AFRAID OF STATUES
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, AOC to friend and foe, recently bemoaned the fact that so many of the statues found on Capitol Hill are representations of the most disfavored segment of humanity during this season of Wokeness, white males. AOC doesn’t beat around the bush in voicing her disdain: the problem with the statues is the race and sex of those they represent, not what they did. Indeed, she singled out as a statue that should go that of Fr. Damien, hero to such disparate figures as Gandhi and Robert Louis Stevenson and a canonized saint in the Catholic Church. Comparing AOC’s achievements to Fr. Damien’s is like comparing a pebble to Everest.
Although it is both widespread and fashionable, there is nothing admirable about the sort of petulant disdain for white men displayed by AOC and her allies. It is hard to see why racial animus against whites should be regarded as virtuous even as racial animus against non-whites is regarded as the greatest evil imaginable, even the only evil imaginable.
Moreover, the disdain for white men shown by AOC and her ilk will, if indulged, strike at the roots of Western civilization and the United States of America. Consider her exact words in choosing Fr. Damien for abuse:
Even when we select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told — and virtually no one else. Check out Hawaii’s statue.
It’s not Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii, the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii, who is immortalized and whose story is told. It is Father Damien. This isn’t to litigate each and every individual statue, but to point out the patterns that have emerged among the totality of them in who we are taught to deify in our nation’s Capitol: virtually all men, all white, and mostly both. This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!
This assumes both that 1). non-whites had nothing to do with selecting the white figure for the honor; and 2). there was nothing the white figure did that would in fact justify the honor. Both assumptions are spectacularly wrong in the case of Fr. Damien, who was honored by the Kingdom of Hawaii and by native Hawaiians (including by Queen Lili’uokalani) precisely because he succeded in doing something the Kingdom of Hawaii had been unable to do. The Kingdom’s solution to leprosy was to send the lepers to a remote part of Molokai to die. Damien succeeded in giving hope to the lepers exiled to Molokai and inspired others to follow him there, including St. Marianne Cope, honored with this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson:
Reverend Sister Marianne
Matron of the Bishop Home, Kalaupapa
To see the infinite pity of this place,
The mangled limb, the devastated face,
The innocent sufferers smiling at the rod,
A fool were tempted to deny his God.
He sees, and shrinks; but if he look again,
Lo, beauty springing from the breast of pain!—
He marks the sisters on the painful shores,
And even a fool is silent and adores.
Father Damien is far from being the only white man worthy of the honors he has received. Viewing statues honoring white men as nothing other than manifestations of “patriarchy” and “white supremacist culture” ignores the role white men actually played in creating the culture whose myriad achievements AOC simply takes for granted.
Any honest assessment of human achievement in art, science, medicine, music, literature, and politics would produce a list of persons whose race and sex would be as traumatic to AOC as her exposure to the statues of all those white males who helped build America has been. Going down the road AOC is demanding we travel will eventually mean pretending that Michelangelo, Newton, Pasteur, Mozart, Shakespeare, and our own Founding Fathers were something other than the giants they actually were. Assuaging AOC’s hurt feelings isn’t worth the intellectual dishonesty and ignorance of history that would be required to produce a collection of statues that would no longer frighten her.
And consider AOC’s view of “colonizers and settlers.” The United States was the creation of “colonizers and settlers.” Those colonizers and settlers did make mistakes and even commit crimes in the course of establishing civilization in North America. But viewing colonizers and settlers as figures unworthy of recognition will eventually result in a rejection of America. Indeed, it already has in far too many corners of America during this season of burning and broken statues.