bookmark_borderIdentity, representation, and fairness

“They’re just statues.”

“They’re not alive.”

“How can you get so upset about an inanimate object?”

More times than I can count, I have been asked these questions. 

To me, statues are a matter of identity. I love Christopher Columbus, and I love the generals who fought for the Confederacy. But even more importantly, I see these people as myself. When I see a statue of Columbus or someone from the Confederacy, I feel that the statue essentially is me. Not literally, of course, but symbolically and spiritually. When I see such a statue, it makes me feel represented. It makes me feel included. It makes me feel that people like me are welcome and accepted in our society.

That is why it has been so incredibly hurtful, traumatizing, and devastating to see Columbus statues and Confederate statues being violently destroyed across the country and world. The symbols of my inclusion and acceptance in society have been hacked to pieces with sledgehammers, smashed on the ground, beheaded, thrown into harbors, set on fire, and had nooses tightened around their necks. How do you think that would make someone feel?

Additionally, how do you think it would feel to see the people who are supposed to be in charge in our society – mayors, governors, senators, congresspeople, the president – react not with unequivocal condemnation but with ambivalence? How do you think it would feel to read statement after statement saying something like, “destroying property isn’t the best way to make one’s point, but the protesters’ feelings are completely understandable”?

And how do you think it makes me feel to read about analogous situations involving other cultures’ statues and monuments – the vandalism of a George Floyd sculpture in New York City, for example – and to see politicians react with exactly the harsh condemnation that they withheld when it was my statues being destroyed?

In short, it makes me feel persecuted. If there were just one or two isolated acts of vandalism targeting people like me, that would be sickening and infuriating, but tolerable. But when these acts are a consistent pattern, happening again and again all over the country and in other countries as well, the pain becomes so horrible that life is no longer worth living. These actions are just as hurtful as if these violent attacks were done to me. And our government, whose job it is to protect people’s rights and to ensure that justice is done, did nothing. In many cases, governments actually took actions that benefitted, rewarded, and/or publicly honored the perpetrators. Companies, sports teams, organizations, almost without exception did nothing. Or, worse, they chose to publicly express support not for the people who have been hurt, but for the movement that committed the hurtful actions. 

The question that occupies my mind every second of every minute of every hour of every day is this: How can I continue to exist in a world where all of the institutions that make up our society hate people like me? How can I live a happy life in a society that consistently, pervasively, and repeatedly sends the message that people like me are not welcome here?

I have been going to a therapist to try and figure out the answers to these questions. My therapist once explained to me that every person has the right to hold whatever ideas they wish in their internal world, but problems arise when people try to impose their ideas on the external world. In other words, I can enjoy my historical figures, and even consider them my friends, in my internal world, regardless of what happens to their likenesses in the external world. It is understandably upsetting, she told me, to see the statues destroyed, but it’s not the case that my rights were violated, because I don’t have a right, per se, to see the historical figures from my internal world reflected in the external one. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and have come to the conclusion that if there were no statues and monuments at all, no holidays honoring individuals or groups, and no places named after historical figures, then I would agree with what my therapist said. But the problem is that there are statues, holidays, and place names for some historical figures and not others. Some people get to see their internal world reflected in the external world, while I do not. This disparate treatment is unfair and unjust. Therefore, I do believe that my rights have been violated. 

I will soon be getting a statue of Stonewall Jackson to put up outside my house. My therapist thinks this is a good idea, because although the statue will technically be part of the external world, he will be located on my own property, and therefore will enable me to honor a person that I love and identify with, without the dangers inherent in having a statue on public land.

Don’t get me wrong – I am very happy and excited to get my Stonewall statue. But the thing is, I shouldn’t have to. 

I shouldn’t have to pay $3,000 to erect a small statue that actually represents me, while other people get to have large statues, located on public land and paid for with government funds, of the people that they identify with. Those who identify with Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or Paul Revere, or Martin Luther King, Jr. do not have to pay to erect their own personal statues. While other groups get to have their internal world reflected in the external one through public art, the art that represents my identity is banished from public spaces and relegated to my own backyard. I think it is awesome that organizations such as Monuments Across Dixie and campaigns such as Lee Rides Again are raising money to build statues on privately-owned land. But when you think about it, they should not have to do this. People like me deserve to be publicly acknowledged as welcome and accepted members of society just as much as anyone else does.

In conclusion, while there is certainly something to be said for focusing on one’s internal world, I’m not sure that this is sufficient in cases where one is not merely failing to get one’s way, but actually being discriminated against and treated unjustly. Giving up on the real world, and withdrawing into the imaginary one, reflects a disturbingly bleak view of the world and its future. Unfortunately, this might be my only option given that the real world has decided to persecute and discriminate against people like me. 

One final note: You might ask why I identify so strongly with Columbus and Confederate people. Why are statues of these particular people necessary for me to feel represented and included? I am a woman, so many people might think I should feel represented by the Boston Women’s Memorial, featuring statues of various women from history. I am on the autism spectrum, so many people might think it would make me feel included when Autism Acceptance Month is celebrated every April. Many people also make the argument that Columbus Day and Columbus statues are unnecessary because there are numerous historical figures other than Christopher Columbus whom Italian Americans could choose to represent us. But although I find the Women’s Memorial beautiful and creative, I appreciate that there is a month honoring autistic people, and I wouldn’t mind the addition of more Italian American statues, none of these things move me emotionally. None of them resonate with me. None of them make me feel represented or included. I feel a spiritual and emotional connection with Columbus and with people from the Confederacy. Perhaps this is because they are considered rebels and underdogs; perhaps it is because they were quirky and different; perhaps it is because they are misunderstood and looked down upon. Just as people cannot be expected to provide a logical justification for being straight, or gay, or bisexual, my identity cannot be reduced to arguments or reasoning. The bottom line is that each individual person has the right to decide what types of statues, monuments, and holidays represent them. No one has the right to impose their ideas of representation on anyone else.

bookmark_borderStatues are not needed to remember history… so what?

There are numerous bad arguments for taking down historical statues and monuments. One of the dumbest, in my opinion, is the argument that statues are not necessary to remember or learn about history.

Here is an example of this argument which I recently saw on Facebook:

Another time, I saw a satirical post about building a statue of the coronavirus (think the illustration of a red virus particle that is used on the news as a generic representation of the virus) so that future generations would remember the pandemic.

I have never argued that the reason why statues are needed is because people wouldn’t be able to remember things without them, and I don’t think anyone else has argued this either. Comments like the above are, therefore, an example of the straw man fallacy.

These arguments are frustrating, because yes, it is true that statues are not necessary for people to remember history. Books, informational websites, databases, and other forms of written documentation are all adequate for this purpose. But that doesn’t mean that statues are not necessary. The importance of statues extends far beyond the fact that they help people to learn about the past.

For me personally, I have an imaginary world in which historical figures are the characters, and I spend my time picturing their interactions and adventures. Statues are a way in which the people I love are able to exist in the physical world and be a concrete part of my life. To argue that statues are unnecessary as long as there are other ways of remembering stuff, completely denies and invalidates my perspective.

I understand that my perspective on historical figures is unusual, and few (if any) people in the world share it. But even if my perspective is incomprehensible to you, and you think that it counts for nothing, there remains the fact that statues, quite simply, are art. Statues are outdoor sculptures. And just like any form of art, statues are valuable for their own sake. Any person who does not see inherent value in art has no soul.

Would the person who made this idiotic Facebook comment advocate that the Mona Lisa be painted over so that the canvas could be re-used? After all, as long as it is written down somewhere that this particular Italian noblewoman existed, a painting is unnecessary, right? Would this person advocate that art museums be razed and the land put to more constructive uses, such as a data center, for example? After all, a database listing facts about the works of art would accomplish the same thing as looking at the works of art themselves, right?

Statues are important not merely because they are learning tools or reminders of the past, but because they are beautiful, because they are works of art, because they represent people whom I love, because they honor people and ideas that deserve to be honored, and because they enable historical figures to live on, to list just a few reasons. Arguing that statues aren’t needed because people can learn about history without them denies all of these things. Without statues, people might still remember the past, but the present world would be stripped of all beauty, joy, meaning, and purpose, and therefore would not be worth living in. I don’t know about you, but personally, I think that having a world worth living in is kind of important.

bookmark_borderStatues and the soul

In the approximately two years since our society collectively decided to destroy the statues honoring the historical figures that I love, it has been difficult to put the way that I feel into words. The destruction of these statues has been, by far, the most painful thing that has ever happened to me. I feel, more strongly than I have ever felt anything in my life, that this destruction is wrong. But it is hard to form a logical argument that explains why this is so. 

“They’re just statues,” people point out. “They aren’t alive. It’s not as if anyone has been killed.” I have been ridiculed for being so upset at the statue destruction. I have been called a racist and a white supremacist. Even those who agree with me that the taking down of Christopher Columbus statues and Confederate statues is wrong do not feel as strongly about this as I do. They don’t understand why these statues are so important to me that without them, I feel that the world is no longer worth living in.

I recently read an article in Psychology Today about the spirit and the soul. The article explains that what animates the soul varies from person to person: art, music, organized religion, or watching children learn and grow, to give just a few examples. The author, Bill Kavanagh, characterizes religion and spirituality as “the deepest values and meanings by which to live” or “one’s own inner dimension” or “connecting to an energy outside of oneself.” Once you discover the thing that speaks to your soul, you have found meaning and purpose.

For me, historical figures are that thing. They touch my soul. They capture my imagination. They fill me with emotion. The desire to honor them guides everything that I do. And by extension, statues of historical figures touch my soul as well. That is why their existence is so important to me, and that is why their destruction is so devastating.

Everyone’s soul is touched, or moved, by different things. If your soul isn’t moved by a statue of Christopher Columbus surrounded by flowers and a trellis near the waterfront, you probably won’t understand why I feel that the entire city is ruined with that statue gone. You won’t understand why I feel sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with grief and rage when thinking about the fact that someone intentionally ripped the statue’s head from his body and smashed it on the ground. You won’t understand why replacing the statue with a monument to a different Italian American historical figure does not even come close to being an acceptable solution. 

Because everyone’s soul is moved by different things, everyone has incredibly different ideas of which things are important in life and which things are unimportant. If the things that provide you with meaning and purpose are your children, career, pets, friends, or religion, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to my grief and rage about statues. You will find it difficult to wrap your head around why the destruction of statues is so upsetting and painful. Similarly, there are numerous situations in which a certain thing provides someone else with meaning and purpose, and I have difficulty relating to the fact that someone’s soul could be so moved by something that I consider unimportant. 

Perhaps the spirit and the soul explain why people feel so strongly that the statues that make my life worth living should be destroyed. Perhaps the statues’ existence threatens something that other people’s souls depend on for meaning and purpose, in a way that I cannot relate to because I do not share. 

But I believe that what moves my soul, what provides me with meaning and purpose, is just as important as what provides these things to other people. My viewpoint is just as valid and just as important as anyone else’s. I believe that it is never okay to destroy the thing that moves another person’s soul. Whatever problems the world faces, we must find solutions that do not crush anyone’s soul into dust, the way that the brutal war on statues has done to mine. You might not consider Christopher Columbus or people from the Confederacy to be important, but I do. Your soul might not be moved by these historical figures, but mine is. Your soul is different from mine, but that does not give you the right to ridicule me, inflict pain on me, or dismiss my perspective.

bookmark_borderAlternate universes

Since the statue genocide began almost two years ago, numerous activities that I used to enjoy have been ruined. I used to love exploring Boston and its suburbs, photographing buildings and landmarks. I used to love trains and buses, both as a mode of transit and as a cool thing to learn about and photograph in and of themselves. I used to love sports, particularly the Bruins, and frequently attended their games and practices.

However, now that Boston has become a city without my statue of Christopher Columbus in it, I do not love Boston anymore. I no longer get much pleasure from exploring or photographing it, nor do I really enjoy rooting for Boston’s sports teams. Whenever I think “Boston,” the fact that there is no Christopher Columbus anymore is front and center.

The same concept applies to almost all cities and states in the U.S., and many foreign countries as well. The fact that places do not have the statues and monuments that they are supposed to have, and therefore are ruined, significantly negatively impacts my ability to enjoy my former hobbies and interests.

I have struggled to figure out what to do about this. I have unfollowed some athletes, organizations, and photographers on social media either because they specifically expressed support for anti-statue ideology, or because I found their content to be particularly painful. But I am still following many social media accounts that are related to Boston, photography, public transportation, and/or sports, and seeing posts on these topics causes a variety of different emotions. 

Yesterday, I saw a post about the Route 71 and 73 buses that go through Cambridge and Watertown. What is unique about these buses is that they are connected to overhead wires that power them as they make their way through the streets, as opposed to using diesel or gas. Sadly, this past weekend marks the end of these buses’ lives. Due to a major road construction project, they are being taken out of service and will eventually be replaced with more high-tech buses. A train and bus enthusiast that I follow on Instagram took a trip on one of these buses over the weekend and posted photos and videos documenting the journey.

Seeing these images, I thought to myself, “I should have done that!” The old me, in fact, probably would have done that. An old-fashioned bus line is exactly the type of thing that the old me was into. The old me would have wanted to experience that and document it as a part of Boston history. I felt bad that I didn’t ride and document the bus this weekend; I felt that it was something I should do.

But then I had an epiphany. Riding the 71 or 73 bus is something that I would have done in a parallel universe, or an alternate reality. An alternate reality in which the statue genocide hadn’t happened. But unfortunately, the statue genocide did happen. I don’t live in a parallel universe; I live in this one. And in this universe, my priority is defending, honoring, and glorifying the historical figures who are under relentless, brutal attack. Each person has only a finite amount of time and energy, and given the horrific things that happened, my time and energy are best spent celebrating historical figures through art, poetry, and writing. 

Thinking about it that way, I am able to find some semblance of peace with regards to the activities that I used to do and the things that I used to be into. These are things that the version of me that exists in a parallel universe would do, but this version of me doesn’t do. Given what happened in this universe, these activities aren’t the most meaningful use of my time and energy.

I don’t mean to imply that the statue genocide was even remotely good in any way, shape, or form, but at least it has narrowed down my interests to a manageable amount. Before, there were so many hobbies and activities that interested me that I was constantly frustrated that I didn’t have enough time and energy to do them all. There was no way I could learn about all the topics that I wanted to learn about, no way I could explore all the places that I wanted to explore, and no way I could attend all the events that I wanted to attend. I lived in a constant state of exhaustion, time pressure, and overwhelm. For a while, the pandemic cut down on the amount of activities that were available, which was hugely beneficial for me (I know that sounds like a weird thing to say about a pandemic, but it’s true). The statue genocide, as horrific, unjust, and immoral as it has been, has given me clarity on my priorities in life, and on which activities are the best uses of my time and energy. 

I have gone through an unimaginable amount of pain over the past two years. What happened is not okay, and I will never feel that it is. But slowly, very slowly, I am adjusting to the fact that this version of the universe differs from the version I expected and imagined, and my hobbies and interests differ as well.

bookmark_borderOn death, grief, and loss

As everyone knows, dying is an inevitable part of life. I remember the moment I first realized this. I was five, and I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep and mulling over various topics. I knew intellectually that everyone eventually dies, but until that moment it hadn’t fully hit me exactly what that entailed. Somehow, at that moment, I came to the realization that one day, I would completely cease to exist. It would be like I was asleep, but permanent. I would not be conscious ever again. The events of the world would go on, but I would not be around to witness them. The entirety of what it meant to be me – seeing, feeling, thinking, perceiving – would come to an end.

That thought disturbed me tremendously. It caused a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. After a while, I fell asleep. Although I never again dedicated significant amounts of time to focusing on that realization, the knowledge of my mortality has been around ever since, an ominous presence lurking in the back of my mind.

Last October, my grandfather passed away. He was 91, had lived a full life, and suffered from various medical conditions that were gradually growing worse and reducing his quality of life. Over the past four months, my mom has struggled with this loss more than I have (not surprising since it is usually considered a bigger loss to lose a parent than a grandparent). One day she asked me how I was able to handle my grandfather’s death without getting sad. I thought this over for a while and then answered:

For me, Papa’s death is not truly a loss. First of all, because his medical conditions caused him so much discomfort and so many limitations, he is better off dead than continuing with that same quality of life. But more than that, the experiences that I’ve had with Papa are not gone. The memories of playing poker, watching football, and going to the racetrack with him, are still inside me. They always will be. Papa’s death means, of course, that no new experiences with Papa will take place. No more memories will be added to the collection. But that is okay. I am happy with the existing collection of experiences and memories, and that collection remains intact.

