Update 13.6.20 17:08 : following feedback from readers, I recognise that these statues represent something sinister to people of colour. The fact I hadn’t considered this is indicative of how entrenched racism is. We have all breathed in the air of a society that is inherently racist and are therefore affected. Perhaps statues should be replaced with something that recognises and validates the hurt and pain caused allowing everyone to process, rather than project, and reminds us of how easy it is to slip into darkness. Our job is to raise our own awareness and examine things we, unquestioningly, hold true.
Social media is awash with images of statues to people described as slave traders, warmongers and racists pulled down, destroyed and disposed of. Angry tweets call for the removal of place names that preserve the memory of people from a painful past. These recent events have been triggered by the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The anger is righteous and palpable. But these actions are likely to lead to the opposite of peace and equality and generate further violence and hatred.
Let me explain. The anger is real and just. No argument justifies the use of white privilege in harming generations of people and culture – regardless of whether it is deemed intentional or not. It is painful to reflect, and it takes guts to stare at the ugly face of humanity. But the answer is not obliteration. We have to face the facts, not run away, attack, hide or ignore them. It is as true for individuals as it is for society.
When individuals refuse to face their fear, anger, shame, it does not transform. Trauma either manifests in violence to self and others or it gets buried deep in our unconscious. The problem is that although we can no longer see what has been ‘brushed under the carpet’, we are still in danger of tripping over it. Ugly parts of ourselves and painful memories, repressed and undealt with, become stronger and seep out in ways that cause more damage. It gets forgotten, we don’t have to look at it but it doesn’t go away.
This is what we are in danger of doing if we remove and bury all evidence of our unfavourable history. In psychoanalysis, this is called our shadow. It exists on a collective basis, as well.
To project that anger outside of oneself is not dealing with the issue. Every heinous act throughout time has been perpetrated or validated by someone (either overtly, or through failure to speak out). The standard we walk past is the standard we accept. If any of those people and bystanders were truly wholehearted people, it would not happen. I suggest this anger belongs to every one of us, and each one of us needs to do the work in facing and transforming that energy, with real courage. This is what will affect real change.
Jung once said a million zeros would never add up to one. Unless every individual owns their crap, the world at large will continue to perpetuate fear and violence. It takes enormous strength to appraise, with brutal honesty, our inner motivations, beliefs and ideas—much more than what is needed to project powerful feelings onto a statue. Looking for blame is scapegoating. Something us humans do, believing we are standing up to wrongs. Paradoxically, it does not deal with the issue no matter how right the intention feels.
To paraphrase Tolkien, we need to take care than when facing a monster; we don’t replace it with another one. The problem is not solved with anger and overt power- it is solved quietly. Sauron is not destroyed with brute force.
Like others, I am appalled that what these statues stand for was once glorified. The meaning of symbols can change, however. Let them stand as a reminder of what we are all capable of. If you are thinking, ‘ I would never…’ think again. We all have the potential for evil and we all share the inheritance of the crimes we blame the individuals in the statues for. ‘It wasn’t me, it was them’ is a lie we tell ourselves. They rarely acted alone.
There is good news about facing our darkness and past though. We find buried treasure. Remember, whilst it is true that we are capable of awful things, we are also capable of great love and brilliance.
Only love, peace, understanding, support and, most of all, courage can give us a peaceful and equal world. And we all need to do the inner work. It starts with each of us.
Some would call this ‘soft’.
There’s nothing soft about it.
It’s not an easy or a quick fix and awareness is the first step. I pray for a world that wakes up to itself and heals its hurt with peace and love. It’s the only way.