“Fuck statues,” Mayumi said.
“This is going to be one of those conversations where I’m stuck being the white person, isn’t it?” Demi asked.
“Aren’t you always a white person?”
“Yeah, but sometimes I get stuck being the token white person. Which sucks, given that I’m a Breed like you, too, subject to the same discrimination. When those assholes stormed the campus with guns, they’d have shot me as readily as any of you. Okay… probably they’d have shot not-white-passing minorities first, because of compounding bigotries, but you know what I mean.”
“I do. I take it from your reaction you think statues are a loaded topic.”
“Isn’t everything these days? But really, I just… I like statues. There’s something to their use in art and architecture that speaks to me, on a primal level. I’m not saying I’m for keeping around monuments to Confederates or Nazis or eugenecists or whatever. I think whether or not we tear down the ones to slave owners who were also pivotal national figures is probably a longer conversation, but also likely an evolving one. Like, I’m from Washington state, originally, the eastern side, outside Walla Walla. At some point we may well have to decide to rename the state, because, while Washington did some good things in his life, he had slaves- he had slaves’ teeth. There’s a rot, at the sole of our nation’s founding, and I get that we might have to core out some things we might actually miss before we can truly heal from that.”
“Then what’s the problem, since you seem to be arguing both sides at this point?”
“I think what it comes down to is our history is complicated, because our history makers were complicated. Jefferson, Washington- if it were as simple as tossing the ones who were problematic, that might be one thing, but with that approach eventually our history would be just as incomplete as Washington’s smile without stolen teeth. And ultimately I’m not sure how that should work. Because we can’t just pare back our history until it’s beautiful and idyllic; that would be erasing hundreds of years of pain that is, frankly, not ours to forgive or forget. I mean, fuck Confederates, and their racist-baiting, ahistorical participation trophy monuments. Tear those down, today, no question. But there are more complicated conversations to be had about the rest, and how we handle it, and I don’t feel bad for acknowledging that.”
“I agree, history is complicated,” Mayumi began. “But statues aren’t complicated. They are a celebration, a commemoration; we can keep our complicated past without putting those figures literally up on a pedestal. I was born in Japan. Raised… somewhat internationally, but that was home for a long time. And we had a complicated history, too. We did things to the Chinese that would make some Nazis blush, and all too often our way of dealing with it was pretending like it didn’t happen. But it did- I know because that ‘research’ was built on in what they eventually did to me; that fucked me up, for a long time. The only way to deal with a complicated history is to accept its complications, and what those imply about you, and your country, and everything else you think you know about the world. It sucks, it hurts, but it’s the only right way forward.”
“I don’t know,” Demi said.
“Okay, think about it this way. The public square belongs to everyone, right?”
“Now, let’s say the Italians and Greeks in Bellingham band together to sponsor a stature for a public park of Hercules. Hercules was a hero, of course, but also a rapist, on a truly mythic scale. Now, someone who was assaulted might be hurt by them being allowed to put up a statue celebrating a rapist, right? I hope it doesn’t feel like I’m weaponizing your past, because I promise that’s the farthest from what I want to be doing.”
“It’s okay,” Demi said gently. “And I take your point. The public square has to be for everyone; we can’t pick and choose who should just suck it up, or it’s not really a public space- it’s a public space for the privileged and the few.”
”Right. Of course, there’s a complication. Because there’s people who even to this day would object to a statue to Martin Luther King, Jr. – racists, mostly, but they exist. John McCain voted against an MLK holiday not that long ago- and remember he was a relative moderate in his party. And you’re right. For some of these complicated figures, it’s a conversation, and not a simple one. King can’t be where we draw the line on statues, or there will be only statues of him. But to finally give context to what I blurted out at the beginning, if it comes down to a person not feeling welcome in a public space because of who they are, and tearing down a monument to an old, dead, white person whose bigotry is no longer acceptable- fuck the statue. I side with the living, feeling person every time.” “Oh. Well, yeah. When you put it like that, yeah. I don’t like statues enough to want anyone to suffer for them- and the kind of person who does is the last person who should be making that decision. Fuck statues, and fuck anyone who cares more about an image in bronze or stone than a flesh and blood person.”