Those on the political Left in the United States regularly denigrate the political Right and its efforts to rewrite, revise, or delete History, especially in textbooks, purely based on political ideology. The little-spoken reality, however, is that the Left is almost just as guilty of rewriting, revising, and deleting History based on political ideology.
History, of course, is an always-changing, constructed narrative, as I have written about many times before. (Explore the “historiography” tag on this website, if you are a newer reader.)
In the past few months and years, there have been continued calls for Confederate statues to be taken down and many of these have been taken down. New Orleans is only the latest place to approve such measures.
While these efforts are well intended from the perspective of many on the Left, so too are efforts of “rewriting” and “hiding” on the Right, when we consider each sides’ arguments and world views. (More and more studies even strongly indicate that our political orientations are at least partially products of biology. Those on the Right are more fearful and have biological drives to protect themselves and their family above all.)
People on the Left desire to take statues down in an effort to no longer honor individuals now (rightful) deemed racist and in an effort to have a more balanced History in order to create patriotic, loyal citizens.
People on the Right desire to add this person and event and remove this other person or event in order to create patriotic, loyal citizens. And, yes, of course, there is also an element on the Right that has vocally spoken against learning and critical thinking.
The problem with the Lefts’ aims, even when it comes to removing statues, is that it doesn’t really do any good, especially not without accompanying systemic change and conversation. Removing such-and-such statue of Stephen F. Austin or Robert E. Lee will do zero in terms of promoting more balanced historical coverage.
And harm is actually possible. Just because there is a statue of a person does not automatically mean we need to praise that person and their actions. Use it as an opportunity to start conversations. Use it as an opportunity to talk about history in appropriate contexts. Don’t use it as an opportunity to say, “this is a bad person and we don’t talk about them.”
Just removing the statue is a step far too close to actually deleting said person from historical memory. We need to actively remember history–the good and the bad, the pretty and the ugly–as a society in order to even have a chance of avoiding past mistakes. History is always a battle ground.
To clarify: I am not saying that I support or agree with Confederate statues, but I am suggesting removing them is not a viable option given the agendas of people calling for their removal and the goals of having historically literate people.
I also have strong reservations about this “Old Dixie Highway” being renamed “President Barack Obama Highway.”
Does this indicate a positive change? Absolutely.
Does this mean people will abandon the mores of “Old Dixie”? Absolutely Not.
Will this have tangible, everyday consequences? Probably Not.
Even the vary symbolism of removing these statues and old street names is important because it suggests a “sweeping it under the rug” approach. Approaches that hide racism only make racism worse. And for sure, there are no easy answers.
(On a related note, here is a great article about why Justin Bengry opposes pardons of past convictions now deemed inappropriate…to avoid manipulation to the historical record.)
See also from this blog: