There seems to be a lot of stuff about statues and whether they should be taken down or left up. So much so that it encroaches into my blog browsing, what with everyone having an opinion.
One of the blogs I read had a short editorial stating that Jefferson’s and Washington’s statues should be taken down along with the statues of everyone who was in some way associated with slavery. He was very forceful about it.
I replied with a short comment:
“Obviously, there’s nothing to discuss here, so I look forward to watching the dynamiting of Mount Rushmore.”
Yes, I’m capable of short comments when I want to. It’s just that I often don’t want to. Anyway, he replied with more absolutism. I couldn’t very well let matters stand (I’m stupid that way).
The following is the reply I left on the spur of the moment; I thought it might make for a decent Sunday post. So here goes (with minor corrections and a few extra words).
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First, let’s dispense with any doubt. Slavery: wrong. Confederacy: gone and good riddance. Both of those things are good things to agree on. Me? I’m an immigrant (not born here); I have no skin in the game, if you’ll pardon the pun, but I strongly agree with both those statements.
With that out of the way, there are nuances to judging people who lived in the 1700s and 1800s and whether they merit statues. Perhaps the nuances are not worth considering, but they’re there.
Lee’s statue was put up in celebration of a horrendous culture that celebrated slavery. His accomplishment was that he fought to maintain a slave-based economic system. There’s no reason to have a statue of Lee anywhere but maybe a museum or national park.
On the other hand, one could argue — while still pointing out his faults — that Jefferson’s statue (and others) are up there to celebrate an ideal. He may not have lived it but he did eloquently write it. What he wrote, the ideas he penned, forms the basis — again, while pointing out his personal failings — for something we hold up as a model to others. Is there a cult around the man? Yes. Jeffersonian is a word. Do I believe cults are good? No.
Do I still admire the words and recognize the uniqueness of them in the context of the times? Yes. Do I think that those words served to usher in an introspection on the whole slavery thing and its eventual abolishment? Yes. Do I think that ultimately Jefferson succumbed to the comfort of his station at the cost of his ideals? Yes.
So, where does that leave me? Well, you already said, and it’s common knowledge, that he owned slaves and used his position of power for sexual gains (some contention as to the affection angle). I don’t think anyone is trying to hide that fact, nor celebrate him for it. We can and do celebrate his ideals.
Humans often exhibit dualistic tendencies, so it’s no surprise we can both admire and castigate the same entity. Perhaps we don’t need statues of Jefferson, especially if we’re celebrating slave ownership at the feet of those statues. But that’s not what we’re doing.
Personally, I don’t care much for statues and in this digital age, we’ve perhaps lost the need for them. On the other hand, they serve as a focal point for this very discussion, the entertaining of two separate and conflicting ideas. Are the two ideas equally valid? Does one take precedence over the other?
For instance, you call the US a beacon of Democracy . . . is it? I mean, yes, we have a unique document, the Constitution, but where do we fall as far as democracies go? We’ve interned US Citizens of Japanese descent when it was convenient. We have the highest incarceration rate. We have the death penalty. We restrict women’s rights. In fact, as far as democracies go, we’re ranked 21st (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index). It doesn’t sound like a beacon to me. Who do we blame for all that? Bush? Clinton? FDR? Nixon? Whose statues do we take down? Which libraries do we close or rename?
Can I still think the US is a great country with high ideals and still salute the flag even though I know about the corruption of those ideals that infests our society and the government? Yes, because I can still fight for the ideals. If I didn’t, I’d have to tear down the whole country (there are some who think this).
We tend to blame individuals (today it’s Jefferson and Washington) but the US had slavery from its inception all the way up until the Civil War, and not just in the South. True, by the 1860s it ended up only in the South, but that’s a lot of people voting for a long time for leaders who were not separationists.
Can we maybe assume that slavery was not an easy thing to discuss, let alone dispose of, in those days? Can we assume countries don’t turn on a dime? Can we assume leaders are a reflection of the society they inhabit? Just how many people do we blame?
Still . . . dynamiting Mount Rushmore . . . I’d show up for that, camera in hand. Might even try to get me one of the noses, or at least a piece of one. You know, not to worship, but as a reminder.
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I could leave it at that, but I want to add one more thing.
Mal: It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of ’em was one kinda sombitch or another.
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