An article in San Francisco Weekly claims that the despicable acts of destruction that have been perpetrated against beautiful statues and monuments are motivated by “growing intolerance for partial narratives.”
In June, mobs of intolerant bullies ruined statues of Father Junipero Serra, Francis Scott Key, and Ulysses Grant in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Mayor London Breed cravenly got rid of the city’s beautiful statue of Christopher Columbus because of the threat that it, too, would be violently destroyed. But if someone considered partial narratives to be a problem, then destroying all statues that represent viewpoints and cultures other than their own would be the exact opposite of what they would want to do. Presenting a full and complete version of history requires the inclusion of figures such as Serra, Key, Grant, and Columbus, because presenting a full and complete version of history requires the inclusion of all viewpoints and cultures. The actions of these vicious bullies have made the historical narrative partial and incomplete by dictating that only those viewpoints deemed to be compliant with political correctness be included.
I was struck by a social media comment quoted in the article, where the commenter said, “Monuments reflect our values. We need updated monuments for updated values.” But values are not something that should change over time. Moral right and wrong are absolute and eternal; there is no reason why the values commonly held in 2020 are any more likely to be correct than the values held in 1492 or 1861 or any other year. Additionally, people have different ideas about what constitutes moral right and wrong and therefore which historical figures are worthy of admiration. To change monuments based on the values that happen to be popular at the time is unfair to those who hold values that happen not to be popular. Why should some people get to see their values reflected in the monuments around them, while others are deprived of this? That’s why it’s so important to have monuments representing a wide range of ideologies and values, as opposed to only the ideologies and values popular at the moment.
“The people who are vehemently opposed to these narratives are saying [the statues] represent a forced celebration of oppression and public funding of a narrative of oppression,” Kim Morrison, a professor at San Francisco State University, said in the article. “The types of things we celebrate are war, colonialism, and the conquering of a land, and we don’t talk about the human loss that has gone along with that. It’s been the partial telling of a story and forcing large segments of communities that have been hurt by those particular monuments to believe that they should participate in celebrating things that have harmed their communities.” She also suggested that replacement artwork “celebrate diverse communities.”
But this is only one viewpoint about what constitutes oppression. In my opinion, policies such as the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, the progressive income tax, gun restrictions, and stay-at-home orders are far more oppressive than anything Columbus or Serra did. Why does Morrison’s idea of what is oppressive matter, while mine does not? I am forced to celebrate and to contribute to the funding of my oppression every single day. War, colonialism, and the conquering of lands are not the only things that inflict human loss. The everyday injustices, violations of liberty, and restrictions that prevent people from living their lives in the ways that they choose, these are far more harmful to human beings than acts of conquest by long-ago explorers and generals. Did Morrison ever consider how people who believe in medical freedom might feel about statues of Hubert Humphrey, who introduced the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, and Harry Truman, who signed it? Did she think about the hurt inflicted on the Confederate community by the existence of statues of Abraham Lincoln, who violated the First and Fourth Amendments in order to force the South to remain part of the United States against its will, or of William Tecumseh Sherman, who barbarically burned and destroyed farms, cities, and train tracks across the South in service of this same goal? Clearly, to her, only some of the people who are hurt by monuments matter, while others do not.
As for the suggestion that art celebrate diverse communities… that was what was already being done before the Black Lives Matter movement began destroying everything in the world that does not conform to their ideology. By including statues of Columbus and Serra alongside those celebrating black and indigenous people, the world had a full, complete, and diverse telling of history. Destroying these statues took that away. Now, black and indigenous people’s narratives are the only ones remaining, the only ones allowed to be celebrated. That is truly a partial narrative.
As a side note, the article characterizes the brutal and sickening destruction of the statue of Father Serra as an “act of civil disobedience.” Civil disobedience is the act of disobeying an unjust law as a form of protest. But the existence of a Serra statue is not unjust. It is actually the act of tearing it down that is unjust. These acts of destruction are neither attempts to make historical narratives more complete nor acts of civil disobedience. They are acts of bullying and intolerance whose purpose is to enforce conformity and eliminate true diversity.