I’ve had an evolving understanding of tearing down statues related to racism and other injustice. At first I thought these were mainly acts of venting frustration. Perhaps symbolic resistance to injustices of the past.
But when I attended the July 4th event on the Iowa State Capitol grounds titled “Hey! Come get your racist uncle! Remove monuments to White supremacy in Iowa” I learned these statues continue, to this day, to make people feel unwelcome.
I’ve come to realize this is another aspect of intergenerational trauma. I’d learned that the trauma from forced assimilation of native children in the residential schools is passed from generation to generation. That trauma is keenly felt in tribal communities to this day. In the same way, the traumas from the White settler colonists as they stole native lands, killed the buffalo and outlawed cultural practices have passed from generation to generation, to this day. These statues are a constant reminder to Indigenous peoples, of the oppressions by White settlers of the past and present.
Across the pond, protests have also erupted in Britain. In a context of recession and repression, it is common for widespread rebellions to flare up at instances of injustice. But the protesters’ actions have also led to an unexpected discussion of history and memory. This was a product of direct action: protesters in Bristol took down the controversial statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, defaced it, and threw it into the harbor.
Ranging from distraction to culture war, right-wing reactions converge on the notion that memorials are but fragments of a time long gone by. Even if these figures held some vile opinions, this was a widely shared disposition of their time and in any case, these issues have since been resolved. From this perspective, the destruction is nothing more than aimless vandalism, a diversion from the real issues. Deliberately or otherwise, these claims miss the point. Offensive statues are toppled not because they are historical, but they are actual. This is not an erasure of the past, but precisely its recognition in the injustices of the present, related to an ongoing trauma quite literally transmitted from the past.
A study reveals that exposure to discrimination impacts genetic expression across generations, such that Black people, who bear the brunt of racial prejudice, are more likely to suffer from stress-related problems due to the suffering inflicted on their ancestors. This is a striking example of how the past is reproduced in the present.Toppling statues as an act of historical redemption by Onur Acaroglu, ROAR, July 13, 2020
The removal of offensive statues may seem to be a distraction, but it is a redemptive challenge against injustices transmitted from the past. —Onur Acaroglu
As all these statues to White supremacy are taken down, you might wonder, as I do, what should take their place?
As a Quaker I sometimes feel uncomfortable around statues and monuments to military campaigns and leaders. I sometimes wonder why there aren’t statues of peacemakers?
I was delighted to hear the story of the replacement of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol by the sculpture of Black Lives Matter protester, Jen Reid. Even though it was removed after about 24 hours, it might inspire other artists, activists and the public.
The sculpture of a Black Lives Matter protester, Jen Reid, which replaced a toppled statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, has been removed. The artist Marc Quinn installed the work on the empty plinth, left when a statue of Colston was torn down during protests in June. The statue of Reid with a raised fist, installed in a clandestine operation, was removed about 24 hours after it went up. Guardian News, July 16, 2020
There’s a lookout stationed at the end of Colston Street and a load of people, some dressed in hi-vis vests, are gathering at a nearby restaurant. Then, in the dawn light, a statue concealed in plastic wrapping can be seen approaching on a hiab truck. It turns the corner and reverses towards the plinth where the statue of Edward Colston once stood. There’s a sense of mischief in the air on this bright clear morning in Bristol – and revolution.
The team spring into action and, minutes later, a new statue has been placed on the spot where Colston’s stood and swiftly unwrapped. It’s of a young black woman, her fist raised in a black power salute. “There’s a new woman in power!” a cyclist shouts as he turns the bend. On Twitter, responses start coming in fast. Dr Lola Solebo writes: “Am waking my girls up early so I can show them this. What a thing of beauty. What a thing to wake up to.”
Another woman is standing by the plinth. “I feel full of pride, so, so full of pride,” she says, looking up at the sculpture. It’s of her.‘Hope flows through this statue’: Marc Quinn on replacing Colston with Jen Reid, a Black Lives Matter protester. The sculptor has placed a statue of a woman doing a black power salute on the vacant plinth in Bristol. Our writer, who was at the dawn unveiling, tells the full story of its creation – and speaks to Jen Reid, the protester whose gesture inspired him by Aindrea Emelife, The Guardian, July 15, 2020
Global protests against racism are a direct challenge to contemporary oppressors. Through this historical opening, the vanquished take the mantle of progression. At the hands of the protesters, statues are not simply removed, but replaced with alternative imaginaries of what public memorials might look like. The outlook of redemption may appear to be a philosophically weighty way to problematize established modes of remembrance and closure, but it has a quite practical relevance and implications for moving forward from the present.
What is advocated here is not a rejection of all remembrance. It is rather the substitution of periodic remembrance for reconciliation and healing that is at the root of the problem. In fact, the empty plinths left after the removal, and the unguarded statues themselves, have been the canvas of a myriad cultural expressions that are in themselves artistically valuable.Toppling statues as an act of historical redemption by Onur Acaroglu, ROAR, July 13, 2020