bookmark_borderStatues and “intolerance for partial narratives”

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.

bookmark_borderNortham to spend $11 million to ruin Richmond

After destroying everything that made Richmond, Virginia unique, beautiful, and good, Governor Ralph Northam is proposing to spend millions of dollars to create bland, homogeneous, meaningless new works of art. His proposed budget for 2021 includes $11 million to redesign Monument Avenue, which was until recently the location of five magnificent status of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Gen. Jeb Stuart, and Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury. (Lee is technically still standing but has been completely covered with graffiti and will be removed next year unless an appellate judge reverses the court decision allowing his removal.) Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement brutally vandalized the beautiful statues over the summer, and Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney took the side of the destructive mobs and ordered the statues removed. The budget also includes $9 million to develop a Slavery Heritage Site and $100,000 to build a Virginia Emancipation and Freedom Monument.

This article at Hyperallergic.com describes the plan as “funding public art that tells a more complete and inclusive story of American history.” National Geographic describes Northam’s vision as “inclusive art recognizing a diverse and challenging history… The long-term goal is to repurpose parts of Monument Avenue to better reflect Virginia’s and America’s diverse heritage… to elevate unheard voices and neglected histories.” In Northam’s words, “These investments will help Virginia tell the true story of our past and continue building an inclusive future. At a time when this Commonwealth and country are grappling with how to present a complete and more honest picture of our complex history, we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories.” And Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, which is leading the effort to design new monuments, said, “It is about looking to the future, looking to a future that’s inclusive, that’s forward thinking, and there’s also an element of healing.”

Unfortunately, this plan is the exact opposite of how it is being described. A collection of public art that leaves out the Confederacy is by definition neither complete, nor inclusive, nor diverse. It is Confederate historical figures whose voices have traditionally been unheard and whose stories have been neglected. Removing their statues and replacing them with monuments to mainstream, moderate, non-controversial, bland, mundane people just makes their voices even more unheard and their stories even more neglected. Northam’s vision is to further marginalize those who are already marginalized and further elevate those who are already in the spotlight. Monument Avenue already did shine light on previously untold stories, and Northam and Stoney decided to wipe those stories out. Brutally inflicting further pain on those who are already hurting, in order to please those who already receive preferential treatment, is the exact opposite of healing. It is beyond sickening and beyond reprehensible that Northam, having destroyed Richmond’s diversity and beauty, is now spending $11 million of taxpayer money to replace these irreplaceable works of art with conformity and nothingness. If he truly cared about inclusion, diversity, healing, unheard voices, neglected histories, or untold stories, he would have ordered all of the beautiful Confederate monuments to be cleaned up, repaired, protected, and preserved for all time. 

bookmark_borderBullies protest against Confederate flag at neighbor’s house

In Cold Spring, Minnesota, bullies are protesting against a homeowner’s decision to fly a Confederate flag.

The leader of the bullies, 20-year-old college student Jayda Woods, said of her neighbor’s flag: “To me, it just looks like a big thing that says ‘I hate you’ on it. ‘Stay away’ kind of thing, and just, ‘You’re not welcomed here.'”

“We’re not going to just stand by and have this flying in our neighborhood, right next to all of these kids, right next to the school where everyone’s driving by,” she added. “That’s just something I don’t want to live with for our town.”

Woods organized two protests, which involved dozens of people gathering with signs outside the offending house. She and her supporters have also written what she describes as “positive messages” in chalk on the sidewalk. These messages include “Black Lives Matter” and “Real Americans don’t fly traitor flags.”

To organize protests against a flag that a private citizen is flying on his/her own property displays a complete lack of tolerance and a complete lack of respect for the rights of one’s fellow citizens. First of all, Woods’s perceptions that the Confederate flag means “I hate you” and “stay away” are baseless. People fly Confederate flags for a variety of reasons, including pride in their Southern heritage or a belief in states’ rights or resistance to tyranny. Additionally, having negative feelings towards something (even if these feelings are valid and understandable, which is not the case in this situation) does not give a person the right to demand its removal, especially if it is located on another person’s private property. People do not have a right to never see anything they dislike while walking, driving, or jogging around town.

