CSotD: Speaking out against the madness

Michael Ramirez offers a challenging commentary on the toppling of statues, and, normally, I wouldn’t feature a cartoon with specific, glaring errors, but this one is worth addressing.

The Buddhas were not historic but religious statues, while the destruction of Nimrud was also based on religious differences: Extremist Islamists wanting to wipe out not just modern distinctions within their own religion but ancient religions as well.

This puts it closer to the original meaning of “iconoclasm,” when Christian statues were destroyed by those who felt they were being worshiped rather than emulated.

Which in turn shows the futility of such actions, since Orthodox religious services still show a reverence for icons not in line with Western views.

I doubt blowing up statues of either Buddha or ancient Assyrian gods could change the religious practices of 90% of Muslims.

By contrast, the statues being pulled down around this country are of historic figures and were erected, if not to be worshiped, to be emulated as symbols of our values.

The operative word being “our,” since that word is the cause of all this turmoil.

It’s been pointed out several times on social media that the “heritage” of the Confederacy is nonsense; the traitorous uprising only lasted about four years and the statues were primarily erected to keep Jim Crow dominant.


What the defenders of those statues are defending, as Matt Davies depicts it, is a heritage of white supremacy and a time when colored folks knew their place.

Which was making dee-licious stacks of flapjacks for the Little Boy and telling him tales of Brer Rabbit.

And stepping off into the gutter when a white person came down the sidewalk.


Christopher Weyant, like Ramirez, is both right and wrong.

He’s right that the tearing down of racist statues is insufficient, but there’s a suggestion here that it’s a distraction, and I would argue that it’s a necessary catalyst.

Though if we’re going to go back to the origin of “iconoclasm,” it’s only fair to note that a “catalyst” is something that causes a change but is not changed itself.

Necessary but insufficient.

And tearing down Robert E. Lee but leaving Aunt Jemima on store shelves reminds me of Abbie Hoffman’s response to Earth Day: “I’ll pick up the Dixie Cup. Who the **** is gonna pick up Con Edison?”

The “system” is not about statues and water fountains and Jim Crow.

It’s about the background of our daily lives, the things we accept as normal.



So it’s appropriate to get rid of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben, though I wouldn’t have known that Mrs. Butterfield was even black, much less that her bulbous frame was modeled on skinny little Butterfly McQueen’s portrayal of Prissy.


And not only was she was voiced by a white woman, but she even served breakfast to little Tootie, which either reverses the Uncle Remus/Aunt Jemima stereotype or will sent white supremacists into a flurry of “But what about black-on-black sweetness?” challenges.

However dubious the connection between race and this particular brand of crappy artificially flavored corn syrup, though, it is necessary to look beyond the obvious.

It starts with the “Great Man” school of history, which teaches that we’re all led around by the wonderful, gifted few and are better off for it.

As noted here the other day, the problem with Columbus is that, even among the Spanish explorers and conquistadors, he stands out as particularly noxious and savage.

And now they’re tearing down statues of Junipero Serra out in California, which takes a deeper grasp of history to understand.

Serra was a prime architect of a system of missions which were profit-making rancheros up the coast of California, not only using enslaved natives as workers but wiping out their culture as much as possible, leading to his canonization as a saint by Pope Francis and so much for fresh breezes in the Vatican.

We don’t learn much about Serra in school because, besides following the “Great Man” template, we also teach history as “The Virus That Spread From Plymouth Rock” and all that conquistador/vaquero stuff happened before the English-speaking white folks arrived.

Which means it’s like it never happened at all.


Signe Wilkinson recommends adding context, and if she were only suggesting explanatory placards, I’d disagree, but I like redoing the whole statue in context.


The statue of John Brown at his farm and gravesite does just that, and, by the way, did you know that Harriet Tubman helped Brown plan his raid on Harpers Ferry and intended to go with him?

Kind of like finding out sweet little Helen Keller was a Wobbly, innit?

Or that the Pueblans had a major, victorious revolt that forced the Spanish out of New Mexico for more than a decade.

Which had nothing to do with Junipero Serra, who was out in California, but if we’re going to have statues of him, let’s show him in proper context: Kneeling in prayer.

On the neck of a native.


And then there’s the statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History, which poses the question, “WTF were you thinking?”

TR is an excellent example of understanding history in context, because he helped Jacob Riis clean up NYC’s slums, he nearly invented the conservation movement in America and he was a fervent trust-buster whom we could sure use now.

But he was also an expansionist and a product of his time, and he shared a Victorian belief that the world was just waiting for European values to enlighten their benighted ways.

In league with which I suppose that statue is supposed to be similar to John Brown and the freed slave boy … but … egad.

What a freakin’ misfire.

Or, more to the point, what a Freudian slip and dear god they can’t move that one into the basement soon enough.

Black people and Red people and TR himself all deserve better.


Finally, Bill Bramhall reminds us that, NASCAR having banned the Confederate flag, the ball is now in Roger Goodell’s court.

We’ll see.

Rome won’t be rebuilt in a day.

But maybe Rome isn’t what we need.


13 thoughts on “CSotD: Speaking out against the madness

  1. One little known fact about these “pieces of Confederate art” is what a sham they were period. They were all made at some factory in (I believe) Pennsylvania, where you had a catalog of eight eight heads and six bodies, and you could in effect mix and match the components. They no more look like the people they’re suppose to represent than I do, and the overwhelming bulk of them were, as you suggested, put up during the Jim Crow era. They have zero artistic value.

