To the editor:
On Saturday, Aug. 12, a young woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, was deliberately mowed down by an angry white man in a car. The man, and many others who came to Charlottesville to “Unite the Right,” was angry that a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee might be removed from a city park.
The man was angry that white Europeans must share the United States with people of many ethnicities and religions. The man was so angry that he killed Heather Heyer and injured more than 19 others, plowing into a young, sneakered crowd of sweet, courageous people carrying signs that read “love” and “solidarity.”
Here in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, a statue of Christopher Columbus — the first European perpetrator of genocide against native peoples of the western hemisphere — towers over West 59th Street.
In front of the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, Theodore Roosevelt sits astride a horse flanked by crouching figures of a Native American and an enslaved African. In Henry Hudson Park in the Spuyten Duyvil neighborhood of Riverdale, on one side of a towering statue of the famed explorer, a loin-clothed native man goes down on one knee, his arms full of gifts for the scowling white man looming over him.
These and other celebrations of subjugation and genocide must be removed from New York City. Statues honoring Confederate figures were placed throughout the south and in many other parts of the country beginning in the late 19th century, coinciding with the romanticizing of the Civil War and the “gallant” south, the emergence of Jim Crow, and the widening and deepening of systemic violence against blacks in the form of lynching, red-lining, and other instruments of terror and discrimination.
Removal of these “monuments” is just one small step in a national process of divesting from deeply engrained, hundreds-of-years-long patterns and systems of racism.
But the symbolism of rejecting the hate and terror that removal of these statutes can embody is meaningful. Their removal won’t erase history or right wrongs. Their removal will simply mean that we consciously choose to live without physical symbols that honor and hold up systemic, racist terror, violence and subjugation.
On Wednesday, Aug. 16, in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville — which Donald Trump attributed to murderous neo-fascists and counter-protesters alike — Bronx Community College president Thomas A. Isekenegbe announced that busts of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson would be removed from the college’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
Isekengbe’s statement read, in part, “For 60 years, Bronx Community College has remained committed to reflecting its values of diversity and inclusion in all of its actions and statements. Embracing differences includes creating space where all people feel respected, welcomed and valued.”
A group called the Daughters of the Confederacy placed the busts at BCC in 1923. Today, a man from Nigeria announced their removal, in a move called for by council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Ritchie Torres and Fernando Cabrera.
May the statues continue to fall, and justice and love rise up in their place.