When the movement to tear down statues and to rename streets and buildings related to Confederate history began, some people predicted that acceding to these demands would create a slippery slope – eventually looping in a tremendous number of people and places.
Alas, it seems these predictions were accurate.
The latest target? George Washington University’s 92-year old mascot, the “Colonial.” Not an individual (unlike J.E.B. Stuart, whose name was recently removed from a high school in Falls Church) or an ethnic group (like my beloved Illini have dealt with over the years).
According to the school’s paper, “Students who signed the petition said the Colonial figure hurts GW’s reputation and is offensive to international students who have experienced the effects of colonialism. … ‘Colonialist, terrorist, murderer. In a lot of places that’s what colonials mean to people,’ Hesbacher said. ‘Why would we continue to call ourselves that?’”
I’m not going to assume bad faith on the behalf of the students – indeed, I suspect they are truly and deeply concerned about the feelings of others and wish to avoid causing pain. That being said, is pretending that an aspect of human civilization happened going to fix society’s woes? No, it won’t.
Trying to “forget” that colonialism happened reminds me of the 1994 movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” where Jim Carrey & Kate Winslet have an acrimonious breakup and undergo a medical procedure to erase each other from their memories. (Spoiler alert: wacky hijinks ensue; they end up together anyway). The point: it doesn’t work.
Rather than whitewashing history, perhaps the university community can use the mascot to spark conversations about how best to positively influence the world – say, through free trade and open discourse? – contrasting that with the damage wrought by colonialism and government-sponsored monopolies.
The history of mankind is littered with violence, horror, death, and destruction. For much of it, existence was nasty, brutish, and short. Disease. Warfare. Genocide. They’re ugly, but they happened, and that can’t be changed. Fortunately, we’re able to learn from the past in order to prevent the same mistakes. So please. Stop sanitizing the past, and start confronting it in a constructive manner.