We’ve been talking a lot about statues recently.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen images of an indigenous woman in orange standing atop a pedestal in the place of John A. Macdonald. Pictures of armatures and hoists in one location as a bust is removed legally, and in another a tumbling form smashing against the pavement; the head snapping ungraciously and bouncing onwards to some new future. Cheers can be heard as the architect of both Canadian shame and pride lay broken.
We’ve seen Winston Churchill himself dressed in red, splattered unceremoniously in protest. For some, the sight produces recoil and horror at the image of a man defaced who had (with a little help) saved Great Britain in its finest hour from an enemy that all can agree needed to be stopped?
“But how can this be the right decision?” Some may ask, unaware of the true context of these two icons and the blood-drenched legacy that they left behind for us to re-discover.
I myself knew only cursory knowledge of Churchill’s chilling racism. Upon closer inspection there was so much to know, and the discomfort swelled within me. Arguments for poison gas on “inferiors,” willful starvation of millions of Bengalis, and a profound sense of white supremacy are all in the literature.
Despite our much-vaunted education systems here in the West, we have painted our heroes with a lighter brush. We have vilified their victims on occasion, in an attempt to downplay the true horrors unleashed upon them. All this has contributed to our social consciousness; a place where immigrants and indigenous alike must exist.
That is quite simply the definition of “institutional racism.” Our history is built upon these facts. Our social consciousness has this knowledge interwoven throughout our country. The concept of Churchill as “good” and Macdonald as “founder” form the basis of so many argumentative cruxes.
So if your history omits entire crucial events that relate to the past mass-death and present vindication of whole cultures of people, then that history must be altered.
But after we have updated curriculums, what do we do with the statues? What do we do with the masses of people unwilling to confront the grim reality?
That is something we must debate, but not with passion. With candor and brutal honesty.
So why do so few understand this? Why the outrage at the outrage?
That’s a good question.
It has to do with ideals. There is no shortage of North Americans that yearn for “old values” and even romanticize the colonial era. Who can blame them? Exploration, adventure, war, piracy, and more than just a little bit of “tame the savage” mentality. It represented a time when exploitation of resources was limitless, and when the realities of human existence in a hostile universe were not apparent. For many, North America remains the manifested destiny of the ideal European colonizer. Who are we to threaten that mythos?
We are the living. The ones who can remember. We carry the stories of our past with us, and by denying the relevance of some of these stories we are denying whole cultures of people part of their existence.
It is not our mythos. It was their reality.
The fact that the public is so poorly educated on both ends of this subject is a truly unfortunate reality for us to inherit. We are faced with difficult decisions.
Or are we?
The simple truth is, if we are to proceed with true equality then we must all knowingly measure the weight and cost of the things we hold dear.
Is pride in Winston Churchill worth glossing over his sins? Is that pride enough to not only nullify his darker nature, but to enshrine his good deeds in the form of a statue?
Is our Canadian identity so intrinsically linked to the blemished genocidal drunkard known as John A. Macdonald that we are willing to stand upon the pile of bones he left behind?
To me, the answer to both is quite simple.
The facts are, folks, that our entire continent is littered with forms of worship to these past mythical figures. American naval bases are labelled with the names of men who considered Africans no more than property. Dollar notes with the faces of those who might consider eugenics to be an ethical practice remain in our pockets.
Yet, the outrage for these symbols is not new.
It has always been here. Since the days of Mahatma Gandhi people have known of the horrors of Churchill. For uncounted decades the deaths of children across Canada were simply dark stories kept clutched close to the heart of the silent.
Confronting these realities in the past has led to no shortage of hostility and umbrage on behalf of conservative ideology. Like any movement related to civil rights, the “request” for change first falls on deaf ears only to evolve later into demands. It is then that it is vilified.
These demands grow; a cry out from across history demanding justice.
So we should all ask ourselves this, now.
Is our mythos really worth it? Are the perceptions of traditionalists worth not only eschewing justice, but glorifying its absence? Should these men not only have their place in the history book, but also celebrated in public in spite of their tremendous sins?
That is what a statue of John A. Macdonald means to me.