The homeowner who is flying the flag is doing absolutely nothing wrong. These attempts to pressure and browbeat this homeowner into stopping something that he/she has every right to do are acts of aggression and bullying. Woods says that she is not going to stand by and allow the flag to exist in her town. But that is exactly what she is obligated to do. What individuals do on their own property is none of her business; she and her supporters do not have the right to decide what other people in their town and neighborhood are and are not allowed to do.

Not to mention the fact that the Confederate flag is not a “traitor flag,” and calling it that is the exact opposite of a positive message.

“It is his First Amendment right, freedom of speech,” said Woods. “But what I would just like is at least a letter from the city of Cold Spring or from ROCORI High School, just asking him to take it down.”

This is contradictory. Woods is essentially admitting that the homeowner has a right to fly the flag while simultaneously asking the government to make him get rid of it!

To their credit, the city council responded to this request with the following statement: “The City of Cold Spring does not condone racial discrimination or the display of racist icons. The city strives to be a welcoming community for all persons regardless of race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender identification, age, ability, place of origin, citizenship status and veteran status. All citizens have the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution. The right is fundamental to our democracy and protects us all against tyranny. For that reason, the city can make no laws that abridge any citizen’s right to freedom of speech regardless of how offensive the speech may be.”

Woods has even started a petition to ban display of the Confederate flag, in which she calls the flag “highly intolerable, especially flying next to a school where ALL students and staff should feel welcomed and safe. It is extremely important to me that ALL students and all people who enter the ROCORI community are treated with respect.”

But her attempts to force the removal of the Confederate flag are, ironically, disrespectful and intolerant towards those with different views from her. Do people who are proud of their Southern heritage not also deserve to feel welcomed and safe? Do people who see the Confederate flag as a positive symbol of rebelliousness and freedom not also deserve to be treated with respect? Anyone who truly believes in the values of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance would accept and celebrate the right of each person to fly the flag of their choice.

bookmark_borderDemocratic senators demand flag discrimination

A group of 34 Democratic Congressmen and Congresswomen are demanding that Defense Secretary Mark Esper explicitly ban the Confederate flag while allowing other flags, such as the Pride flag and Native Nation flags. Earlier this month, in response to intolerant bullies’ demands, Esper issued a policy banning the Confederate flag from being displayed on property controlled by the Department of Defense, including ships, aircraft, office buildings, porches of military housing, and common areas of barracks. But instead of singling out that flag, the language of the policy simply lists which flags are allowed, a category that includes state flags, the POW/MIA flag, military flags, and the flags of allied countries, effectively banning all other flags. Left off the list were not only the Confederate flag but also the Pride flag, Native Nation flags, the Jolly Roger, and sports teams’ flags.

“While we applaud the department for taking steps to remove the Confederate battle flag from our military bases, the action unnecessarily avoids a clear rebuke of this oppressive symbol while simultaneously limiting how service members can freely express themselves in line with our values,” the Representatives wrote. “We ask that you immediately revise the new policy on flag display, explicitly ban the Confederate battle flag, and ensure that service members can express support for diversity and inclusion through the display of sovereign Native Nations and LGBTQ Pride flags… The department must have the strength and courage to be able to simultaneously stand against a symbol of hate and oppression in the Confederate battle flag while allowing the display of support for civil rights, equity and justice. We do not honor or display the Parteiflagge of Nazi Germany on our military bases, and any decision on the Confederate battle flag must likewise be unequivocal: it must be banned outright.”

Contrary to what is claimed in the letter, the Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate or oppression. It is simply a symbol of the Confederate States of America. Some people fly it as an expression of Southern heritage and some people fly it as a symbol of individuality, freedom, and resistance to government authority. There’s nothing hateful or oppressive about that.

