Introduction to My Blog

With this blog, I aim to ask and answer provocative or otherwise interesting questions. I hope you find it valuable. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Blind Crusade, Part 3: Really... Statues?

As the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd has continued to unfold for over a month now, it is clear to me that the national conversation surrounding race has been horribly distracted. We are now debating whether certain chunks of bronze in public settings are worthy of their place. I am, of course, referring to the tension over public statues depicting controversial figures of history.

Regardless of whom these statues depict, we all need to understand something: removing statues is an empty act that sidesteps the salient challenges posed by racism. Statues are little more than distractions from the issues that seriously need to be confronted by policymakers: endemic poverty, ghettoization, lack of investment in black communities, and a system of criminal injustice that has led to an obscene level of incarceration for black men in particular.

I try not to tear my hair out as well-meaning protesters charge at statues with ropes in hand. Placing emphasis on the removal of statues is exactly the kind of empty cultural signaling that perfectly aligns with the interests of Starbucks liberals (whom I defined in a previous blog) like Jamie Dimon and Jeff Bezos. These people would rather treat racism as a strictly cultural issue, as opposed to confronting the material and economic dimensions of racism, which would involve redistribution and community investment on a grand scale.

At the same time, don't let my critique of those fixated solely on tearing the statues down cause you to think I have any sympathy for those fighting to keep them up. I think that many of the statues coming down depict odious figures of history who should never have been honored in the first place. 

It is a national disgrace that public funding anywhere still goes to preserving monuments to men who fought to protect the institution of slavery. Symbolism, while not ultimately central to a society's wellbeing, carries significant meaning for many. If the statues truly meant nothing, nobody would have bothered erecting them in the first place. Those best known for their allegiance to the slave-supporting Confederacy are certainly fair game for removal of their statues.

Some of the statues coming down are less clear-cut cases, though. I think it's ridiculous that some are targeting George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues. These two figures were central to the founding of the country. While they were slaveholders, this was not their claim to fame. We need to accept that history is ugly, and be more careful when we consider taking down symbols of history.

Furthermore, history is ugly because the present is ugly. Would an Obama Statue be immune to this process? How much do most Americans know about the details of the drone assassination program Obama expanded, under which neither trials nor individual investigative inquiries were undertaken prior to the assassinations?  Some earned their spot on the kill list "on the basis of a single 'uncorroborated' Facebook or Twitter post".

Even our favorite public figures have skeletons in their closets. Perhaps one day all presidents who ate meat will no longer be considered kosher statue material. After all, how could our society possibly condone the act of purchasing factory-farmed meat, which is devastating to our environment and condemns millions of farm animals to lives of misery? You need to draw a reasonable and fair line in the sand, or the statue removal logic will carry you to absurdity.

The issue of race, here, is being framed by elite media institutions, pundits, and political figures who do not want meaningful reform to take place. If the shift from discussing real reforms to squabbling over symbolism continues, it will serve as a broader indictment of media and journalistic institutions driving the conversation and national policymakers who seem happy to constantly trade in rhetoric but not in ambitious policy.

The national dialogue sparked by the killing of George Floyd has been so central to political life as of late and has the potential to cause substantive nationwide reform. We cannot afford to squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to have people pouring into the streets across the country demanding change. At this critical juncture, we must work to ensure that our public policy is accountable to our values.

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