Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
The Left has created the conditions for dozens of needless deaths, for the reduction of primarily black neighborhoods to a smoldering ruin, for the demoralization and departure of hundreds of police officers from the neediest neighborhoods, skyrocketing murder rates in vulnerable communities. As if all this weren’t achievements enough, #Black Lives Matter/Antifa activists have at last undertaken the work of trashing monuments to the men and moments that are deeply offensive to those whose feelings, as well as lives, matter.
It began with monuments to Confederate soldiers, but as Donald Trump predicted (to loud ridicule, at the time) it didn’t end there. Statues depicting George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key, Phillip Schuyler, Ronald Reagan, Polish Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, Kit Carson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, abolitionists Hans Christian Heg and Matthias Baldwin, Christopher Columbus, San Junipero Sera, Juan de Onate, Theodore Roosevelt, John Breckenridge Castleman, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and, for some reason, an elk have all been subjected to defacement or destruction in the name of black victims of white police violence.
Across the nation, hammers, burning rags, ropes, crowbars, and red paint have been deployed against monuments commemorating Union veterans (including the monument to the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment) police officers killed in the line of duty, 9/11 firefighters, female pioneers, women’s progress, soldiers and sailors, WWI veterans and the victims of the Armenian Genocide.
There is a reasonable debate to be had about the wisdom or necessity of removing monuments to Confederate soldiers and, yes, there are likely good people to be found on both sides of it. But now that such debate has been foreclosed by direct, revolutionary action, the (partial) list above begs a more important question for anyone who is enthusiastically or even vaguely supporting the protesters.
What is the limiting principle in the Woke iconoclasm?
I ask, because Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC, recently embraced the conclusions of a city working group she’d tasked with evaluating whether statues and memorials in the city should be removed or contextualized if the historical figures they represent participated in “slavery, systemic racism, mistreatment of, or actions that suppressed equality for, persons of color, women and LGBTQ communities and violation of the DC Human Rights Act.”
If that is, indeed, the mainstream bar to clear, it explains why poor old Frederick Douglass and the 54th Massachusetts were targeted. For all their undoubted Blackness and astonishing courage, who knows what evil thoughts those guys might have had about transgendered bathrooms? Indeed, it is difficult to think of a public figure at any time up ’til the present who could be sure of passing muster with Muriel & Co, including Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders.
It is possible that many of my fellow Unitarian Universalists are okay with the beheading of statues of Jesus. Not (just) because Jesus makes us kind of uncomfortable, but because a statue is just a statue! It’s just “stuff.” A UU believes (and should), along with the Reverend Erik Carlson of Kenosha, that his century-old UU church building, very nearly a casualty of the mostly-peaceful social justice arsonists, was as nothing compared with the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
“We’d rather lose 100 buildings than one more life to police violence,” the church website virtuously proclaimed. Of course, thanks to the quick action of passersby (if not, you know, God) Rev. Carlson and his congregation did not lose their building, though the car dealership next door was burned to cinders. Scrolling through the website, I found no sympathetic mention of this loss, no prayers for the owner or employees, nor links to fundraisers with suggestions to donate.
Unitarian Universalists, I should admit here, are overwhelmingly drawn from the middle to upper-middle classes, which may explain the insouciance when it comes to material possessions. “Just stuff,” they say, with the smugness of those who find “stuff,” even whole buildings, easy to come by. Since UUs are also mostly left-leaning Democrats, they understand it to be the government’s job, not theirs, to look after burned-out neighbors. “We care about the building, but we care about people way more,” Rev. Carlson assured reporters. Well… some people.
If you count yourself a progressive; if there’s a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard; if the mostly-peaceful, though astonishingly destructive protests seem to you an understandable or even justified response to the racism you agree is “systemic” in America; if you agree with Rev. Carlson that random car dealerships and old church buildings—even ones with “Black Lives Matter” signs out front—are perfectly legitimate targets for Woke outrage… then what do you, personally, believe is, or at least ought to be, the limiting principle on that violence?
After all, I dimly recall a certain shared horror in UU land at the Taliban’s destruction of the ancient, priceless Bamiyan Buddhist statues in Afghanistan back in 200l. This, despite the undeniable fact that Afghan Muslims found those statues outrageously offensive.
Are there objects you feel should be spared destruction even if they offend people? How confident are you that today’s activists would agree with, or at least respect, your (or any) boundaries?
For example: How do you feel about the “mere stuff” that fills the National Gallery or the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
Folks, if any public institution is systemically racist inside and out, it’s an art museum. These are white-designed buildings filled with the work of white, old, white, un-woke white, cis-gendered white men—and what work! Heteronormative, culturally-appropriative Western colonialist capitalist hegemony enshrined in paint and canvas, marble and clay, and funded, curated, managed, and patronized and enjoyed by overwhelmingly white people.
Don’t think the Woke haven’t noticed. There have already been public calls for the “restructuring” or abolition of museums in the name of racial justice. It’s just a matter of time before the same logic that leads activists to try to burn down the historic St. John’s Church in Washington, DC compels violence against these and other, similar cultural institutions.
Should activists whose legitimate outrage led them to destroy a statue of an elk be expected to spare the paintings of Giotto, Goya, van Gogh, Giacometti or Georgia O’Keefe? If Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were not excused, how can we be sure that Winslow Homer or Mary Cassatt won’t turn out to have “participated in slavery, systemic racism, mistreatment of or actions that suppressed equality for persons of color, women and LGBTQ communities…” or that they would not, today, be found to have somehow violated the DC Human Rights Act?
As it happens, throughout most of this historic, transformative, George Floyd/Jacob Blake/assorted (armed/overdosing/woman beating/murderous/suicidal) victimized black males protest period, the “just stuff” at America’s major museums has been protected—thanks to COVID-19—behind locked doors.
But the doors will open. And the Woke will enter in.
They’ve already laid the groundwork. They’ve made the usual demands——more Black representation on boards, more rich-college-student internships for Black rich college students, more money for Black artists, more condescending fawning and puffery instead of criticism for Black art plus the removal of works claimed to have appropriated Black themes and techniques (goodbye Picasso!) and the repatriation of various artifacts looted from Egypt and Africa by white Colonialists.
Recent history suggests, however, that one demand, if met, merely and inevitably cues the next. Since museums are filled with words and images, and words and images (in their presence or absence) are defined as “violence,” retaliatory violence is always on the table.
Of course, there will be guards in place at the Metropolitan Museum, and alarm systems linked to the city police department. But is that a good thing, given that we’re talking about the same racist, brutal (and increasingly demoralized and depopulated) police departments that the social-democratic mayor has already signaled his willingness to abolish?
Well, and why, when we are in the midst of the transformative work of “re-imagining public safety” should brutal, racist police be paid to forcibly defend the treasures of a cis-gendered, heteronormative, patriarchal white Western history and culture against angry black-and-brown people and their more numerous white “allies?”
F— Michaelangelo! F— Degas! F— the British Wing and f— the Asian Wing too (Asians are white-adjacent after all). Behead those medieval Mary-and-Jesus figures, their heads and toes rubbed shiny by a million tender human touches, slash the Byzantine altarpieces, smash the Greek and Roman statues, make a pyre of DaVinci drawings and Durer prints and burn upon it an effigy of Donald Trump in the rotunda. We would rather lose a hundred Monets than one more life to police violence!
If not…why not?Published in