Reckoning. Again and again over the past year-plus, we’ve heard and seen this word: on TV, on the radio, in newspapers, online, and on social media. Everywhere we go, we are bludgeoned over the head with the idea that America is having a long-overdue “racial reckoning.” And now this concept has spread to Canada and Europe, with a plethora of articles alleging that other countries are in need of racial reckonings as well (such as this one, titled “UK faces reckoning after unmarked Indigenous graves discovered in Canada“).
According to Dictionary.com, the word “reckoning” has several meanings, including “the settlement of accounts,” “an accounting, as for things received or done,” and “an appraisal or judgment.”
The aspect of the current “reckoning” that is most upsetting and objectionable to me is the destruction of statues and monuments. Likenesses of historical figures ranging from Queen Victoria to Robert E. Lee to Christopher Columbus have been beheaded, torn down, lynched, strangled, kicked, set on fire, and otherwise brutalized. The perpetrators of these actions argue that they are advocating for racial equality. But the incessant talk of a needed “reckoning” is based on a false presumption. To characterize the destruction of statues as a reckoning presumes that the existence of the statues is bad. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Having statues of a wide variety of historical figures is crucial for having a world that is worth living in.
Destroying statues inflicts horrible pain on the people who love and appreciate those statues. Given that the word “reckoning” means “the settlement of accounts” or “an accounting, as for things received or done,” using this word implies that people who love and appreciate statues have done something wrong and deserve to be punished. This is completely false. Statues are just as valid and legitimate an interest as movies, trains, dinosaurs, sports, or anything else, for that matter. No one deserves to have his or her object of love and admiration obliterated from the world. Far from being a reckoning, acts of brutality against statues are in reality acts of aggression against innocent people who have done nothing wrong. The participants in the anti-statue movement are not settling up accounts, getting revenge, or getting even with those who have harmed them. They are inflicting harm and pain on people who have done nothing wrong and harmed no one. In other words, this movement is not fighting for racial justice; it is actively inflicting injustice.
Similarly, using the word “reckoning” to mean “an appraisal or judgment” implies that there is something bad about statues and/or the people who love them, something making the statues and/or the people worthy of condemnation and criticism. But it is the people destroying and removing the statues who deserve condemnation and criticism, as they are the ones acting wrongly in this situation. The idea that what is happening is an appraisal or judgment also presumes that the currently prevailing views about race and statues are necessarily correct and that viewpoints from the past are necessarily wrong. According to this presumption, it is a desirable goal to evaluate historical figures using today’s values and to modify our communities’ statues and monuments accordingly. But this way of looking at things is completely false. Views popular today are no more likely to be correct than views unpopular today and/or popular in the past. In fact, the views about race and statues that are dominant in 2020-2021 have inflicted enormous amounts of harm and pain on innocent people and transformed the world from a place that was worth living in to one that is not. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the previously existing statues and monuments. Far from righting a wrong, the removal of statues takes something that was perfectly fine and ruins it.
In conclusion, to use the word “reckoning” to describe the recent trend of vicious attacks on statues is incorrect and unjust. It places blame on the victims of these hurtful actions and lets the perpetrators completely off the hook. The existence of statues of controversial historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and Confederate generals is a beautiful thing, not a problem that needs to be reckoned with. The eradication of these statues, whether via violent destruction or peaceful removal, is the real problem. And the perpetrators of these actions, whether protesters or government officials, are the ones who deserve punishment and condemnation. The endless onslaught of statue destruction, as well as the fact that our society has treated this as if it is not a serious problem, is what truly merits a reckoning.