  2. Father Serra gets a pretty good going-over these days in California schools, where a unit on the missions is part of statewide curriculum in, I believe, the fourth grade. Every kid in the state builds a mission out of sugar cubes or the prepackaged styrofoam kits sold in craft stores. At least in my girls’ school 20 years ago, the genocidal aspects of the mission system were taught straightforwardly in an age-appropriate way. We took our daughters on a mission tour down the state–visited something like seven or eight of them–and info at the sites themselves tends to focus on religious devotion, which isn’t surprising since some are still operating churches (while others are heaps of mud). But the information is there for those who have eyes to see it.

    The statue stuff is overdue but makes me uneasy. The pendulum swings, and while I don’t think we’re at the “French Revolution Eats Its Own” stage yet, I’m wary. Protesters in San Francisco vandalized statues of Columbus (understandable), U.S. Grant (who married into a slaveholding family and was awful to Indians but, to his credit, did win the Civil War), and Cervantes (completely inexplicable). Enthusiasm sometimes hits unintended targets, and statues can be repaired and replaced. History is messy.

  3. Grant also worked along side his father-in-laws slaves (which no white person was supposed to do). he also freed the one slave he was given, even though his family was struggling to get by and selling the slave would have gotten Grant the equivalent of two year’s salary.

  4. The issue of slavery is neither as simple as a sentimental Stephen Foster song nor the invocation of evil Simon Legree. We do know that the slaves wanted to be free, but there’s a lot of latitude within that yearning and a lot of different ways of coping with the situation.

    Mountain man Jim Beckwourth was the son of a white Virginia farmer and his female slave, but given that it was illegal for them to marry, we don’t know the relationship. Had she been freed, Virginia law would have required her to leave the state. What we do know is that, after the family moved to Missouri, Jim was not only freed but apprenticed to a blacksmith and I’m calling it a marriage regardless of anyone’s legal status.

    I also wish Sally Hemings had left a diary.

  5. Yes, that would be the bad extreme. Doesn’t tell where the balance point is, and that’s the point I was making.

    All slavery is bad, very bad, needs to not exist.

    But it wasn’t always like that link. Nor, to repeat, was it happy banjo music.

    History is complicated. Like science, you need to want to find out what’s true, not just confirm what you felt was likely true.

  6. I think the Confederate statues should come down yesterday. The fact that they’re still up is disgusting. On the other hand, it isn’t for a mob to pull them down. Go to the City Council. If they won’t do it, elect your own people to the City Council. If you don’t have enough support to get people who agree with you onto the City Council, oh, well.

    Look at the TR statue. It’s coming down. The museum made the decision. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

    BTW, pulling down statues of George Washingtom because he owned slaves is completely idiotic.

  7. Oh, wow, once again Lester swoops in to blow everyone away with his brilliance.

    Here we are sitting in 2020 and no one anywhere in God’s green earth had known anything at all about Dr. Suess’ old political cartoons without Mike Freaking Lester showing up to point it out. (Never mind all the books written on the subject and the fact that he’s posting to a freaking blog about political cartooning. It says right in the article that he re-evaluated all his past work, if you bothered to read it. I understand if the notion of re-evaluating your past work and admitting to old mistakes is a difficult concept for you.)

    What a truly original argument, surely not one that every right-wing jerk with a platform has ever made before. You must be such a pleasure to be around.

  8. Ms. Ella,
    I’m afraid you missed my point: if you’re tearing down statues of Washington, Grant, Columbus and WWII vets (most people would admit there’s no common thread there except one) you’re not protesting slavery or the Civil War. You just hate America and if those guys are held by today’s standards then what to do w/ Dr. Seuss?

    Not suggesting removing the Docs statue. It’s a preposterous exercise. (Personally I think Civil War monuments should be in museums. Both sides.)

    I’m just taking the argument to it’s logical absurd conclusion because -there is none.

  9. Lester—

    Okay, fair enough and thanks for clarifying.

    However, you go on to accuse the protesters of “just hating America”—what gives you the right to make that call? Are you a mind reader? Do you have interviews with the culprits to back up your claim? (Go on and post some links if you do; I’m curious.) Nope, it looks more to me like they’re protesting in a manner that Mike Lester, Real True American, disapproves of, ergo, they’re anti-American. Just extrapolating your claim to it’s logical, absurd conclusion (see, I can do that, too.)

    Y’know what I think the “common thread” is? The people are just plain pissed off. I’m pissed off, too. Maybe not pissed off enough to tear down a statue or smash a window, but pissed off enough to drop the “smile uncomfortably and try not to hit the reply button” routine that’s required live and work around certain people in this day an age.

    My take on the current situation is this: Slavery didn’t suddenly become “wrong” in 1865. It was always wrong. ALWAYS. Even when it was in the Bible, even if the Greeks and the Assyrians did it, even if the culture at large thought it was normal, it was still WRONG. Our country did the equivalent of the Holocaust for over 200 years on an official level, and instead of truly coming to terms with it, we tried to deny it—we made gauzy romantic movies that pretended it was part of some kind of noble tradition, we put up tacky tin-plated statues pretending like the perpetrators were tragic heroes, we pass around myths and urban legends that prop up the notion that the victims brought it on themselves somehow—and then when there’s any attempt to correct the error all you hear is “it’s so loooong ago, why can’t you just get over it?”

    It’s not a happy thought to realize that the country you love has a profoundly criminal past that it’s never really done anything about, and is still allowing widespread injustice to continue as a result. I guess I can sort of understand how it’s much easier to just bury it all or ignore it and wonder why everyone is making such a fuss. Myself, I’d rather be exposed to uncomfortable truths, knowing full well there’s probably going to be collateral damage along the way.

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