Lincoln believed black and white Americans would never be able to live side by side in harmony.  Lincoln promoted repatriating black citizens to Africa.  Grant sought to annex Santo Domingo (Now the Dominican Republic) as a safe harbor for black Americans. 

So  bottom line, you can't make the fact of prejudice, or slave holding a basis for tearing down a statue.  You need something else.  Otherwise we would have to destroy our memories of those who contributed substantially to the foundation and growth of our nation.  The founding fathers did  not promise a perfect union, they sought "a more perfect union."  In a sense telling us to continue  to get better.  We are working at it. 

Monuments and military bases

So statues ought to reflect actual  history.  In the real world, the people who fought to destroy the United States are traitors, and should under no circumstances be honored in the public square.  This matter should not be up for debate.  There are no statues of Hitler left in all of Europe, and there should be no statutes of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other conspirators left in the USA.  Naming military installations after traitors has never been a good idea.

Racist Politicians

Politicians who fought for and encouraged slavery throughout their careers are also fair game.  John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay protected slavery and promoted "state's rights" (another way of saying "we can abuse anyone we want.") They were a generation behind the founding fathers and their efforts were aimed solely at preserving the oligarchy at the expense of all citizens, particularly black citizens.  Woodrow Wilson should have no monuments and his history should be corrected. He needs to  be remembered for segregating the federal  government and failing to speak up about the wave of race riots and lynching that swept the nation during his administration.  Wilson broadly praised "Birth of a Nation" a movie that promoted racist myths and stereotypes and honored the KuKluxKlan.  It alone set the stage for incidents of racial cleansing.  Other purveyors of racism, like Harry Byrd, Senate majority leader who fought to maintain the southern status quo for decades, should get a second look.  As should a long list of Southern politicians whose policies recognized the right of white people to lynch black people and sustained an atmosphere of repression.    

In middle-school they told you a great deal  about the spice trade and how that affected the Age of Exploration.  They told you nothing about the slave trade, which was at least as prosperous. The Italian states were especially prominent in the slave trade.  Christopher Columbus was an Italian and was fully aware of its operation.  You can forgive him for being a creature of his time, or you can point out how happy he was to report that the Awawak people in the Caribbean were so docile that a couple of armed men could control hundreds ... and they made excellent slaves.  His role in history, and the workings of the slave trade through this period should be exposed.  As to monuments of Columbus, they are frauds from the beginning.  Columbus did not discover America.  He discovered Hispanola.  That's the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  We didn't recognize Columbus as a major hero  until after WWI, when Italians sought to boost their image in the USA by declaring themselves to be discoverers.  The Vikings were here first, as were the Basque, who for many, many years traveled to Nova Scotia to harvest the Cod that fed much of Europe.  Dried Cod fed the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.  

Monuments and other public honors should recognize real heroes who represent the real ideals on which the nation is founded.  Lets have a monument to Robert Smalls, an enslaved American who stole a confederate ship that was supplying Ft. Sumpter,loaded up his family and friends and escaped to freedom.  He became a captain in the Union Navy.  and, after the war, a successful businessman and politician serving in both houses of the South Carolina legislature.  Harriett Tubman belongs on the $20 bill. 

History needs to tell the truth about slavery (that it was mostly harsh and cruel), reconstruction and the return of Jim Crow, and lynching (how many times did the U.S. Congress refuse to address anti-lynching legislation), Incidents of racial cleansing (there is al lot more than Tulsa, OK) discrimination in housing, (barring blacks from government loan programs,  the negative and long lasting effects of redlining.  

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