Reaction should be based on facts

Written by

|

November 16, 2015

11:04 PM

Recent important events have taken place at the University of Missouri that have reinvigorated the discussion of race equality in America. After racist attacks and symbols, numerous protests, a self-starved graduate student, a football team on strike, a resignation from the university’s president and a continuing Black Lives Matter movement, among others across the country, it is important to take a step back and analyze these past events, especially as they have greatly affected our College of William and Mary.

People today might not even be able to post such messages on Jefferson’s statue as they did without the right to freedom of speech that anti-Federalists like Jefferson pushed for.

Walking down old campus this past week, I saw the statue of Thomas Jefferson covered in sticky notes insulting him and his legacy. I later discovered the school-wide discussion that was already taking place on social media. An extremely similar situation took place at the University of Missouri, with anonymous students demanding the removal of Jefferson’s statue (which resembles the other Jefferson statue in Colonial Williamsburg).

I found myself perplexed, not because someone dared to insult one of America’s greatest founders, nor because I found myself outraged that Thomas Jefferson, a racist slaveholder, has a prominent statue in our school. I found myself perplexed because I simply could not take a side, even though I felt like I should have easily been able to. On one hand, yes, maybe Thomas Jefferson’s statue should be removed. He fathered a child with one of his own slaves, Sally Hemings, owned numerous slaves and was racist, at least according to modern standards. On the other hand, Jefferson was a great inventor, a true polymath, one of the better founding fathers, former president of this country and subjectively one of the greatest figures of the 18th century. People today might not even be able to post such messages on Jefferson’s statue as they did without the right to freedom of speech that anti-Federalists like Jefferson pushed for.

Just thinking about which side to take boggles my mind. Should I take the side of the posters and insult a great founder, or should I take the side of the anti-posters and possibly be labeled a racist? I needed help.

There is extreme nuance to the Thomas Jefferson debate when both sides are taken into account. That degree of nuance is entirely subjective, as it is dependent on one’s perspective at any given moment.

Which side would you take? The answer isn’t that simple, is it?

There is no truly right side to the statue situation, as both sides have extremely legitimate, important and powerful arguments. There is extreme nuance to the Thomas Jefferson debate when both sides are taken into account. That degree of nuance is entirely subjective, as it is dependent on one’s perspective at any given moment.

It is important now to use the statue situation as a basis for the ongoing discussion on race relations and the fight against inequality in this nation. Although the majority of the movements at the University of Missouri are well-intentioned, many of them, on a micro level, have become far too complex and extreme. Numerous videos have emerged on the internet. In one of them, an Asian woman interrupts a protest, eventually asserting that black people too can be racist. She is then silenced by one of the protesters. In another, protesting students from Yale argue against a professor who is advocating for freedom of speech. Watch these videos, and it will become apparent that some situations no longer have a “right” and a “wrong” side. It is important then that we take a step back, analyze and pick out the “good” elements from each nuanced idea, stand by them and use these ideas to better today’s society.

Yes, in our school, in America’s schools, in our neighborhoods, on the internet, in the nation, racism exists – this is a fact disputed by a very small and misinformed minority. Unfortunately, a discussion on race anywhere is extremely emotionally and intellectually complex. In many situations, such as our own regarding the Jefferson statue, it is hard to pick a side, as no one truly emerges as prominent. It is in these complex, muddy situations where we must curtail anger, reserve judgment, add perspective and wait for the facts. Other times, we would be better off directing our attention and energy towards something of more relevance, something that would make more of a difference, rather than getting stuck on matters that will make only the most minute difference in our lives.

Email Miguel Locsin at [email protected]

Share This Article

Related News

For a gradually evolving Greek Community: Tradition, Values, and Creating Inclusive Community
Issues with Colonial Williamsburg’s Pence protest
Do Better: College Tipping

About Author

  • Miguel Locsin

  • Mercyneal

    Um, hello? Bill Clinton sexually assaulted many women and his wife enabled him by hiring a private investigator to go after the poor women who spoke up. Why aren’t students protesting this? What you all are doing now is just nonsense.