Papa dressed as Napoleon for my 13th birthday

My feelings about the loss of my grandfather stand in sharp contrast with my feelings about the destruction of historical statues and monuments that has taken place over the past two years. Although I love my grandfather very much, the latter has proven far more painful for me. I think often about the reasons why this might be the case. Why am I not able to view the deaths of the statues that I love in the same way that I view the death of Papa?

Perhaps it is because statues, unlike human beings, are supposed to last forever. They are not supposed to die. The loss of them was not a possibility that I ever considered I might one day have to deal with. Perhaps it is because, unlike my grandfather who died of natural causes, the statues were killed on purpose. Perhaps it is because, with the exception of the statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston, I had not actually seen these statues in person. The knowledge that they existed was enough to fill me with happiness. I intended to visit them eventually but hadn’t yet made specific travel plans. Now, because people decided to brutally and selfishly destroy them, I will never get to view these monuments, photograph them, take in the atmosphere surrounding them, or simply be in their presence. Now, I am robbed of the ability to ever have those experiences. I am robbed of exciting and interesting things to look forward to, robbed of any desire to explore the world around me, and robbed of hope for the future.

Maybe one day the anguish, grief, and rage that I feel will fade into the background and become bearable. Maybe there will be more days when I am able to go about my routine with lightness in my heart and images of beauty in my mind, and fewer days when I am completely beaten down by the leaden, sickening feeling of overwhelming injustice and loss. But more than one year and eight months after these disastrous events began, that has not yet happened. For now, the pain continues unabated.

bookmark_borderOn the despicable decision to destroy Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue

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.

bookmark_borderNo, hateful vandalism is not understandable

On Columbus Day, among numerous acts of hate and destruction that took place around the world, someone vandalized a cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut. This horrible excuse for a human being wrote profane graffiti about Christopher Columbus and about cops, as well as the phrase “land back.”

According to this article by the local NBC station, “Some people who spoke with NBC Connecticut say they don’t support the vandalism but sympathize with the sentiment.” For example, one person said, “I can understand where the anger and frustration are coming from,” and another person said, “I understand the anger and the vitriol that people have.”

Sentiments like these have been very common during the statue genocide of the past year and half. These sentiments are, frankly, unacceptable. 

Vandalizing a cemetery or church, destroying a statue or monument, scrawling expletives to insult a historical figure… all of these actions are cruel, hurtful, and morally wrong. It’s as simple as that. People who commit actions like these are bullies and bigots. They are motivated by intolerance and hatred of people who are different than them. They have nothing to be angry about, nothing to be frustrated about, and nothing to feel vitriol about. No one should sympathize with their sentiments. 

When the Oklahoma City bombing, or the Boston Marathon bombing, or 9/11 happened, did anyone say, “that was the wrong way to go about it, but I understand the sentiments?” 

No, they did not.

If a predominantly black church or a statue of a black person was vandalized, would people say, “I don’t condone vandalism, but I understand the anger and frustration?” 

No, they would not.

Yet when the victim of a vicious act of hate is a historical figure of European descent, the hate is somehow understandable. 

Every time a statue, monument, memorial, church, or cemetery is vandalized, the action needs to be condemned fully and wholeheartedly, not partially and with qualifications. Neither these actions nor the motivation behind them deserve anyone’s sympathy or understanding. 

bookmark_borderOn generals, diversity, and real patriotism

On September 11, a new monument called the Generals Bridge and Park was officially unveiled in Quincy, MA. The park contains approximately life-sized statues of three generals from Quincy: General Joseph F. Dunford, General James C. McConville, and General Gordon R. Sullivan. There are bronze busts of four additional generals and stone carvings honoring eleven other generals, all from Quincy, dating back to the Revolutionary War. The sculptures were made by Sergey Eylanbekov, who also sculpted the statues of John Hancock and John Adams at the nearby Hancock-Adams Common.

