A news item on NPR activated my brain on the way into work today. One of my country’s major political parties has an annual fund raiser celebration called the Jefferson/Jackson Dinner. These dinners are held all over the country. They’re named after Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, two influential figures in the founding of duh USA. Both did a lot of good stuff, and thus they are considered important historical figures and are frequently honored in many ways, including having this big celebration named after them. Fine, whatever.
So the news item was about the Democratic Party now wanting to change the name because these two guys also owned slaves.
So they did something that was accepted at the time, but is now considered bad. And for that we should remove all the honor they earned for the good work they did?
What, should we distance ourelves from every hero and historical figure who ever did anything bad? Know what’ll happen if we do that? We won’t have any heroes. Name one important historical figure who never did anything questionable. Maybe you’ll find one, but I doubt it. I’ll make it harder, though. Name one national leader who never made a questionable decision. Who never did anything that might offend some group somewhere. Hard, huh? I believe that every single president we ever had has achieved both great and terrible things in office, and has behaved both admirably and teribly in his personal life.
Slavery happened. It’s an awful part of our past. But it’s part of it anyway. Don’t sweep it under the rug and hope it’ll go away. We need to learrn about it, remember it, understand why it’s important that we stopped doing it and that we continue to work for the equal protection, dignity and respect of all humans. It doesn’t do us any good to remove honor from our historical figures for the good they did do, just because of their bad deeds (which weren’t even considered bad in their social framework when they commited them). If we can erase and disredit the triumphs and progress achieved by our heroes because of their flaws, then we can just as easily ignore the misdeeds of our villains and honor them for the good they did. The National Socialists did a lot to improve the morale and economy of Germany after WWI. Should we just focus on that, and ignore everything else they did? That’s just as dumb as occluding someone’s triumphs because of their misdeeds.
You need to look at the whole picture, take the good with the bad, because that’s how people are: flawed, fallible, but trying to be their best and have the greatest positive impact on the world. Not always easy. Sometimes impossible. Sometimes we fail.
White Democratic bigwigs should ask the voters they’re trying to appease with this move – the voters would probably say that this is a misguided waste of time, and that they’re more interested in what candidates can do to make life better and more fair for them and their fellow countrymen.