Ironically, banning the Confederate flag is hateful and oppressive. The letter expresses support for diversity and inclusion, but banning one flag while allowing others is the exact opposite of diversity and inclusion. It is particularly disturbing that the Representatives want soldiers to be able to “freely express themselves in line with our values.” The letter appears to be stating that soldiers should only be able to express themselves if their values are the same as those of the letter’s authors. That is not freedom of expression. True freedom of expression means having the right to express one’s views regardless of whether those who hold political power approve of them. Truly supporting diversity and inclusion means not only embracing differences in sexual orientation, gender identity, and race; it also means embracing differences in culture as well as in ideology. We cannot have an inclusive society when Native Americans are able to honor their heritage with flags while Southerners are not. We cannot have diversity without the Confederate flag.

These Democratic Representatives are demanding that only flags that are in line with their values should be allowed. This is the epitome of intolerance and bigotry, and to use the language of diversity and inclusion in the service of such a non-inclusive cause is a perversion of these words. To unequivocally condemn the flag of a small, agricultural nation that existed for four years in the 19th century and happens to be frowned upon by today’s political establishment, as the letter demands of Secretary Esper, is the exact opposite of “strength and courage.” It is bullying.

I believe that soldiers should be able to display any flag that they want, including the U.S. flag, the Confederate flag, the Gadsden flag, the flag of any nation, state, or city, the Pride flag, the pirate flag, or the flag of any sports team. But if the Confederate flag is going to be banned, it is only fair to ban flags favored by those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum as well. Let’s hope that Esper displays true strength and courage by standing up to the Democrats’ intolerant demands.

bookmark_borderEvaluating various options on statues

As statues are unjustly being criticized and removed all across the country, there are various ideas for what should be done with those statues deemed unfit for public display.

For example, an article by Murray Whyte in last Sunday’s Boston Globe asks, “Toppled by a historical reckoning, should statues to our past be locked away or put on view elsewhere to decay in an act of public neglect?” The toppled monuments discussed in the article include not just statues of historical figures disliked by the politically-correct crowd, such as Confederate leaders and European explorers, but also works of art that depict minorities in ways that some people find offensive, such as the statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside the Museum of Natural History in New York, flanked by a black man and a Native American man, a statue in Boston depicting a newly freed slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln, a statue of a Native American outside Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and even Boston’s 54th Regiment Memorial, which honors the first African-American volunteer infantry unit in the Civil War (some people don’t like that it shows Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, on horseback, with the rest of the soldiers marching on foot).

The most objectionable of the options mentioned in the article is to round up the unwanted statues and put them in a park where they will be left to decay. This is what happened in Lithuania and other eastern European countries as they gained independence from the Soviet Union and also in India after it won its independence from Britain. To leave beautiful, historic statues to gradually fall apart and rot is not a suitable option, in my opinion. This is disrespectful to the people depicted in the statues, as well as to the artists who painstakingly sculpted them. I would hope that even people who dislike certain statues would recognize that historical, irreplaceable works of art should not be left to be destroyed by the elements, with no one maintaining or taking care of them.

Another option discussed in the article is to give statues and other works of art to museums. This would at least allow the statues to be displayed and appreciated, although in a less prominent place than a city street or public park. Those who like the statues could still visit them, those who are interested in history could learn about them, and those who hate them could simply avoid the gallery where they are located. But it is unclear whether or not museums would be willing to accept statues that society considers undesirable. “Museums are not the dumpster for racist art,” said Jami Powell, associate curator of Indigenous art at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth College. “It costs money to store and care for these things. Those are resources being taken from other opportunities.”

The possibility of adding explanatory signage, either while leaving the statues at their original sites or as part of moving them to museums, is also mentioned in the article. This signage can be physical or virtual. In Boston, for example, the Friends of the Public Garden have created an app that displays stories and information related to public monuments such as that of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This organization has also installed interpretive signage near the monument while it is being restored (a planned restoration project by the way, not a result of vandalism by protesters).

