How Do We Address a Statue of President Roosevelt That Affirms Racist Hierarchies?Breaking News
tags: racism, memorials, statues, Teddy Roosevelt
Almost two years after the 2017 fascist rally at Charlottesville around a mediocre statue of Robert E. Lee, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) opened its exhibition Addressing the Statue for an unspecified run. The statue in question is James Earle Fraser’s massive “Theodore Roosevelt Equestrian Memorial,” situated outside the Museum’s main entrance, depicting Roosevelt flanked by his gun carriers, a stereotyped Plains Indian and a generic African.
It wasn’t the museum’s fault that another “replacement theory” white supremacist, like those at Charlottesville, carried out a terrorist attacks in El Paso just a few days later. But it wasn’t unconnected either. From hate groups like Identity Evropa to Trump’s evocation of “beautiful” statues, the classicized statue has become a symbol of White supremacy.
In this moment, what does it mean to “address” the Roosevelt statue? In poet Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, the narrator attends a lecture by the philosopher Judith Butler, who is asked why words are hurtful: “Our very being exposes us to the address of another, she answers. We suffer from the condition of being addressable.” The narrator observes: “After considering Butler’s remarks, you begin to understand yourself as rendered hypervisible in the face of such language acts.”
The racist murder of Heather Heyer at Charlottesville made it clear that Confederate statues are such speech acts — and hate speech at that. Their address in public space makes people vulnerable, albeit unevenly and unequally so. In response, cities like New Orleans and Memphis took down at least some of their Confederate statues. Nationwide only some 60 statues out of a total of over 700 were removed.
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