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]