Until the past few months, I have rigidly believed that rewriting history is a slippery slope. Well, it still is a slippery slope, but recent events have caused me to challenge the rigidity of my belief.
Recently my friend Phil Williams made a profound comment that put it in perspective for me. He said that we need to understand that remembering history and celebrating history are two different things.
History is important; we (hopefully) learn by understanding history. Sometimes we learn because we were successful. Sometimes we learn because of failure.
But without history, we lose valuable knowledge, experience, and insight. And we are doomed to the proverbial “history repeats itself” because we humans are fallible, particularly when trying to satisfy a diverse group of constituents. By removing or revising history, we cannot learn.
Banning books is a good example of revisionist history. Banning books is a practice of censorship, per the American Library Association which maintains a list of all attempts to ban books so that the American public can be informed about censorship efforts.
Banning books ignites images of bonfires of censored books during WWII.
Removing monuments is another possible revision to history and we seem to be doing that left and right these days. There is a perspective that removing monuments revises history. But there is a growing sentiment that those very monuments are offensive to some. Well, in fairness it might not be a new sentiment to some, but it is new to me.
I spent most of my life in the capital of the Confederacy – Richmond, Virginia. I travelled Monument Avenue regularly, passing ultra-large bronze statues of Robert E. Lee, J.E.B.Stuart, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson without a thought. Others gave them a lot of thought, I’m now learning, as a representation of a period in our history where black people could be owned by white people. The irony is not lost that these monuments were on a beautiful upper-class, tree-lined street of gorgeous mansions
All of the statues except Lee are gone now in the wake of the awakening of Black Lives Matter. Several months ago, I considered the removal of these monuments as rewriting history on a slippery slope to erasing history.
I have had quite a few epiphanies recently, and this is one of the loudest. My friend’s comment about the difference between remembering and celebrating is still ringing in my ear.
Those monuments were in celebration of individuals who fought on the losing side of a rebellion…whose participants would be considered traitors to their country in most societies. The war was fought to maintain a culture that perpetuated ownership of slaves…why would anyone want to celebrate that? While I can’t completely understand, I believe that I now can empathize with why it is offensive.
I don’t want to see people demeaned. That is not who America is. I appreciate Phil’s lightbulb and wanted to share it with others.