When Parody Becomes Reality You Know There's a Problem
I recently wrote about the controversy over removing Confederate era statues from public places, and in my column I acknowledged the concerns of those who don’t want to honor or celebrate men who fought, at least in part, to preserve slavery.
But then I asked a question: Where does it end?
“Is taking down a statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson or Jefferson Davis enough?” I wondered. Or after we scrub them from history do we have to move on to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two presidents who owned slaves.
I failed to mention Christopher Columbus in my column, but I guess I should have.
Not long after the violence in Charlottesville, a monument to Christopher Columbus in Baltimore was vandalized, and a video posted to YouTube shows a man striking the base of the monument over and over with a sledgehammer. The narrator of the video calls Columbus a “genocidal terrorist.” Columbus statues were also defaced in other cities, including Boston and Houston and the mayor of New York is thinking about taking down the city’s 100-year old Columbus statue in the wake of Charlottesville.
And I guess I should have also mentioned the University of Southern California mascot, a horse named Traveler. Yes a horse might have ties to white racism, at least according to a black student group at USC.
Why? Because the horse bears a name similar to that of a horse that Confederate General Robert E. Lee used to ride, which makes it possibly racist.
The USC football horse is called Traveler (one L), while Lee’s horse was known as Traveller (two L’s). Traveler, it seems is a not uncommon name for a horse. And the one at USC has no connection — none whatsoever — to Robert E. Lee or the Civil War or the Confederacy.
When parody becomes reality you know there’s a problem.
The real danger, of course, is that the hysteria won’t end with monuments or even horses. The real danger is that the morally superior crowd will want to silence any speech they consider hateful – and change any name – even that of a horse -- they find offensive.
I watched one rally on television the other day and a young woman was holding up a sign that read: Hate Speech is Not Free Speech.
Well, actually it is.
Since Charlottesville, here’s a partial list of some of the statues and monuments that have been taken down or defaced by those who see themselves as the guardians of decency.
A plaque commemorating Jefferson Davis near Phoenix was tarred and covered in feathers.
In West Palm Beach, Florida, vandals spray-painted a Confederate monument.
In Atlanta, they defaced a statue of an angel holding an olive branch, standing over a Confederate soldier with a rifle.
Vandals spray-painted a red hammer and sickle on a pillar honoring the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Kansas City, Missouri.
A statue of a Confederate soldier in Winston-Salem, North Carolina was spray-painted, and according to a news report, “The base of the statue was defaced with graffiti, and black paint covered an inscription that reads, ‘Our Confederate Dead.’"
In Leesburg, Virginia, a statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the county courthouse was vandalized with graffiti that included obscenities and the message “you lost.”
Even Abraham Lincoln was targeted. In Chicago, a bust of the Great Emancipator was set on fire and defaced.
We’re witnessing a mob that is on the move, behaving like the American branch of the Taliban, white washing any history they don’t approve of.
If it needs to be said, this is not an argument in favor of Confederate monuments. If city commissions want to remove Confederate statues or even statues of Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln from the town square, that’s one thing. Mob “justice” in the dead of night is something else altogether.
And the mob has created a kind of feeding frenzy, where even otherwise sane people in the corporate world make crazy decisions based on fear.
You may have heard of what ESPN did. The people who run the network removed their announcer from the Virginia vs. William & Mary football game set for September 2 in Charlottesville because his name is … wait for it! … Robert Lee.
Get it? Robert Lee … sounds like Robert E. Lee.
The ESPN Robert Lee is Asian American.
When I first heard this I thought it was a joke. Nobody at ESPN could possibly be that PC. I was wrong. It’s no joke.
“We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name,” ESPN said in a statement. “In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”
But it didn’t just become an issue out of thin air. It became an issue because of the cowardice of those ESPN executives.
Are we supposed to believe that someone watching the game on TV would be offended because the name Robert Lee sounds like Robert E. Lee? Do we think football fans will change the channel in protest?
So, is this utterly ridiculous decision by ESPN where it ends? Is this where sane people say enough? Or are the middle of the night raids by vandals on symbols of the Confederacy where it finally ends? Where decent people say no more of this lawlessness no matter how you feel about the propriety of Civil War statues in public places?
I don’t think any of this is where it ends. I suspect it’s only where it begins.