I'm facing a conundrum, one that has no easy answer. Or any answer for that matter.
New York City has given permission to tear down the Theodore Roosevelt statue (he on a horse flanked on foot by a Native American and an African American). This, at the American Museum of Natural History, is in response to the critical and much-needed cultural shift in the Black Lives Matter movement. I'm thinking that these types of decisions are natural but also the knee jerk reactions to satisfy the need for immediate solutions in the never-ending challenges facing us.
My wife and I have seen this statue several times and always felt a surge of North Dakota pride in seeing “our Teddy” being held in such high regard at such a prestigious location. We believed (perhaps naively) that during President Roosevelt's time in North Dakota he developed a strong respect and allegiance with Native Americans. Perhaps by default we assumed this included his feelings about African Americans. Well, now we know better. Still, I'm having conflicting thoughts with us whitewashing history by tearing down everything that reminds us of how we got to the racial injustice that drives the BLM movement today.
White European racism was born during Europe's Middle Ages. The Catholic Church was the most powerful force in the world. Even the class dominant Monarchy of the Lords, in their elite castles, were at the mercy of the Catholic Pope. His excommunication of a Lord could be delivered on a whim, without retribution. The church's crusade to make the world free of all non-Christians led to the banishment of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Pagans. That hubris resulted in the belief that it was the church's divine right to raid and capture “primitive” Africans, chain them in boats to be delivered to elite white land owners of America to become their personal property. Their slaves. And so it began.
- Letter: Attempting to obliterate history will not change it
- McFeely: Who stays, who goes and who decides when it comes to place names?
These historical statues depicting our “racial heritage” were the unforgivable expression of American's philosophical truth and of its time. Should we tear them down as if what they represented didn't really exist? Or should they be preserved, viewed as a gut check and a reminder as an educational tool for understanding the journey of humiliation, pain and agony American Native and African Americans continue to face every minute of every day?
Today’s BLM movement became the result of planned, peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd that turned ugly, ending with violence and destruction in hundreds of cities across America. These riots continue today revealing the hypocritical “us versus them” mentality of America's power elite. Has it really taken 244 years for this nation to recognize that ethnic Americans are forced daily, to face humiliation, suffering and indignities to earn the equality as U.S. citizens they deserve by constitutional edict? We shouldn't be forced to forget what drove us to BLM by denying our history. Statues like Theodore Roosevelt's will serve as stark reminders.
The clearest response to my rhetorical question about the removing historical antiquities came from my youngest son: Gabriel said, “Dad, I don't think it's up to us to decide what is or isn't acceptable in our support of minorities.”
Maybe that's true. But where does it stop? Should we cover Jefferson's and Roosevelt's heads with black shrouds on Mount Rushmore? Maybe we should blow it up completely? See what I mean? It's a conundrum? And one of the most important puzzles we're faced with. Damn it.