The article also mentions the possibility of leaving statues in place, but building additional statues to provide balance. For example, a massive bronze statue of a black man wearing a hoodie and dreadlocks, in a heroic pose on horseback, was installed on Monument Ave in Richmond last year. “I think that the best thing to do is to respond to them with more statues,” its creator, Kehinde Wiley, said of the Confederate monuments that until recently dominated that street. “What I’m saying is, the answer to negative speech is more speech, positive speech.”

What struck me about this article is that the option of doing nothing and simply allowing the statues to exist is not even mentioned. It is assumed that the statues are bad. For example, Whyte characterizes the calls to take down statues as “necessary conversations.” When explaining that most statues that have been removed are currently in storage, he writes, “for now, it’s enough that the monuments are gone.” The possibility is not even mentioned that people might consider it a bad thing for the monuments to be gone; it is just assumed that making them gone is everyone’s goal. Nor is it acknowledged that to some people, Confederate monuments are not “negative speech” but positive! The article briefly mentions the lawsuit against the removal of Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue and the fact that defenders of such statues consider them to be heritage, but it derisively puts the word “heritage” in quotes. Efforts to halt statues’ removal are treated as impediments to achieving the desired outcome, not as actions taken by actual people with feelings, thoughts, and opinions who are trying to achieve their goal of preserving the statues.

Jami Powell, the museum curator, is quoted as saying: “I think that people have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen. There’s been this wave of support that I think demonstrates that public institutions don’t need to be fearful of doing the right thing.” Did it ever occur to her that to some people, removing magnificent statues is not the right thing, but the wrong thing? To say that people “have known for a really long time that these things needed to happen” presumes the truth of what Powell is trying to prove, namely that our society ought to get rid of all art that is not considered politically correct by today’s standards. But some people strongly disagree with this contention.

In my opinion, the best option is the one not acknowledged in the article: letting statues be, regardless of whether or not they meet the politically-correct crowd’s standards of acceptability. Let’s repair the statues that have been vandalized, put back those that have been taken down, and guard them to make sure no one harms them again. What is wrong with that? If governments insist on removing statues from from public streets and parks, which they should not, the statues should be relocated to places where they will be lovingly cared for and appreciated. This could mean a museum, a library, a cemetery, or a site owned by a private organization or individual. Adding more statues to increase racial and gender diversity is not a bad thing, but it is important to note that ideological diversity is equally important, if not more so. For this reason, the existence of Confederate statues is crucial. The ideology of authoritarianism and government power won in the Civil War and is dominant today in terms of public opinion and government policy, so it is particularly important for the sake of diversity to ensure that the values of rebelliousness and states’ rights are represented in our country’s public art.

One criticism of monuments in the article that I found particularly interesting is the fact that they are static as opposed to dynamic. In Whyte’s words, the problem with statues is “exactly their immutability in a world in constant flux.” Powell, the museum curator at Dartmouth, said, “that’s the thing about traditional monuments – they don’t really allow us that space for growth.” And another curator quoted in the article, Jen Mergel, expressed criticism of “single statements to last in perpetuity.” In my opinion, these things are precisely what make statues and monuments so awesome. Statues are supposed to be immutable and to last in perpetuity. They are not supposed to grow or change. When I look at a beautiful statue, I feel a connection to the past. Seeing magnificent monuments of generals, explorers, presidents, and other leaders makes me feel connected to these historical figures. The present is always changing, from clothing styles to music to social norms to government policies. The ideologies and values that are popular today are no more likely to be correct than those popular hundreds of years ago or those that will be popular hundreds of years in the future. That’s why it is so important to have some things in the world that do not change. It is a beautiful thing to know that no matter how much the world changes, monuments to heroes from long ago, wearing the clothing of their time periods and representing a wide variety of ideologies and values, will always be there. But now, because of some people’s intolerant actions, lovers of history both today and in the future will be deprived forever of the monuments that we cherish. To alter or obliterate statues in order to conform to the predominant values of the present completely defeats their purpose.

bookmark_borderPelosi’s bigoted effort to remove Confederate statues

As part of the nationwide trend to get rid of everything that has anything to do with the Confederate States of America, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is demanding that 11 statues in the Capitol building be removed.

