Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Two statues of ethically bankrupt seafarer Christopher Columbus have been removed from Chicago neighborhoods overnight after a week of protests and police abuses of said protesters. A statement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office then clarified its actions thusly (edited, full statement at link):
“The city of Chicago—at Mayor Lightfoot’s direction—has temporarily removed the Christopher Columbus statues in Grant Park and Arrigo Park until further notice. … This step is about an effort to protect public safety and to preserve a safe space for an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city’s symbols.”
I’m dumbfounded by the spinelessness of this framing, but very well, let us concede for a moment that the decision is one of “public safety” if it cannot, due to some political calculation, be a decision based on moral obligation. Let us remove the lightning rod so we may have a conversation about the tempest.
After over a century of feeding generations of children the false narrative that Columbus was the “discoverer” of North America and burying his own proudly self-documented atrocities towards the indigenous population he found there, we have arrived at a critical mass of people who have learned the truth about him and consider his character sorely lacking. Once learned, such truths cannot be unlearned, they can only be stubbornly denied.
In 2015 a white supremacist walked into a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine people there, and one of the all-too-late responses to that event was for Governor Nikki Haley (R) to remove the Confederate flag that had previously flown above the statehouse, acknowledging at last that the flag was a symbol of hate, and one of the toxic ingredients in the elixir that the Charleston shooter had been drinking for several years. For the state to finally arrive at this decision is no small thing — South Carolina, after all, holds an ignominious place in history as the first state to secede from the Union.
Gov. Haley left office in 2017 to serve as the Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, and she was succeeded by her lieutenant governor, Henry McMaster, a former attorney general and Republican Party chair in South Carolina, who had also served as a legislative assistant to unrepentant racist U.S. senator Strom Thurmond. The state legislature remains solidly Republican, as do both U.S. senators and 70% of its Congressional representatives. If the government of South Carolina wished to do so — if they wished to continue bonding the Republican Party to this issue — they could take up the cause of the Confederate banner being hoisted to the top of the capitol flagpole and might even prevail in seeing this symbol of the South rise again.
And yet they don’t. Five years after the massacre that had led people to urgently and immediately demand the flag’s removal, South Carolina has been compelled to understand that this particular battle is lost. That flag, in that position, cannot be a symbol for the mythology about honorable Dixie rebels; it is forever a symbol for the evil that left nine innocent men and women lying dead in a church.
Christopher Columbus does not represent the best of explorers, nor the best of Italians, nor the best of Americans, nor the best of human beings. He certainly does not represent the best of Chicagoans. His statues are symbols of brutality, slavery, rape, and profiteering from such actions. They have been taken down, and there is no possible way to return these statues to places of honor that will not eventually lead to further acrimony.
Let “temporarily” remain indefinite, Mayor Lightfoot. Let “until further notice” mean “until the heat death of the universe.” Wherever you’ve placed these statues, leave them there.
Or melt them down and use them to fill the fucking potholes.*
* Note: I am not a road engineer and it may not be a good idea to fill potholes with whatever these statues are made of.