  • ASW

    Stop running down our proud national and Virginian heritage

  • TheKingJAK

    Thomas Jefferson accomplished more by the age of 33 than the vast majority of humans could accomplish in multiple lifetimes. Furthermore, to judge him from our modern perspective with regards to the standard economic model of his era is disingenuous. The gentleman was the utmost radical of his generation, and put forth notions that quite literally evolved into an armed revolution. If you believe that such qualities, among a plethora of achievements in every significant profession and area of study, is somehow to be looked down upon, then woe be upon you. Let us see his detractors dare take on and achieve such momentous progress in our current society before they even begin to lash out at a Founding Father. Let us see you design a new world from old, and unite a fractured society into a greater cause. Yes, let us see your own accomplishments in life, for if you believe yourself courageous enough to tear down Thomas Jefferson, then surely you are doing so from a higher pedestal of wondrous and selfless service that will positively change the world forevermore. Certainly, you must consider yourself better than this man, and more impactful as a whole, yet, what have you done with your life? What will be written about you centuries from now? Shall we forever recollect one whose sole crowning moment was to do nothing more than criticise those who’ve enlightened and redirected the course of human history? Or, shall you be remembered for actually following in the footsteps of the great ones, and emulating them in your own righteous strive to do well? The choice is yours, so choose widely.

  • Lee Norris

    College students today haven’t got a clue about what racism is. The silly things they point to like “micro aggressions” would have gotten them laughed at by the people who braved the batons, fire hoses and police dogs to give them the very right to walk the campus of William and Mary.
    How about you try respecting all people, stop wearing your feelings on your sleeve and debate ideas honestly instead of shouting them down?
    How about you realize that the 18th century world was a much different place than the 21st century and the very notion of judging an 18th century man by the values of a 21st century culture is absurd on its face.
    Jefferson and the other founders were the student radicals of their day, far, far ahead of any culture in the world in terms of human rights. They were willing to put their very lives on the line for those ideas.
    You people aren’t willing to look at a statue.

  • Sorceress

    Any “student” who is responsible for this nonsense ought to be summarily sent down. These children are not ready to experience higher education. They need to have a basic course in the history of the United States. Jefferson and others like him were willing to pledge “their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to achieve the freedoms that allow these idiots to perpetrate their snotty little prank. If they can’t learn how important Thomas Jefferson is to our entire culture and to our freedoms, they don’t belong in a university setting. Which of them would be ready to pledge even their minuscule attention to at least spending their time learning about honor and sacrifice? None, I suspect.

    • ChosunMan

      I doubt 95% of them could even explain 3 things that Jefferson did — good or bad. If we are to try to erase all flawed humans from history, then we will only have empty books. Last thought: These Post-it protestors are whining, over-entitled adolescent brats who need to grow up and realize what real oppression looks like — take a moment to look at real evil by any standard, such as what we see done today in North Korea. I don’t think it takes more than 2 seconds to figure out which side I’m on: I’m on the side of free speech, honoring those who have paved the way for our freedoms — including flawed men and women like Thomas Jefferson. This isn’t even a matter worthy of a public debate.