In a letter to the Architect of the Capitol and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, Pelosi wrote:

The statues in the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans, expressing who we are and who we aspire to be as a nation. Monuments to men who advocated cruelty and barbarism to achieve such a plainly racist end are a grotesque affront to those ideals. These statues pay homage to hate, not heritage. They must be removed. While I believe it is imperative that we never forget out history lest we repeat it, I also believe that there is no room for celebrating the violent bigotry of the men of the Confederacy in the hallowed halls of the United States Capitol or in places of honor across the country.

The statues that Pelosi is criticizing are part of Statuary Hall, a chamber in the Capitol that displays 100 statues of historical figures, two from each state. The list is as follows: Jefferson Davis (Mississippi), James Zachariah George (Mississippi), Wade Hampton (S. Carolina), John E. Kenna (W. Virginia), Robert E. Lee (Virginia), Uriah Milton Rose (Arkansas), Edmund Kirby Smith (Florida), Alexander Stephens (Georgia), Zebulon Vance (N. Carolina) Joseph Wheeler (Alabama), and Edward White (Louisiana). More details about these individuals can be found here. In her letter, Pelosi also made a point of mentioning that Davis and Stephens were charged with treason against the United States.

By demanding the removal of these statues, Pelosi is the true bigot in this situation.

First of all, contrary to Pelosi’s claims, Confederate statues do embody the highest American ideals. The Confederacy fought for the right to secede from the Unites States and establish itself as an independent nation. Resistance to government authority is the ideal that America was founded upon; arguably the Confederacy and not the Union is the true heir to the philosophy of the American Revolution. Even if you believe that the existence of slavery in the Confederacy outweighs this, and therefore do not admire the Confederacy, that does not give you the right to demand that Confederate statues be removed. The rights of those who admire the Confederacy need to be respected, because in addition to resistance to government authority, diversity is also one of the highest American ideals. And a key part of diversity is ideological diversity.

The whole point of Statuary Hall is to showcase a diverse collection of statues representing all 50 states. I have not seen Statuary Hall in person, but when looking at photos of it, I am struck by the variations among the statues. Not only are they physically different, made of a variety of different materials, but they represent a wide range of historical figures from different time periods, backgrounds, and walks of life. They represent historical figures with a wide range of viewpoints, beliefs, and ideologies. But Pelosi is essentially saying that only historical figures with mainstream, moderate, politically correct views deserve to be honored. In other words, only those historical figures who conform to what happen to be the prevailing beliefs in 2020 deserve to be celebrated.

Contrary to Pelosi’s claim, Confederate statues do represent heritage. The fact that Pelosi does not share or value this heritage does not change this.

To call the inclusion of 11 statues of Confederate-leaning historical figures among a collection of 100 a “grotesque affront” to American ideals is, ironically, the ultimate in intolerance and bigotry. And to pointedly mention that two of the statues’ subjects were charged with treason is the ultimate in authoritarianism. It is Pelosi who is being cruel, barbaric, and hateful by declaring that there is “no room for celebrating” those who fought bravely on the losing side of a war. Demanding the removal of Confederate statues is the action of a bully with no tolerance for any views or values that differ from hers. A homogeneous collection of statues representing mainstream ideologies is the exact opposite of what America as a nation should aspire towards. But that is exactly what Pelosi is advocating. This type of mindless conformism is truly a grotesque affront to American ideals.

bookmark_borderNASCAR is wrong to ban the Confederate flag

Following the Black Lives Matter protests, NASCAR decided to ban display of the Confederate flag at its races. NASCAR’s statement read:

