Knee-jerk reactions are rarely the right ones. I prefer a reasoned, seasoned response to challenges and the need for change. Here’s what I’m talking about.
In the wake of the killing of Mr. George Floyd (and let’s not forget those who have died since then), the national call was for the toppling of Confederate statues, banning of the Confederate flag, and even the removal of a statue of Christopher Columbus. I get it, I really do.
Some have even called for the banning of Gone with the Wind because of it’s slap-happy depiction of slavery and the noble Southerners defending “the Lost Cause.”
One thing at a time. Banning the Confederate flag is akin to banning the Nazi flag and I’m all for it. It is a rallying point for racists. I can hear my Southern cousins now. “It’s about our heritage!” Yeah, a heritage of hatred and bigotry and oppression.
I realize that revisionist history wants to make the Civil War about anything-other-than-slavery but that is a failed experiment. Sure, the Civil War was about “states’ rights”—the right to own slaves. The devil’s work.
I even understand the desire to tear down Confederate statues but I think that I would prefer for us to use those as teaching tools. There’s the old Santayana quote about not learning from history and being bound to repeat it. Relocate them from state’s capitols and the like but we should be careful before we start removing statues of Washington and Jefferson. They were guilty of the same sin of slavery but remember, they weren’t trying to destroy the nation over it. The Confederates were.
As for Columbus, yes, he was a vile enslaver of human beings and a trader in such. But we also need to be careful about trying to take a person out of their time, committing the ethical anachronism of making that person responsible for morals that did not exist yet. The Confederates were living in the time when slavery was abolished and they were trying to hold on to it. Columbus (and Caesar and Alexander and Saladin and Ramses II) were living in the unenlightened times of people thinking they could own another human being. They didn’t know better—the Confederates did.
Human Rights activist and former NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant opinion piece on Monday in the Hollywood Reporter. He was talking about the move to ban Gone with the Wind. He takes a reasoned approach to themes that are vile to him and to any human being of any worth.
“The film glorifies the Confederacy as if they were a bunch of highly principled martyrs hunkered down in holy glory instead of an entitled mob of human-trafficking murderers, rapists and traitors trying to destroy the United States. The film also romanticizes slavery as if it was nothing more than a workplace sitcom in which all the slaves were happy baristas at the plantation’s Starbucks. On the other hand, very few movies or TV shows from the past could withstand today’s rightfully rigorous standards.”
He goes on to warn about censorship of the media and, especially, the press, saying, “Once we start silencing voices, the only voice left will be the one echoing those in power.”
He also points out that in the Beatles’ song Run for Your Life, they sing, “Catch you with another man/that’s the end, little girl.” So, do we ban the Beatles because of this expression of misogyny?
I’ll let Kareem have the last word, he concludes with, “What we need is a way to present art within its historical context so the works can still be available and appreciated for their achievements but not admired for their cultural failings. The easiest way would be to include an introductory explanation—filmed or written—that explains that the work contains harmful racial or gender stereotypes that were acceptable at the time but which we now know are harmful…. Art can either inform us of past follies or it can perpetuate them. Movies and TV shows that display the subjugation, humiliation, or marginalization of anyone are like the Confederate monuments: they have a place in history as both manifestations of and warnings against our ignorance.”
Sentinel Rural News is the leading source of news for Central Wisconsin. We utilize local writers as our content creators while including contributors of expertise from across the country.