Friday, January 15, 2021

Statues, brands today; books tomorrow?

| June 24, 2020 1:00 AM

It’s almost impossible to keep up with the changes taking place in society right now.

Spurred by a long overdue need for discussion, introspection and consideration about how we treat one another, statues and flags are coming down from sea to shining sea — and not just Confederate figures emblematic of slavery and subjugation.

Popular business brands, including Eskimo Pies, Aunt Jemima pancake products and Uncle Ben’s rice, are being retired. They’re “racist myths of happy Black servitude,” as one pundit phrased it.

Revered historical figures that require a bit more research are also coming down. A statue of President Teddy Roosevelt will be removed from the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It’s coming down because the horse-mounted Roosevelt is flanked by a Native American and an African man.

“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

A museum press release acknowledged that while the statue was meant to celebrate Roosevelt as a “devoted naturalist and author of works on natural history,” it also “communicates a racial hierarchy that the museum and members of the public have long found disturbing.”

Across the pond from NYC, a statue of Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell was removed earlier this month in Dorset, England. Baden-Powell’s critics say he was homophobic, racist and a fan of Adolph Hitler, and that the statue unduly honors the country’s imperialist past.

These and many other changes are coming as if a long pent-up vacuum has been unleashed. Our commentary is not to argue the pros and cons of this movement, but to plant a seed that we hope will prove productive in the long run.

Going back to our nation’s founding, the written word has always been a prime target of those who would prevent dissemination of thoughts, stories, characters, terms, language and ideas that some considered unwholesome or a danger to what they perceived as a threat to society — or at least, to their beliefs of what that society should look like. Some of the finest literature in history has been removed from public and school library shelves, most often to be returned only after court rulings or other changes.

At this moment in time, it’s hard to predict if one aspect of the social reform movement that is indeed sweeping our nation will also target books or specific authors. If that happens, the hope here is that open, honest discussion with a deep desire to understand other backgrounds and viewpoints can guide us all. Thinking about it now is none too early.