“The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

African-American NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace had called on the organization to ban the flag. “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” he said. “It starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”

In my opinion, banning the Confederate flag is the wrong decision and actually makes NASCAR less inclusive. Just like the trend of tearing down statues that are objectionable to the politically-correct crowd, banning the Confederate flag shows complete disregard for people who like the flag and consider it an important symbol. A common justification given for banning Confederate flags, statues, and other imagery is that to many people, these things are symbols of racism. But the fact that many people think something does not make it true. The Confederate flag is a symbol of the Confederate States of America, a country that existed from 1861-1865. Yes, the Confederacy had slavery. But slavery is not the sole thing that the Confederacy stood for, nor the sole reason why it went to war in an attempt to gain independence. The Confederate flag does not stand for slavery or racism. It stands for the Southern culture, for the brave soldiers who fought for the South’s independence, for states’ rights, and most importantly of all, for resistance to government authority. That is why I, who have lived in Massachusetts my entire life and am distantly related to Ulysses Grant, love and cherish the Confederate flag. That is why my heart soars whenever I see its stars and bars flapping in the breeze. And that is why I’m devastated by the attempts to eradicate Confederate imagery from America’s culture.

Obviously, not everyone feels the way I do. Plenty of people don’t like the Confederate flag, and that’s fine. But the fact that you dislike and disagree with something does not give you the right to have it banned. Bubba Wallace recently began displaying a “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme on his car, which is awesome. I personally would not do so if I was a NASCAR driver, because I disagree with many of the things the Black Lives Matter movement and people associated with it have done recently. But I would never argue that displaying support for that movement should be banned. Just as NASCAR drivers and fans have every right to express their support for Black Lives Matter, drivers and fans should be able to express their admiration for the Confederacy as well.

By taking away the freedom of expression of one group of people in order to make another group of people more comfortable, NASCAR is essentially saying that some people’s feelings and opinions matter more than others. That is neither fair nor just, and it makes NASCAR less welcoming, inclusive, and diverse.

bookmark_borderNo, Christopher Columbus Park is not “dedicated to white supremacy”

After the horrific attack on the Christopher Columbus statue in Boston, representatives from the United American Indians of New England, North American Indian Center of Boston, Indigenous Peoples Day MA, and New Democracy Coalition held a press conference near the site where the statue used to be. The purpose of the press conference was apparently to insult the statue and by extension, the Italian-American community. 

“For 500 years plus, Black and indigenous people have endured a campaign of state violence,” complained Jean-Luc Pierite, president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, without providing any explanation of what he means by this or any evidence that it is true.

“It’s a park dedicated to white supremacy; it’s a park dedicated to indigenous genocide,” said Mahtowin Munro of United American Indians of NE and IndigenousPeoplesDayMA.org. “The messaging is clear with the statue here that this is an area where white people are welcome, but where our people are not welcome. So we’ve been asking for years that this statue come down and that Columbus be no longer celebrated.”

“This statue needs to be permanently removed,” said Kevin Peterson, founder of the New Democracy Coalition. “It is an insult to Native American people, it is an insult to the very idea of democracy. We demand that this statue be removed and that it is never seen again.” 

These comments are so deeply wrong – morally, philosophically, and intellectually – that it is difficult to determine which statement is the most preposterous.

First of all, Christopher Columbus Park is not dedicated to white supremacy or indigenous genocide. That is not even remotely close to being true, and it makes absolutely no sense that anyone would say or think that. Christopher Columbus Park is dedicated to…. Christopher Columbus. It might be true that Columbus was a white supremacist (as was pretty much every single person in the 15th century) and it could be argued that his actions amounted to genocide (although that is highly debatable), but to equate Columbus with white supremacy and genocide, as if those are his only two attributes, is ridiculous. Columbus was a person. He had many different qualities, both positive and negative, and did many different things over the course of his life. Discovering an entirely new continent, which Europeans did not know about before, was a pretty significant achievement. Was he perfect? No. Did he treat indigenous people in the best possible way? No. But it is wrong to claim that honoring Columbus is the same thing as honoring white supremacy and indigenous genocide. 

