One more thing from that Phillip Morris piece for National Geographic: a weird remark from Professor Kevin K. Gaines.
Yet as philosopher-poet George Santayana famously said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. The aphorism weighs heavily on those trained to study the behaviors and achievements of past cultures.
“As a historian, I am concerned about the past being erased,” says Gaines, the UVA professor. “If we sanitize our history, we run the risk of forgetting how we’ve progressed and changed over time…Those who come after us must understand that America was conceived in white supremacy and continues to suffer the consequences.”
I can’t tell if this is Gaines resisting the removal of statues and memorials, or Morris’ structure making it seem like this is what Gaines is saying, but that’s certainly the effect.
The thing is, removal of statues itself is an action against the sanitizing of history. The very existence of these memorials for dozens or hundreds of years absent the real story of their racist context or at least without any overt, conscious and public recognition of that context was a sanitized version of our history.
The move to remove is akin to a truth and reconciliation effort, not one of whitewashing.