There have been a lot of discussions lately about the statues we see throughout the world. This is a big deal in the southern United States due to the fact that the statues are usually of Confederate soldiers. There are many historical and racial implications with these statues, and with that, comes controversy. The one argument is that these should be kept intact because they represent the history and that history should be preserved. I do think that we should preserve history, but I don’t think that the history should be preserved by way of a statue that represents oppression, however. But the history should be preserved in some form (a textbook, for example) and acknowledged so we know what happened and use that as a way to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
In Manhattan, Glenn Cantave is angered by a 76-foot statue of Christopher Columbus. According to Cantave, Columbus is a terrorist. Cantave is the founder and CEO of Movers and Shakers, which is an activist coalition that uses innovative techniques like virtual and augmented reality to advocate for marginalized and oppressed populations. Why does he refer to Columbus as a terrorist? According to Cantave, “a terrorist is someone who intimidates people for a political cause. For him, that cause was the expansion of the Spanish Empire for profit. Columbus threatened and raped and murdered. It is ass backwards that a city like New York, with such a high awareness of terrorism, has a terrorist as a landmark”. This is an extremely interesting view, don’t you think?
While I am not a Columbus scholar, I’m not sure that I would have categorized him that way. And there’s a good reason for my ignorance. What I was taught in school, or even what I’ve learned throughout my life is not this picture. There weren’t any textbooks that suggested Columbus intimidated and raped people to get what he wanted. It doesn’t make it untrue, but we tend to white-wash history as a way to absolve ourselves from feeling like wrong was done. Whether it was by our own hands or not.
In August, the controversy around hate came to a head, due to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia. You might remember that the reason for the rally was to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. Due to those events, Mayor Bill de Blasio formed the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers. The goal of this group is to advise the mayor on what should become of the various controversial monuments strewn throughout the City. This is a very interesting concept as it includes an amazing cross-section of individuals including artists, architects, professors, activists, and scholars. It also includes a mix of people in terms of age, races, and genders. They have invited interested citizens to share their opinions on the fate of some of these monuments.
What’s incredible about Cantave and his cause, isn’t just that he wants to have the Columbus statue removed, but he is also recommending that the statue is replaced with Toussaint L’Ouverture. If you aren’t familiar with L’Ouverture, he led the Haitian Revolution during the 18th century. New York City has the second highest Haitian population of any U.S. state. Cantave thinks that L’Ouverture represents more than just the Haitian people. He states “in general, monuments reflect financial glory. Oppressed peoples don’t have role models to look up to. L’Ouverture’s efforts resulted in the establishment of the first, free black republic. If you had him glorified as a statue and his name in the textbooks, that would change everything.”
But, as I’m suggesting L’Ouverture isn’t in any history book that I’m familiar with, and I would argue that he isn’t in a lot of them. I think Cantave’s organization and what he stands for is beneficial for everyone. It frames the controversial nature of history in a way that lets us understand and celebrate the good things that happened. When we see a Confederate soldier memorialized in the form of a statue, it is sad. Or at least I think it is. I don’t see it as a victory. I see it as a history of oppression and while we should be cognizant of that time, I don’t think we should celebrate it.