Equally preposterous is the claim that “the messaging is clear” that only white people are welcome in Columbus Park and not indigenous or black people. There is no messaging that only white people are welcome in Columbus Park. People of all races are welcome there. That should not even need to be explained. As far as I know, no one has ever said, suggested, or implied in any way that only white people are welcome in the park. I walk through the park frequently and see people of all races, ages, and genders hanging out there. If you do not feel comfortable in the park, that is your own problem. If you hate Christopher Columbus so much that you are unwilling to set foot in a park that bears his name, that is your choice. No one did anything to make you feel unwelcome.

The contention that the statue is an insult to Native American people and to the idea of democracy is also false. How can a statue be an insult to someone? There is no historical figure that is liked and admired by all people. For any statue, there are going to be some people who like it and some people who don’t. If you believe that Columbus’s treatment of indigenous people outweighs his positive attributes, then you are probably not a fan of his statue. That is fine. But that does not mean the statue’s existence is an insult to you. There are numerous historical figures that I dislike. For example, I don’t like Hubert Humphrey because he sponsored the Durham-Humphrey Amendment, and I don’t like General Richard Sherman because of the atrocities he committed against the South during the Civil War. But I don’t claim that statues depicting them are an insult to me, nor do I demand that those statues be removed.

As for the demand that the Columbus statue be permanently removed, that is not only unreasonable but demonstrates true bigotry and intolerance. What right do you have to demand that a statue be removed, never to be seen again? Different people have different values, preferences, and opinions about which attributes are admirable in a historical figure and how the different attributes should be weighed. Therefore, different people will come to different conclusions about which historical figures deserve to be honored with statues. Yet the speakers at this press conference are arguing that their opinions, and only their opinions, should determine which statues are allowed to exist and which are not. What makes their opinions more important than other people’s opinions? They are demonstrating not one iota of consideration for those who admire Columbus and cherish the statue.

The criticisms of the statue and the demands to remove it are even more offensive when one takes into account the fact that Columbus was from Italy (he was born in Genoa, which was not part of Italy at the time but is now), and his statue and park are located at the southern edge of the North End, the Italian part of Boston. Columbus was essentially the first Italian-American. To many Italian-Americans today, his accomplishments are a source of pride. His statue represents the Italian-American community and symbolically welcomes Bostonians and visitors to the North End. It is disturbing that someone would equate celebrating Italian-American heritage with white supremacy. Not only do the people who spoke at the press conference consider the existence of anything they dislike to be a personal insult to them, but they apparently believe that their culture is the only one that deserves to be honored and celebrated. Not only do they believe they have a right to order the removal of any statue they dislike, but they believe they have a right to obliterate a symbol of Italian heritage from Boston’s Italian neighborhood. Go ahead and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day if you want to. Put up statues of notable indigenous people from history. But you do not get to tell other people to stop celebrating Columbus Day, and you do not get to take away the Columbus statue from those who cherish and appreciate it.

The only good thing to occur during the anti-Columbus press conference was that, according to Boston.com, a resident of the North End shouted his objections to removing the statue, at times drowning the speakers out. Good for him.

Munro, naturally, complained that this was emblematic of how indigenous people have allegedly been silenced for centuries. “We will not allow ourselves to be silenced anymore,” she said.