As someone who used to love history and public art, this is something that the old me would have thought was really cool. I might even have decided to take the T to Quincy to watch the unveiling ceremony and take photos of the statues. But I don’t love history or public art anymore. Over the past year and a half, our society made the decision to destroy the public art that I love most. This destruction has been so hurtful to me that I can no longer enjoy the statues and monuments that still exist. Instead of being awe-inspiring and beautiful, they serve only as reminders of the brutal and unjust losses that have been inflicted. My pain has been made even worse by the decision of Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen to frame the unveiling of the general statues as a fitting complement to the destruction of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, which took place the same week. After reading Cullen’s column, I will forever associate the Generals Bridge and Park with what happened to the Lee statue and with the harm that this action caused.

“In the same week that the biggest monument to an American traitor came down, a new monument to genuine American patriots will be unveiled,” Cullen wrote. “In the same week that a monument in the capital of the Confederacy dedicated to an American traitor, General Robert E. Lee, came tumbling down, Boston is hosting Medal of Honor recipients at their annual convention, and Quincy will unveil a monument honoring military leaders who never dishonored the Constitution. In a year that has tested American constitutional democracy, and as other reckonings take place, real patriots are being recognized and traitors shunned. It’s a monumental, welcome change.”

I could not disagree more strongly with these sentiments. Lee was not a “traitor,” and anyone who calls him one is an authoritarian and a bully with no concept of moral right and wrong. Lee was a genuine American patriot, and he did not “dishonor the Constitution” as Cullen implies, but actually honored it far more than any of the people Cullen cites. The mean-spirited destruction of the Lee statue, as well as the destruction of the statues of countless other historical figures who fought for the Confederacy, has inflicted enormous damage on me and on others who love Confederate history. Cullen chose to respond to this situation by compounding my suffering and rubbing salt in my wounds.

Nothing against Medal of Honor recipients, generals from Quincy, or those lost on 9/11/2001, but Robert E. Lee is more remarkable and more worthy of being honored than any of them. Lee demonstrated true courage by rebelling against a powerful government and fighting for an unpopular cause against overwhelming odds, something that cannot be said of any of those cited by Cullen as allegedly more worthy of celebration. The statue of Lee that the mayor of Richmond and governor of Virginia chose to destroy was more beautiful and more glorious than any 9/11 memorial or any statue of a general from Quincy could ever be.

But in today’s America, everything that is beautiful and glorious has been obliterated. Americans used to recognize the fact that rebellion and resistance to authority are virtues that deserve to be celebrated. But now, any historical figure associated with these attributes is condemned as a “traitor” or a “seditionist” and is symbolically murdered by having his name stripped from buildings, streets, and holidays and his statues and monuments torn down, smashed to pieces, urinated upon, kicked, hanged, and/or set on fire. The only personal qualities that are valued are compliance, conformity, and obedience to authority. Everything that is unique or different in any way has been violently destroyed, leaving only the blandest historical figures to be honored with statues and monuments. The art in our public spaces no longer lends distinct identities to cities, towns, and states, nor does it reflect a wide range of cultures or viewpoints. Instead of a country in which a variety of perspectives are embraced, America has become a nation of conformity, in which the majority has imposed its values on everyone else and stifled all dissent. Those with unpopular views, such as myself, are no longer allowed to have anything that we find beautiful, anything that resonates with us, anything that brings us joy, in the public spaces around us. What Cullen characterizes as a “reckoning” is in reality an eradication of diversity. To say that this is a demoralizing, hope-destroying turn of events is an understatement, and it’s despicable that anyone would treat it as something positive to crow about. Contrary to Cullen’s claim, no change could be less welcome.

The Generals Bridge and Park is something that would have brought a smile to the face of my old self, but thanks to Cullen, it is nothing but a painful reminder of all the statues that should be here, but aren’t. Every Confederate statue and Christopher Columbus statue that used to exist should still exist today. Without them, there is no point in creating new public art. Given the horrific events that have taken place, the unveiling of new statues is not an occasion for celebration but an insult to the statues that have been cruelly taken away, the amazing historical figurers that they represent, and the people who love them.

bookmark_borderThoughts on Lee statue

Lately I’ve been finding it difficult to write about the ongoing destruction of all of the statues and monuments that make our world a worthwhile place in which to live. I certainly do not want to give the impression that I have ceased being outraged and upset about what is happening, for that is the opposite of the truth. Rather, my grief, despair, and rage are so strong that it is not always possible to translate them into words.

