“Objects of Popular Resentment”: Hundreds of Professors Seek Removal Of Statues To Christopher Columbus and Teddy Roosevelt

250px-Theodore_Roosevelt_circa_1902220px-Christopher_ColumbusI have been writing and speaking about the movement to remove statues that range from confederate leaders to Columbus to Supreme Court justices to Founders (here  and here and here and here). I specifically  wrote about the call for the removal of monuments to George Washington and others as the list lengthens of figures to be cleansed from public historical displays.  In a particularly concerning development, hundreds of professors have now joined this movement in signing a letter calling for New York City to remove monuments honoring Theodore Roosevelt and Christopher Columbus.  The open letter to New York’s Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers declares such historical figures as representing “white supremacy” and “objects of popular resentment.”  The letter is an embarrassment for higher education as these academics adopt over-simplified and ahistorical approaches to this controversy.

The scholars state:

As scholars of American art, cultural history and social analysis, we are writing to urge that the Commission recommend the removal of several monuments from public view in New York City. They have long been highlighted as objects of popular resentment among communities of color and anti-racist scholars, artists, and movements. It is thus no surprise that these monuments have risen to the top of the list of the “symbols of hate,” to quote Mayor de Blasio, singled out during the Commission’s recent public hearings. For too long, they have generated harm and offense as expressions of white supremacy. These monuments are an affront in a city whose elected officials preach tolerance and equity.

It is important to note that they are speaking of Teddy Roosevelt and Columbus.  The attack on Roosevelt is illustrative of the simplistic treatment given the history of the period:

As an imperialist, and frank advocate of eugenics, Roosevelt’s views on racial hierarchy are well-known to historians. The Museum (center of the American eugenics movement in the early years of the twentieth century) now pays tribute to his conservationist efforts, without acknowledging the link to those racialist beliefs. The dedication of the Museum’s memorial in 1936 and of the adjoining equestrian monument in 1939 was celebrated by its officials as a consummation of the theories of Henry Fairfield Osborn, who had presided over the institution’s early growth at the same time as he championed eugenics within and without.

Roosevelt was indeed expansionist in his policies and those policies are troubling in many respects. However, he was also a great leader in many other respects, including his leading role in laying the foundations for American conservationism.

I may be naive in believing that academics are joined by a deep intellectual commitment to history and objectivity. However, to see professors joining this blind rage against historical figures is truly depressing.  The letter simply sweeps too broadly in seeking the removal of such memorials.

What do you think?

61 thoughts on ““Objects of Popular Resentment”: Hundreds of Professors Seek Removal Of Statues To Christopher Columbus and Teddy Roosevelt”

  1. People take things too far and this is a great example. All of us who are honest know that the only reason we really have much recognition of Columbus is because it was something that Italian Americans really, really wanted to see happen. Sure Columbus “discovered” America and everyone knows his name but that’s not really why such statues exist. And the reality is that Columbus’ racism was not any different than the racism of the entire European society from which he came. I don’t buy the argument that removing Confederate monuments is an attempt to erase history as those monuments were placed specifically as a means of asserting white supremacy but that simply isn’t the case with Columbus memorials or statues nor is it the case with Pres. Theodore Roosevelt who was also a man of his times who believed in ideas we now view as abhorrent but he was never celebrated for his belief in eugenics. He was revered as a national hero for busting the trusts, establishing the national parks and standing up for those who had no voice in a governmental and political system dominated by robber barons and corrupt political hacks. The obsession with not offending people on racial issues when the truth is most of those very people give little or no thought to TR or to Columbus because they are too busy struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck, is an obsession of the elite who are truly more interested in proving just how good they are by slaying the nonexistent problem of how offended people are by these two historical figures than in doing anything productive or helpful when it comes to racism. I should add that my politics if pretty far to the left but there’s a point of reason when it comes to this sort of cultural revolution style purge of things a certain crowd doesn’t like. There are far more important fights to be fighting like income inequality, that make a real difference in people’s lives.

  2. Well, first, you have to recognize this for what it is, and that is, an attempt to redefine culture. Or, in other words, fundamentally change America. Keep in mind, too – as any true historical scholar can tell you – on the evolutionary level there is only one type of governance that is possible the result of human interaction, and that the is totalitarian. What that means is that the America you and I know, which essentially permits all to say and do whatever they please, within reason, cannot theoretically exist. And yet it does. At the time of its creation, it was an anomaly to the world; an anomaly, that would ultimately swerve to temper governance everywhere. It occurred for a reason – because in negotiating their charter the people of MA Bay secured for themselves the right of free governance, provided they “make no laws repugnant.” And so they discarded all former laws and institutions to create anew. Basic history, right? But the net result, whether one choses to define as religious mission or as economic endeavor – I tend to think religion is a tool of economics, as evolutionary – was the institution of this thing we call “civility.” And what does civility do? Well, it permits greater diversity, thus increasingly denser populations. In fact, if not for diversity – if we were a “one-people” – no law would exist, no law would be necessary, community censure would suffice (“anarchy”). Inadvertently or otherwise, the organizational structure that was adopted, was to serve “civility.” We know this as fact because it is with us to this day – above all else, America wants to be a civil-minded people.

    I recently had my mitochondrial DNA done, you know, my mother’s mother’s mother and so on back to Africa where it is believed the mitochondrial Eve originated. What it revealed is that that particular line of my ancestry, some 40,000 years ago, split off somewhere in the European far north – reindeer country – before migrating west to later catch a boat for “The World.” Well, we’re a long way from reindeer country now. And it’s not just me, we all are. All of us had ancestors that were tribal, that were warlike, that experienced deprivation and dispossession, prosperity and gain. On some level, they were all survivors, and thank God for that or you and I would not be here. But one shouldn’t assume culture is a static thing. Or that after some 200,000 years of struggle the basic nature of mankind has changed. You will either fight the good fight, to preserve the Good Society, or you and yours will perish with it.

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