It’s easy to mock all the statue-removers as crazy mobs accomplishing nothing on behalf of the real victims of racism, past and present. It’s not as if for every statue that comes down, an underprivileged person gets a college scholarship or a good first job.
It’s easy, that is, if you’re like me: white, and male, and Christian, and middle-class, and straight, and cisgender….
To be fair, someone like me can also be sincerely sympathetic with casualties of a horrifying incident of police brutality, or of an ugly episode of racist invective, or of a landlord or banker or employer redlining minorities.
Still, what about respecting our history? What about wrecking works of art? What’s with the statues?
Well, it’s worth slowing down and asking, What is indeed with them?
What comes along with each statue is this: a public statement of values.
You get a statue of yourself put up because this community (this institution, this town, this state, this country) thinks you’re pretty special—and in a pretty special way: you personify the ideals of those who put up the statue. You’re such an excellent example of those values, in fact, that we want people to look at you for a long time and recall those values you (and eventually your statue) stand for.
When you walk by the statue of Michael Jordan in Chicago, you’re supposed to think about, and be inspired by, athletic excellence, determination, commitment, leadership, and achievement. That’s what it stands for.
Michael Jordan, as even the adulatory Netflix series “The Last Dance” makes clear, is hardly a paragon of other virtues. He’s evidently a raging narcissist—capable of literal raging in a practice or a game—and someone apparently incapable of forgiveness of even small slights. But we all appreciate that statues in front of sports arenas don’t stand for moral virtues. (Babe Ruth, anyone?) They stand for athletic virtues.
So what about statues of Robert E. Lee?
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