PCP: For Taking Down Statues

Hasan Ahmed - 2A Nanotechnology
Posted on: September 23, 2017

Recently, a lot of controversy has sprung up about the removal of historical statues from places in North America. The statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate General during the American civil war, was recently removed in Dallas after a vote from city council. Much closer to home, at Ryerson University, the Students’ Union wants to change the name of the university out of respect for residential school survivors. The renaming of an institution happened recently in Canada when Trudeau renamed Langevin Block (one of the Prime Minister’s offices) to Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office. Although these changes were disliked by quite a few people, I believe these changes were necessary to prepare for a better future.
First, the history behind these old names isn’t exactly nice. Robert E. Lee was the army commander for the Confederates. When you think of Confederates, you typically think of the slavery, racism, and hostility that they stood for. The Dallas City Council voted on this matter, and it was evident why they voted to remove it. A quote by Rene Martinez sums it up nicely: “Does this statue reflect our current values of our city? When it was built, and the reason it was built in 1936: white supremacy. It’s not about beauty. It’s not about art. It’s not about history.” People are saying “oh but it is about history you can’t erase history!” but this is the same generation that is mad at millennials for wanting participation trophies. Although they are trying to get it into a museum, I don’t think that should be done either because it faces the possibility of defacing. Besides, what with the internet and tons of history books and fact checkers, it’s pretty clear that the history will be remembered and taught, so that we are not doomed to repeat it. These racist implications are still pretty clear today (example: the ordeal in Charlottesville) and are prevalent in North America. Removing these types of statues, although it may aggravate the racists now, will be better in the long run.
Sir John A. MacDonald and Egerton Ryerson also don’t have such nice stories in Canadian history, and really bring up the point of how we have treated (and continue to treat) Indigenous people in Canada. Both were known to mistreat Indigenous peoples and believe that Canada was not a place for them. MacDonald made and broke treaties with them, and both him and Ryerson are considered key architects of the residential schools. For those who don’t know, residential schools were institutions specifically designed to assimilate Indigenous students into the Euro-Canadian culture, and were very different from what Indigenous people envisioned. Students would also work at the schools, which was just a cheap way to get labour and not really give them skills to become economically sufficient. Also, classes were taught in Canadian languages, so it was hard for students to understand. All of the material they learned was taught by unqualified people, and the food and clothes they were given was subpar. There’s many more problems with residential schools, but I think I’ve made my point. MacDonald and Ryerson stood for the genocide of these people, and that’s why their names should be replaced. Canada may have worked to repair these relationships in the past, but clearly it has not been fixed (or can ever be fixed, for that matter). That is why we should be as generous as we can nowadays to give them the most equal opportunities and make them feel safe and happy to live in Canada. Renaming these schools could be a step towards that goal. We came a step closer to it when Trudeau renamed Langevin Block in June of 2017. Hector Langevin was yet another person involved in the establishment of residential schools. Although some may say this further erased some history, I know I wouldn’t want to represent someone who has done such damage to an important minority in Canadia. Besides, the positives that come from this are much better; Indigenous people may feel more comfortable that we are doing what we can as a country to make living more equal for them, and hopefully we continue to do this in the future.
It seems people aren’t waiting for these changes anyway. A Confederate statue in North Carolina was toppled at a protest in August of 2017 in opposition to fascism and the KKK. It was held at the old Durham County Courthouse to show solidarity with anti-racist activists after the Charlottesville, Virginia riots. African-Americans especially were happy with this, as one interviewee, North Carolina Governor Ray Cooper quoted (according to CNN), “Unlike an African-American father, I’ll never have to explain to my daughters why there exists an exalted monument for those who wished to keep her and her ancestors in chains.” As a minority myself who’s never dealt with such extreme conditions, I could only imagine the horrors of having someone who hated everything about me based on my skin celebrate what has been done to my race. It’s terrifying and disheartening, and makes me wonder if the country I’m living in would protect me.
My final point: what does it accomplish if we keep these names? Do we remember Sir John A. MacDonald and Ryerson as important people who helped construct Canada? Or do we change it out of respect and value the way our history has made us realize the mistreatment of these minorities? Do we commemorate Robert E. Lee’s role in American history, or do we remove his statue to commemorate the fact that America does not stand for white supremacy? To be most inclusive and respectful, changing the names and removing the statues makes more sense to show our ever-changing values as a country to ensure such mistreatment will never happen again. Maybe some people who are more worthy of it will come and take their place in the future, and it will be based on values which are inclusive and not representative of a vocal majority.