On statues and awards and the naming of things

The Edmund Pettus Bridge
Statues and awards and the naming of things (schools, hospitals, museums) are about many things, but first they are about power. Those with political or organizational or financial power decide what names go on things, what statues and monuments go where, and who should get awards. Sometimes it is simple, and an award or a thing gets named after someone or something powerful as a direct result of their power. Other times it is subtle, and the award or the statue or the naming of a thing reflects the values of those with power.

When people want to tear down statues or rename things or revoke awards, there is an outcry. That outcry is because of a group fearing their loss of power. You won’t hear people talk of it in those terms: you will hear people talk about values instead. But the change is the result of a shift in power. History isn’t erased because something is renamed or revoked or torn down: anyone who wants to know the history can know it in other ways. And history isn’t changed by putting up more statues or naming things differently.

Of all the ways of understanding history, objects are the worst. They are a crude reminder that a history exists, and they are put in place by powers that be or powers that were. As a place changes, the statues should change, the awards should be redistributed, and the things should be renamed. And this will indeed happen, and it will happen due to the new people in power.

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