[For the rest of this week, I’ll be providing updates on a few topics from my hometown of Charlottesville about which I’ve blogged previously. Leading up to a special weekend tribute to an influential Cville figure I got to see again earlier this summer!]
1) Museums: This would seem to be the obvious choice, as a way to preserve the statues (I would always put it that way, rather than preserve “history”; the statues are a commemoration of the past, or rather a mythologized version of it) while removing them from the central and prominent civic space they’ve so long occupied. But as Kevin Levin and others have argued, a great deal would depend on what museum we’re talking about. If they went to one of the many propagandistic spaces that commemorate the Confederacy, I think their pernicious presence and influence could very well continue. That might even be the case at a more neutral history museum, since they in and of themselves are anything but neutral. I would be okay with the thought of moving them, however, to an exhibition on (for example) white supremacy and public spaces in the National Museum of African American History & Culture.
2) Melting: At the other end of the spectrum from preserving the statues would be melting them down. I’ll admit that this one has a great deal of appeal to me, particularly as a symbolic statement of dismantling these dominant white supremacist narratives; I also think it could be striking and powerful if statues were melted down and then the materials were used to create new memorials to the countless forgotten or under-remembered figures who embody an inspiring inclusive America. But at the same time, it’s impossible to dispute that the imagery of burning and destroying public art conjures up authoritarian and fascist regimes and histories; and even though I believe of course that these efforts would be in service of far different causes, if I’m arguing for symbolic value I certainly have to recognize other possible and far worse symbolisms.
3) More Voices: So far, the debate over Charlottesville’s statues, like that over Confederate statues and memorials throughout the nation, seems to have been dominated by two communities: racist white supremacists like those who marched in Cville in August 2017; and (I would of course argue) more well-informed and –intentioned white people like myself. As my Cville friend Sally Duncan argues so thoughtfully at the end of this Cville Weekly article, however, it is Black Americans who should ultimately have the central say in what’s next: not only because they were the target of these rhetorically and actually violent histories; but also because in so many cases, including these downtown Cville parks, the spaces were constructed by displacing African American homes and communities. Which is to say, on this issue, as much as I might have to say, it’s time for me to shut up and listen.
Next update tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?