  • Max Blancke

    The people protesting Jefferson, Wilson, and whoever they choose next have no real understanding of history. It is true that Jefferson was an 18th century man, who had many of the same beliefs as everyone else from his era. But he was also part of a group of revolutionary thinkers whose ideas led to the egalitarian society we have today. Take him out of history, and we might very well be living in a time where slavery is still almost universally accepted.
    If you follow the logic of these protesters, we would probably have to remove monuments and statues of almost everyone born before 1940. And although these people believe that their personal politics are the perfect and final evolution of human thought and morality, in truth, their politics are “fashionable”. The precedent that they set now by calling for the removal of this and other statues will end up with the leaders of their generation having their statues toppled and melted down as politics continue to evolve.
    And don’t think for one moment that statue removal and campus renaming will satisfy them. You might think “yes, I kind of see their point. I hate offending people, so lets err on the side of civility, and remove the statue”. But they are just getting started. No matter how many accommodations you make, they are never going to be satisfied. They are never going to realize that they have finally gone too far.
    A few years ago, the idea of removing statues of the Founding fathers from public display would be seen as absurd. A few years in the future, we might be arguing about whether we should purge the libraries, and burn all the books by disfavored authors. Pretty soon after that, we can discuss who should be sent to the camps.
    I realize that my predictions seem way over the top. If it had only happened one or two times in the past, I would probably agree with you. I have interviewed people who lived in nice, stable places, and who actually believed that “it could never happen here”. And they kept those beliefs, right up until it happened there. Unlike most of those reading this, I grew up in a place where it happened. I even know some of the people who made it happen. They are nice people. They have no idea how it got out of control so quickly.
    We have a really nice thing going here. We have a history of fighting for the rights of idiots to voice their stupid opinions, because we know that when we silence them, someone will eventually come along and use that same precedent to silence us. We already let them ban a flag. I do not wish to argue the politics of that particular flag. It is irrelevant to the discussion. After more than 200 years of nobody ever being able to force anyone to take down a flag, here we are. You can still own one, but expect to be confronted or attacked. If you try to sell one, expect a boycott. I do understand that there have been times of conflict when such rights have been temporarily suppressed. I imagine that Japanese battle flags were pretty unpopular from 1941 to 1945. But after the war, you could do whatever you wanted with one. Until this week. An advertisement for a TV show that actually portrays the Japanese empire as evil bad guys was taken down, because the advert used a graphic similar, but different than, Axis flags.
    When you are being forced to stand outside your house, while people ransack your house looking for books to burn, don’t come to me and say “Max, why didn’t you say something?”
    Sorry for the rant. I am finished now. Thank you for your time.
    MB

  • Dave Bradley

    All this brings to my mind Kent State and other protests of years ago.
    But, it also brings thoughts into my mind of DO WE ERASE THE HISTORY of our GREAT country, disregarding all aspects of that history because it may involve racism??
    If that is true then we need also to disregard the black groups who happen to be exhibiting their own racism.
    It is ALL old news, happening LONG BEFORE any of them were born.
    Get over yourselves and live with it, while recognizing the changes for all blacks that have taken place since that time.

  • There is an apocryphal joke which runs:

    Moscow, 1953. Stalin calls in Khrushchev.

    “Niki, I’m dying. Don’t have much to leave you. Just three envelopes. Open them, one at a time, when you get into big trouble.”

    A few years later, first crisis. Khrushchev opens envelope 1: “Blame everything on me. Uncle Joe.”

    A few years later, a really big crisis. Opens envelope 2: “Blame everything on me. Again. Good luck, Uncle Joe.”

    Third crisis. Opens envelope 3: “Prepare three envelopes.”

    The problem with revolutions which seek an abstract ideal of perfection is that they tend to devour both those who cannot measure up to that ideal of perfection, and those who disagree with the current ideal of perfection. Witness the downfall of Robespierre, Saint-Just, Danton, Trotsky and others (deaths) and the ruin of Peng Dehuai, Liu Shaoqi, and others.

    One sees it even in this campus movement. Rather than the more humble approach of “those of the past are imperfect; we are also imperfect; let us reform ourselves to avoid the errors of the past, and seek to discover our own imperfections,” we have “Let us acknowledge our own superiority, and eradicate history associated with an abstract ideal of perfection, and throw down any who disagree with this ideal.”

    Thus, those who might be natural allies or sympathetic to a more humble cause are thrown aside and shouted down. There is no argument here, only emotional outburst.

  • Pingback: Thomas Jefferson: Racist or Revolutionary()