Phi Beta Cons

Re: What’s the Harm in Renaming Some Campus Buildings?

I agree with George’s thoughtful post, and would add a couple of other thoughts regarding campus demands to rename buildings, statues, and the like commemorating individuals whose views on minorities and women have not stood well the test of time. 

First, since none of us is without sin, requiring sinlessness for commemoration means no one will be commemorated.  Yet even those who were terrible sinners in one area might be visionaries in another.  So a Woodrow Wilson Civil Rights Center might be a bad idea, but not a Woodrow Wilson Center for Loopy Progressivism.  Note, by the way, that the Left seems happy to name things after people who are actually convicted criminals, so long as the person is their convicted criminal:  Consider the recent proposals to honor former D.C. mayor Marion Barry. 

Second, one suspects, alas, that denigrating the Nation’s (and the West’s) founders — and thus the Nation (and the West) itself — is part of the long-term game here. If anyone who ever owned a slave or profited in any way from the slave trade or thought that a woman’s place is in the home is to be consigned to the memory hole, well, that’s it for a lot of our big names, isn’t it? 

Nor do I doubt that there’s a powerful subtext here:  “You should feel bad about yourself and your country because people of your color did bad things once upon a time to people of another color.”  The idea is to intimidate and to shut people up, the better to advance the Left’s agenda. But this backward-looking message is not good for race relations, being all about blame, envy, and resentment, about feeding guilt and refusing to forgive.

Nor is a backward-looking focus a helpful one for young African Americans in particular. The following analogy might be apt. Suppose that an ante bellum Southerner criticized Yankees for having bad manners. He might well have been right. But, in hindsight, we would all agree that, bad manners or not, the Yankees were right about slavery, and to focus on bad manners at a time when that abhorrent institution was alive and well showed, to put it charitably, a lack of perspective.   

Or, to give a funnier example, recall the scene in the movie version of Mel Brooks’s The Producers, where the Nazi playwright is bemoaning the fact that Churchill is more fondly remembered than Hitler, notwithstanding the fact that Hitler was a better dresser, a better dancer, and a better joke-teller. Well, maybe, but still ….

In 2016, for the Left to be focused on renaming buildings and removing statues — when 71 percent of African Americans are being born out of wedlock, and that is the real obstacle to black progress — shows a similar lack of perspective. To live well and prosper, the focus must be on seizing opportunities in the present and preparing for the future, not obsessing over wrongs in the past.


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