On Monday, the city council of Charlottesville, Virginia made the despicable decision to transfer ownership of the Robert E. Lee statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, an organization that plans to destroy the statue by melting it down.
To say that this news is heart-wrenching and infuriating is an understatement. There is little to say that I haven’t already said about other horrible things that have happened with regard to statues over the past year and a half. Like all acts of obliteration of the cultures and histories of unpopular groups, this decision is disgusting, grotesque, and morally wrong. How anyone could consider it a good idea to destroy a historic and beautiful piece of art is utterly incomprehensible.
Andrea Douglas, the director of the center, said that the organization plans to “create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public space into something beautiful that can be more reflective of our entire community’s social values.”
In my perspective, Confederate statues are as far from toxic as it is possible for something to be. I love history, particularly the history of those with the courage to be different, to fight for unpopular causes, to rebel against authority, and to stand up for their beliefs even when the odds are against them. The Confederacy embodies all of these attributes, and as a result, people associated with the Confederacy are among my favorite historical figures. My love of rebellious, brave historical figures is my passion, it is my joy, and it is what makes my life worth living. Although these heroes will live on in my mind and heart for as long as I do, the obliteration of their physical presence in today’s world is a profound and unspeakable loss. As a result of actions such as those that have taken place in Charlottesville, the thing that I love more than anything else is increasingly ceasing to physically exist in the world. This makes the world a place that is devoid of goodness, happiness, and joy. It makes the world a place that is not worth living in.
It is truly incomprehensible that someone could consider the thing that is my passion, my joy, and my happiness, to be “toxic.” Literally nothing could be further from the truth.
With this decision, Charlottesville, along with most of the world, has taken another step towards transforming from a place that honors diversity, courage, freedom, liberty, and fighting back against authority, to a place that honors conformity, compliance, and submission to authority. Public art that embodies the latter set of attributes may very well be “more reflective of our entire community’s social values,” as Douglas claims, but that is not a reason to create such art; it is a sign that something is seriously wrong with the community’s social values.
Douglas’s plan to turn something toxic into something beautiful in public space is actually a plan to turn something beautiful into something toxic.
As is the norm in today’s society, both Douglas’s sentiments and the city’s decision demonstrate a complete disregard for the viewpoints, perspectives, and feelings of others. As usual, the voices that align with whatever happens to be popular at the moment are the only ones that are acknowledged, while the voices of those who think for themselves are ignored. As usual, people like Douglas get everything that they want, while people like me get nothing. As usual, the majority, the mainstream, and the establishment get what they demand, no matter how severely this tramples on the happiness and rights of minorities.
This decision also illustrates how in such a short amount of time, the conversation in our society has changed from a debate about what types of locations are suitable for displaying statues of anti-authority historical figures, to a debate about whether such statues should be allowed to exist at all. At first, anti-diversity, pro-authority bullies argued that Confederate statues should be moved from public parks, streets, and city squares to more “appropriate” locations such as battlefields, cemeteries, and museums. But then the bullies began vandalizing statues at battlefields and cemeteries, protesting against museums that dared to display Confederate statues, and demanding that the statues be removed from these locations as well. Additionally, cities have increasingly refused to give removed statues to private organizations that would cherish and care for them on private land, apparently believing that keeping the statues hidden in storage is the only acceptable option. But now, at least in Charlottesville, not even that is bad enough. Nothing short of completely and irreversibly destroying the poor statue will do.
Shame on the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, shame on the mayor and city council of Charlottesville, and shame on anyone who supports or agrees in any way with the decision to destroy the Robert E. Lee statue.