I am hesitant to add my voice during this cacophony of outrage about racial and economic injustice, an outrage I share. I am unqualified to do so other than as a human being who watched a man murdered in cold blood by a beacon of authority and power. I watched the video that was seen worldwide and greeted with the appropriate disgust and disdain that was merited. Keep up the protests and keep up the pressure for change.
The protests have rightly become a broad expression of solidarity and outrage. They have also renewed calls to remove statues of historical figures who some admire as great leaders and others see as perpetrators of injustice. These statues are being defaced, pulled down amidst protests in an effort to correct the injustices of bigotry and prejudice in history that coincide with the stories of their memorable achievements.
Erasing history by removing statues does not change history. It merely removes it from the public discourse.
We are a society where knowing and understanding history is one of the few ways that we can ensure that it won’t repeat itself.
Let’s paint each of these statues around the world in red paint — surround them with simulated barbed wire or some such statement of incarceration — and include a thoughtful, educational plaque explaining why they have been designated a “Statue of Ignominy.”
I can envision a world smattered with red statues in cities across the globe where locals and visitors can expand their knowledge of history, an opportunity to learn and grow in a tangible experiential way.
We cannot simply rely on school history books to educate our children and hope that adults will educate themselves. So let’s offer another accessible option for continued education that emphasizes ongoing learning, critical questioning and the understanding that actions occur in a specific place and time — and it is our duty to reassess our view of these historic actions and ways they have been publicly honored.
I encourage the removal of statues erected by political despots. These are, of course, displayed for self-aggrandizement and a display of power — when uprisings happen, they are the first things to be destroyed, which is a good thing. Confederate statues also fall into this category, especially when erected to honor dubious historical events.
But as a Brit, I cannot condone defacing statues of Winston Churchill without whom we might well be living under Nazi tyranny. Just as in America, changing the course of history through calls for the removal of Sir Francis Drake or Christopher Columbus memorials, whatever their crimes while making their discoveries at sea, would not be a way to learn and grow.
As a Jew with family murdered in the Holocaust, I know that the danger of history repeating itself is mitigated by every opportunity to educate and correct any narratives that give power or glorification to those who destroyed millions of families and lives.
Let us not lean only on legislation to change minds. We need to humanize our relationship with each other to reach the deep emotional level of connection and understanding that we are all humans and deserve the same rights, treatment and respect without exception.