When I was a young impressionable teen, I started listening to Gorillaz, who told me at the time to "Reject False Icons".
Of course, they said this a few years before selling the Gorillaz' image to promote Internet Explorer 9 of all things, but you know, they still SAID it. That counts for something, I'm sure.
D-Sides is still an excellent album.
But right now as arguments over whether keeping Confederate statues up to preserve history are swelling (we shouldn't by the way), one of the counter-arguments I keep seeing is 'Well what about MLK? As a Christian, he didn't like THE GAYS. Should we take his statue down?'
First off, I'm not enough of a historian to comb through whether Dr. King was very vocally anti-LGBTQIA at any point, but I do know he worked closely with and was mentored by Mr. Bayard Rustin, who if you don't wish to open a new tab, was very very not straight.
Second off, though... assuming MLK was a virulent, very vocal homophobe, would it be that bad if we did take his statues down?
We take 'icons' from the word meaning a depiction of a religious figure, and we tend to worship people in similar ways, for better and for worse. If MLK's dream was a future of equal standing for people of color and execution of anyone that didn't love the opposite sex, I wouldn't be down to lift him up in the least.
Understand what having a statue means: It is essentially a large physical symbol of approval.
To commission and erect a statue in a public space is to literally put someone on a pedestal. It symbolizes the commissioner's and/or the community's acceptance and reverence for a certain figure—hence the side eyes at people that feel the need to keep up statues of slave-owning segregationists or genocidal, directionally challenged Italian men. What they don't do though is provide much in the way historical context. This would be why we have history classes in school rather than just history walking tours.
If there's a nuanced detailed engraving of the horrors of American slavery and the logistical complications of secession anywhere near this statue, I will eat my best shoes.
And honestly, considering how wealthy I'd be with just a dollar for every 'Forget what you learned in X grade' as I moved up through secondary education and into adulthood, I'm not entirely sure we NEED these decontextualized idols in a public space.
It leads me to wonder if those who demand to keep Confederate and other statues up actually make regular pilgrimages to them, read the plaques thoroughly, et cetera. There's a statue of Senator Barbara Jordan on the UT campus right close to where I used to be housed, and she's a certified LEGEND. Ask me if I've stopped by the statue to reflect on her majesty though, and I'd be a liar to say yes. Everything I know about her I learned from books and the internet, meanwhile, I've stopped by that statue maybe once or twice during my schooling, most likely to take a phone call or eat.
To really know anyone's accomplishments requires real work. To recognize that our idols are human beings, with all the flaws that entails, requires the same.
WHY STOP AT CONFEDERATES
TEAR DOWN EVERY STATUE
CRUSH YOUR IDOLS TO DUST
UNDERSTAND THAT NO MAN SHOULD LIVE FOREVER
— NOT A WOLF (@SICKOFWOLVES) August 21, 2017
That gave me a chuckle, I must admit.
Now I want to be super clear—I don't mean we don't need visibility. And I take comfort in saying "we" since regardless of other minority statuses, most of us here are of the feminine persuasion. I'm not saying we don't need people and achievements to look up to, and I'm certainly not saying that I don't see a need for public art and community seating to view it from, maybe some shade and an accessible water fountain since I'm dreaming big here. I just wonder if molded brass of political figures is the right way to go about it.
I'll leave the April's Public Education Initiative 12 point plan for another article though. Or maybe my own future controversial plaque...