Who we chose to immortalize speaks deeply about who we want to be, as a society.
The cities we stand in today have centuries of history entrenched in them, not hidden but clearly visible: from the names of the streets, to buildings where iconic moments have taken place, to monuments that remind us of the people who brought us to where we are today.
As wistful as that sounds, these landmarks don’t always represent progress and success, at least, not exclusively. Some of them remind us citizens of a past where huge inequality and cruelty were legally, and somehow ethically, commonplace.
The murder of George Floyd has sparked a fire in protesters that has unexpectedly shone a light on the dark histories of our most storied nations. What’s happening not only in the United States, but all around the world regarding racism in our society, is something that will most likely become a turning point in human history. Not only are people taking over public spaces to fight injustice, but they’ve also started a dialogue that makes us take a long, uncomfortable look back at our past.
Some of the controversial monuments that stand today in different cities across the world are now being torn down by protesters. In Philadelphia, the statue of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo was removed last Wednesday. Rizzo is a man who was constantly accused of discriminating against minorities, especially the black and LGBTQ community.
In Birmingham, Alabama, they tried to remove a Confederate monument, when mayor Randall Woodfin arrived and told protesters that he would “finish the job” for them. A similar scene was unfolding in Bristol, England, expect there was no mayor present to stop the crowd from pulling down the statue of Edward Colston, a notorious slave trader during the 17th century. Although, Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, has stated that all public buildings, plaques, and street names would be reviewed to ensure they reflect the city’s diversity.
These movements have led some to fully demonstrate their support for these statues being taken down, who feel these controversial figures should never have been celebrated in such a manner in the first place. On the other hand, some stand by the notion that taking them down is pointless, as it will not help solve the problem we’re facing. Another common sentiment is that toppling these statues is just a sorry attempt to rewrite history.
Others weren’t even aware that some of the statues they see everyday represented people who were involved with things like slavery.
The fact remains that taking these statues down will not automatically lead to a safer city where everything is okay. It doesn’t mean that, with the statues gone, the problem will be solved and the parts of history they represent will have never happened.
However, as these statues are removed –by a civilian group with a rope or a civil worker with a crane– and the plinths remain bare, in their vacancy they leave many questions to be addressed. From how we view our neighbor, to who we will consider worthy of making it as a monument in the future; society has a momentous task ahead of itself.
Sure, the history behind the statues and the stories they represent still need to be taught and shared, to ensure we never walk that dark path again. But should they be immortalized and put on display in public places for all to see, every day?
Actions like these are proof that in order to build a better future, we cannot simply erase our past, and we must not want to. The past is what has led us to where we stand now. Instead, we need to look it straight in the eye, recognize it for what it is, and learn from it. Only then can we walk, together, towards the future we deserve; a future built for everyone. If, in that learning process,we realize that we’ve made mistakes that are still amendable, then it is our duty to do as such.