Defenders of statues like to say that the removal of statues represents historical censorship. But does it really? In what sense do statues explain history? Do statues tell the whole story? Or, do they work rather like bumper stickers, Tweets, and graphic T-shirts, albeit more expensive, artful, and heavy? In other words, is a statute really meant to tell history, or represent a kind of editorial comment on someone’s preferred view of things? And, anyway, was Winnie a racist? If so, why was that not made clear on the statue in the first place?
Here at HAG we have to stay light on our feet, in tip-top shape, because those public statues of anointed heroes which stand frozen to time and analysis, are never more difficult to pin down and even harder to catch, than when they are just standing still. You wouldn’t think so. After all, challenge a statue to a blinking contest, and you’re bound to lose. Challenge it to a game of tag and you are bound to win. So unkinetic are they, that pigeons always know just where to find them. So unchanging are they, that passersby barely need to look up. Yet we know that history is just never frozen in time, and no matter how stiff the statue, the closer we look the more elusive its meaning becomes. Never mind the heroic and motionless exterior, the action is going on within, where the truth and facts of the story offer a constantly moving target of historical meaning. And for that, we must chase that meaning like track stars. Statues and the stories they purport are not for us to worship with unquestioned devotion and reverence as “history,” but to interrogate for the hidden meanings. Because It is the meaning we are after, not the stolid exterior. We want to know what sort of story it tells, and whether that story is told truthfully and with meaning, whether it is a story that keeps us sick, or a story that makes us well. And for that, we must interrogate the statue, the story, and the history they hide, lest we remain captive to that statue’s unblinking, impassive authority.
Click to hear Episode 51 Interrogating History
Sources Referenced and Items of Interest
“San Francisco’s Hastings law school drops name linked to Native American massacres” (November 11, 2021 San Francisco Examiner)
Jason Slotkin, “Statue Of Winston Churchill Is Covered Up In London,” (June 12, 2020 NPR)
“They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come.”Boris Johnson