I’ve been reading a number of letters recently complaining about “political correctness” when it comes to renaming streets or removing statues, names on buildings, etc. Usually the complaint references “our” heritage and the author’s dismay that we would ever consider removing the reminders of a proud past, the legacy of our forbears, if you will.
While on a certain level I am sympathetic to such concerns, another part of me is simply tired of what is – with increasing clarity – a tired argument for a tired and nostalgic population of indeterminate size who have little interest in reevaluating the past in order to understand that the “victories” of white European cultures – beginning somewhere in the middle ages and stretching into the 19thcentury at least – are someone else’s defeats.
In the best case scenarios, through conflicts that largely involved other European powers, dominance was largely a matter of bragging rights and the occasional exchange of territory
The same cannot be said when the conquest involved the expansion of European influence throughout the “New World”, the “Dark Continent” and the “Orient” (I’m putting all of these in quotation marks to indicate two things: that such designations were assigned by the conquerors; and each in its own way, signified that these were “others”, not to be held in equal regard, even with European rivals).
While the notion that the victors write the accounts of battles and wars is a given, such thinking is usually applied when referring to acknowledged and bounded “wars” and/or battles. We need to expand this notion to include the virtual annihilation of cultures in the “New World”, a process that continues to this day even if largely not deliberate; the artificial dissection of Africa into countries that fail to account for tribal cultures hardly at all; and the legacy of colonialism throughout Asia, colonial thinking having sought to suppress indigenous identities for centuries, often in the name of religion.
The point is that, to put it simply, the past which many lament we are seeking to supplant is an extremely, one-sided “history” that, at best, allows for only passing acknowledgement of those who were on the “other” side. Somehow, those who object to renaming streets or removing statues, manage to believe that their treasuring of such “legacies” should take precedence over an accurate telling of the history that includes the cost to whoever those “victors” either defeated, supplanted or enslaved.
We need to ask ourselves whether or not we have actually progressed as a culture. While we try to say all the right things about “values”, values only have meaning when they lead to actions. Yes, John A. MacDonald caused a railway to be built from sea to sea but what “value” does such an achievement embody? Amidst all of the nation-building going on throughout the “new world” from 1492 onward, no one seemed much concerned about what indigenous people might think.
The legacy and the “history” some seek to preserve does not account for slavery, cultural near-annihilation, and racial bias. It is largely the preservation of a white European domination of continents and peoples deemed inferior simply because they were not descended from those dominating colonizers. The romanticizing of such a mythos needs to end.