Port: Ideas need to matter more than identity

Believe it or not, we can expand our understanding of history, and make our representations of history more inclusive, without tearing one another down.

The statue of Henrik Wergeland is seen June 26, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

MINOT, N.D. — Recently, the folks at Minot State University invited me to take part in another of their Campus and Community Dialogues.

This is the second time I've been invited — the first event focused on the role of humanities on the modern campus — and each time the discussion was as illuminating as it was civil.

The most recent discussion focused on the controversy around statues. This year we've seen mobs of protesters pulling down statues, often of figures associated with the Confederacy or individuals involved in things like slavery.

It's a worthy topic. I argued for due process for statues, not mobs tearing them down, but the event's title gave me pause. "Statues of Dead White Men, Do They Matter?" it asked.


It's a perfectly appropriate title because, let's face it, many of the statues attacked this year had less to do with the individuals' actions or legacies memorialized than their skin color and gender.

How else do you knock a statue of Ulysses Grant — a man who fought the Confederacy and, later as President, promoted civil rights — into the dirt in the name of anti-racism?

What other reason could there be for self-styled anti-fascists attacking a statue of Winston Churchill , who perhaps did more than any other human being in the 20th century to fight fascism?

There is a movement in this country that believes white men should be replaced in our history. Their accomplishments discredited; their legacies forgotten.

Folks, this is ignorance.

It is true that these historical figures, including luminaries such as Churchill and Grant, often have profound flaws, but those flaws do not necessarily obviate their accomplishments.

And yes, the white male perspective indeed dominates the version of history we have traditionally taught in our society.


Yet Churchill still fought the Nazis.

Grant still defeated the Confederacy.

To argue that we must replace these worthies in our history books and public squares with other figures, chosen in part because they aren't white men, is to replace one sort of myopia with another.

Believe it or not, we can expand our understanding of history and make our representations of history more inclusive without tearing one another down, sometimes quite literally.

A radical thought in this fraught and divided era of our history, no?

We shouldn't be afraid to celebrate the ideals and accomplishments of white men — what they did, and what they stood for, should matter to us more than their race or gender — but we should temper those things with other perspectives too.

That's the correction we need.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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