The magnificent statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia is scheduled to be dismantled tomorrow. For a year and three months, this work of art has endured disgraceful treatment at the hands of the city and state that ought to venerate both it and the man it represents. The statue has been abused, desecrated, insulted, and covered in profane, racist graffiti with no attempt made to protect, clean, or care for it.

I could go on and on about the devastating psychological impact that these actions have had on me as an autistic person who used to love art and history. I could write about the fact that everything that gives me joy and gives the world beauty and richness has been destroyed. I could criticize the irrational and senseless statements issued by various political figures in praise of these destructive decisions. I could explain how the obliteration of everything honoring the losing side of a war is actually the opposite of diversity and inclusion.

But I am too beaten down and demoralized to do any of that, so instead I am going to share this Facebook post by radio host John Reid:

One of the things that has bothered me the most about the monument situation is the idea that a single sitting board or assembly (presumably elected for a variety of reasons besides being art or social critics) should be able to immediately execute the dismantling of commemorative statuary and art that existed long before they took office.
 
Monuments and immovable art are designed to inspire future generations to examine them- perhaps with admiration but more likely with curiosity and perhaps astonishment and occasionally scorn. The judgement can change as the decades and centuries pass. That’s exactly the point.
 
Reid perfectly explains something that I have always felt: the whole point of statues and monuments is that they are supposed to be permanent. The fact that the majority of people in a community, or the people who hold political power in that community, dislike a statue is no reason to remove it. No generation has the right to destroy the artistic or cultural achievements of previous generations. Statues are not supposed to reflect the viewpoints and ideologies that happen to be popular at the current moment. They are not supposed to change as the predominant values of the society change. If that were the case, there would be no point in building statues at all.
 
Check out his post in its entirety here.

bookmark_borderRacist alderwoman celebrates anti-Italian bigotry

In one of the most disgusting twitter exchanges I have ever seen, a racist bigot decided to insult Italian-Americans, and Chicago Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez expressed her agreement. 

As you can see in the above screenshot (via a pro-Columbus Facebook group that I’m part of), an anonymous Twitter user described participants in an Italian-American unity rally in Chicago as “racist” and threatened to beat them up. Rodriguez, for some reason, decided to respond to this person (I use that term loosely), expressing agreement and declaring her plans to celebrate the anniversary of the removal of Chicago’s Columbus statue.

There are no words in the English language (or any language) that fully capture how despicable this is. 

The anti-Columbus and anti-Italian actions that have occurred over the past 14 months have inflicted enormous pain on Italian-Americans and those who love Columbus. All around the U.S. and in much of the world, society has almost unanimously told us that our feelings do not matter, our perspectives do not matter, our history does not matter, our culture does not matter, our happiness does not matter, and our rights do not matter. The symbols of our heritage have been cruelly destroyed, obliterated, and brutalized. We have been insulted, slandered, bullied, and discriminated against. Again and again, we are told that black lives matter, and that indigenous lives matter, while we are treated as if our lives do not matter. We have no power and no voice; our opinions are given no weight by those who hold positions of power in our society. Night after night, I lie awake crying, my mind tormented by images of Columbus statues being smashed to pieces, set on fire, decapitated, thrown to the ground, kicked in the head, and strangled. Every day I face the reality of living in a world that does not care about people like me, a world that has chosen to take away everything that makes my life worth living and refused to recognize the enormous negative impact that these decisions have caused.

And now, when a group of Italian-Americans bravely decides to stand up against these injustices, they are called racists and threatened with violence. 

And an elected official decides, instead of taking a stand against such reprehensible comments, to agree with them. Instead of expressing solidarity with people who have been harmed and discriminated against, she decides to celebrate this harm and discrimination with a glass of champagne. This is someone who is supposed to be a leader and a role model. 

It is “agitator in chief” and Rodriguez who are truly racist. Their tweets are beyond despicable, and the fact that over 200 people “liked” these tweets is a sad commentary on the state of humanity. I condemn these sentiments in the harshest possible terms.