News flash: you have never been silenced. You and your fellow speakers at the press conference are the ones who are trying to silence any views that differ from yours. You are demanding that a beautiful statue be removed because you personally do not like it. You are demanding that other people stop celebrating a historical figure because you personally do not admire him. You are acting as if your views and preferences are the only ones that matter. How dare you gather at the site of a statue that has just been brutally beheaded and rub salt into the wounds of those who love the statue and the Italian heritage that it stands for? You are the ones who are truly being racist, discriminatory, and intolerant. 

bookmark_borderNew Virginia laws are the opposite of diversity and inclusion

Last month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed new laws giving cities and towns the power to remove Confederate monuments and beginning the process of replacing the statue of Robert E. Lee in the U.S. Capitol.

“These laws make Virginia more equitable, just, and inclusive,” he said. “These monuments tell a particular version of history that doesn’t include everyone. In Virginia, that version of history has been given prominence and authority for far too long.”

State Senator Mamie Locke, who sponsored the bill to let cities remove monuments, voiced similar sentiments: “Virginia’s Confederate monuments were erected as symbols of a dangerous Jim Crow era. It is past time we told a more complete story of our history and work to build a Commonwealth that values everyone – no matter who you are.”

Delegate Delores McQuinn, who sponsored the House version of the bill, said, “Today marks an important step towards a more equitable and welcoming Commonwealth. Virginia’s history is difficult and complex, and it is important that we tell the full and true story of our past 400 years. These new laws will make our Commonwealth better.”

And Dr. Janice Underwood, the state’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, said “For more than 400 years, we’ve consciously oppressed and celebrated painful parts of Virginia’s past at the expense of those who are haunted by it the most. With these laws we are charting a new path for our Commonwealth – one that begins to tell a more complete story of who we are and honors our diversity as our greatest strength.”

The truth, however, is the exact opposite. The sentiments voiced by these politicians completely ignore the fact that those who admire Confederate leaders are also people, and their views and preferences also matter. Getting rid of Confederate monuments completely disregards the views of those who enjoy these statues and admire the soldiers and leaders whom the statues represent.

There are numerous legitimate reasons to admire Confederate leaders – their bravery, their sense of honor, their military skill, their loyalty to their home states, and the fact that they fought against a powerful federal government, just to name a few. The Confederacy was not merely about slavery, and the statues are not symbols of racism. They are symbols of people from history, who have both positive and negative attributes just like all people do. Lots of people don’t like the Confederacy or its leaders, and that’s fine. They have every right to lobby for the creation of statues of historical figures they do admire. They do not, however, have a right to lobby for the removal of statues they do not like. That is not fair to the people who like these statues and the historical figures they represent.

Unfortunately, the viewpoint that the Confederacy and everyone associated with it was bad, is the popular, politically correct viewpoint today. That does not make it right. To get rid of Confederate statues is to state that the popular, politically correct viewpoint is the only legitimate viewpoint there is. This completely excludes anyone with dissenting views. This is the exact opposite of making Virginia more equitable, just, welcoming, and inclusive. It is the opposite of diversity. It is the opposite of valuing everyone. In short, these laws allowing the removal of Confederate statues do the opposite of what the politicians who sponsored and signed the laws claim. They make Virginia, and America, a worse and less tolerant place.

bookmark_borderStraight Pride Parade protesters demonstrate intolerance and hypocrisy

On Saturday, August 31, a Straight Pride Parade and rally took place in Boston. This provided an opportunity for so-called liberals to take to the streets and demonstrate their intolerance and hypocrisy.

The protesters chanted things such as “Boston hates you,” “go away,” “f*** you,” and “Nazi scum, get off our streets.” They ridiculed the fact that fewer people attended the parade than the protests against it. And they ridiculed the classical music that played as rally organizers waited for more supporters to arrive, saying “Your music is 500 years old, just like your values.” (What does how old values are have to do with whether they are right or wrong?) They taunted police officers, asking “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” (as if protecting an unpopular minority against a bullying majority is a bad thing). They pointed their middle fingers as the parade made its way down Boylston Street and as the rally began on City Hall Plaza. One protester screamed, “What do you have to be proud of? What have you done?” (Can you imagine what the reaction would be if someone asked this of gay pride demonstrators?)

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