Saturday, June 13, 2020

Having the Conversation

An interesting conversation happened in the comments yesterday about the history of naming Howard County Schools after slave plantations. Some people were genuinely interested to learn more. (We really do need to teach that history.) But it also gave rise to questions how far renaming could go if we began to address this issue.

“What about renaming Howard County? Or Columbia? Or Johns Hopkins? “

I have seen similar questions elsewhere. Sometimes, as in the comments of my blog, these questions are asked in good faith. In other cases they are not. They are meant to suggest a “slippery slope” that we as a society cannot go down. They overwhelm with sheer quantity. Oftentimes I think they are intended to end the conversation.

But shouldn’t those questions be the beginning of the conversation? As all of those names of well-known places, streets, and institutions roll easily off the tongue, they show exactly how deeply embedded into our culture the acceptance of kidnapping, torture, and even genocide have always been. That should horrify us, not give us a reason to throw up our hands and say, “well, there’s just too much to deal with.” The fact that we expect citizens whose families are the cultural survivors of slavery to attend a school that honors enslavers and that we don’t even think about it is a symbol of what the term “systemic racism” is all about. 

It is everywhere. And just because it has never bothered us does not mean it is not hurting others. 

I also learned about who Governor Warfield was and I have no earthly idea why we have a road named after him. Holy Mackerel.

I saw this exchange last night on Twitter and I am sharing it to add to the conversation.

Radley Balko: For the umpteenth time: There’s a huge difference between honoring historical figures in spite of their sins (Washington, Jefferson, etc.), and honoring historical figures because of their sins (Lee, Davis, Forrest, etc.).

What do you think? Is that a valid differentiation or a specious one? Or is the larger point that we should first be making room for the communities who are damaged by the commemorations of racism to give voice to their concerns? In Columbia/Howard County, that would mean Black citizens who live and pay taxes here, and send their children to our schools. Do they feel safe expressing an opinion on this when they are likely to be met with defensiveness and denial from whites?

So, what about the names of Howard County, and Columbia? I’m not afraid to entertain that conversation. As far as I am concerned, we are just beginning.

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