June 21, 2018
Politics & Opinion
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Hiding History Doesn’t Change It

Delegate Michael Malone
Delegate Michael Malone's picture
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September 6, 2017

My family and I recently traveled to South Carolina on vacation. The night before the eclipse, we stood on the Battery in Charleston. After the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, it was a bit surreal gazing across the harbor to Fort Sumter, the site of the first shot of the Civil War. My wife, an inveterate shutterbug, was busy taking pictures of everything in sight, including an inscribed Beaux Arts statue of a man with a shield and an Athena of a woman.

What is interesting about the resulting photo isn't what's in it, but what is not. Instinctively framed out of the photo are two manned Charleston police cruisers guarding a Confederate monument.

Edited out is the ugly. The cruisers detract from the park and statue, so out they go. In my mind, that is to some extent what we are doing when we remove reminders of the Confederacy and slavery. Few want to remember that a country founded on principles of justice and freedom for everyone was also once a country of masters and slaves. Fewer still want to acknowledge that Maryland was a slave state, Baltimore was a secessionist hotbed, and Maryland might have seceded had most secessionist leaders not been summarily imprisoned and Union soldiers not forcefully occupied Baltimore. That history is most certainly ugly, but hiding it doesn't change that. There are valuable lessons to be learned from all parts of our history, which we aren't going to learn if we don't examine our mistakes. Auschwitz, for example, still stands as a reminder that some kinds of history do not bear repeating.

Confederate memorials can be a rallying point for white supremacists, a lightning rod for hate. Removing the memorials, however, does not remove the hate. White supremacists operate on the fringes — to my knowledge, I've never met one. While I will leave the root causes of racism to historians and psychologists, from what I've seen, white supremacy often attracts persons who belittle others to feel better about themselves. Removing a few statues does not solve that underlying problem, and could drive white supremacists underground. Personally, I'd rather know who and where my enemies are. There is also the possibility that attention is exactly what white supremacists want: to publicize their movement, attract more followers and generally generate discontent, much like the actions of Westboro Baptist Church.

Removing statues is a knee-jerk reaction, often ignoring the backstory. Take the Confederate monument at Point Lookout — do we really want to forget that a prisoner of war internment camp existed on Maryland soil? And it may not be fair to label the subjects of Confederate monuments as unflagging promulgators of evil. Take Chief Justice Taney. His Dred Scott decision is an unfortunately written diatribe, but Taney is also the man who cried out against imprisoning persons based only on suspicion, not proof, and also a man who, decades before Dred Scott, manumitted his slaves. While Taney is certainly no paragon of virtue, even he is not as one-sided as one might think.

Perhaps more importantly, where do we draw the line? Take George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Do we ignore their many accomplishments and denounce them as slaveholders? What about other objects of racism? Do we remove statues of President Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans against the British, because he defied the Supreme Court and ordered the Trail of Tears? I disagree with the Roe v. Wade decision and the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, but should Chief Justice Burger, whose court penned that decision and supported the relocation policy, as former California governor, be denounced? A bit closer to home - do you shun a wedding at the Paca House, because William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves, and because Richard Wagner, a notorious anti-Semite, composed the bridal march? These examples may seem absurd, like so much rhetoric, but they are the natural result of deciding to erase anything that might be offensive.

Someone, I am sure, will call me out for my opinion. Don't get me wrong, slavery is wrong, bigotry is wrong, racism is wrong. If you judge anyone, it should be for the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I just ask that you be careful how you judge, and that you look at all the facts.

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