Is no statue safe anymore?


Nope. Even being a president on Mt Rushmore makes you safe.

The statue of Teddy Roosevelt at the AMNH is coming down.

The New York Times reports that it was the museum’s decision to remove the statue, which has sat at its main entrance for the last 80 years; the city agreed it was time to take it down. Though the statue intends to honor Roosevelt—New York’s former governor, a U.S. President, and a famed naturalist whose father was one of the museum’s founders—it also depicts colonialism, as evidenced by the stereotypical Native American man and African man who flank the horseback-riding white man at its center. In 2017, activists splashed blood-red paint on its base, noting that the statue “is bloody at its very foundation.” And with reignited nationwide conversations about and removals of statues depicting Confederate generals, slaveholders, and genocidal explorers, the museum decided it was time to revisit Roosevelt.

Maybe we should look at every monument and ask exactly what it is commemorating. A monument that celebrates the national park system, yes. A monument that celebrates one guy riding gallantly above exploited peoples, no.

Comments

  1. unclefrogy says

    an interesting moment we are going through. Re-evaluating our monuments and what they commemorate and how they do it is not something I would have expected to be getting this level of attention.
    History is always being studied and re-evaluated and interpreted. It is what historians do after all.
    Those monuments placed in entrances and other places are meant to proclaim ideals and attitudes about the present as well as the past. When those ideals change so should the monuments, where should the old ones go is much more of a problem when they are relatively newer and not ancient ones from the distant past. I doubt there would be much controversy over moving a statue of a Caesar from some prominent place, something newer always has its defenders.
    Changing attitudes are not very easy, seeing history differently is very disturbing even to those who understand the changes.
    uncle frogy

  2. harryblack says

    I think the whole idea of monuments to individuals, be they problematic or not is stupid and born of imperialist, monarchist colonial structures.
    Memorialise fallen peoples, tragic or great events, but do not fall victim to the ‘great man’ lense of viewing history that eschews context, faults and all of the individuals that contribute to one persons ‘greatness’.
    Tear them all down regardless of history.

  3. blf says

    aronymous@1, Look directly above the statue, where there is where appears to be a ball capping a pole. I’d said it’s just an unfortunately-positioned flagpole in the background.

    (By the way, what is the ball-capping-a-flagpole called?)

      ─────────────────────────

    As I observed at Mano Singham’s The 1921 Tulsa massacre post here at FtB:

    I presume the people who think statues must always be kept in public spaces without context also deplore the Berlin Wall being breached and removed. “It’s part of history!”

  4. Howard Brazee says

    It would be interesting to replace it with another Teddy Roosevelt statue.

  5. says

    Look at the way the guy on the horse has the reins up in the horse’s face; that horse looks about ready to buck him off and stomp on him. TR could ride a horse, I’ll say that for him – the statue, not so much.

  6. npsimons says

    @5 – definitely with you on the “great man” problematic narrative. I myself try to be cautious and avoid hero-worship, but even with tearing down the Teddy statue I had to do a double-take. He had some amazing qualities, many to be emulated, but nobody is perfect, and that statue seems to be more about elevating the white man above the oppressed than about the gumption and grit of Roosevelt. Tell people to read his autobiography instead of erecting chauvinistic statues.

  7. dstatton says

    TR:
    “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are,” Roosevelt said during a January 1886 speech in New York. “And I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”

  8. smeghead says

    And predictably, conservative twats are railing about this attack on American dignity as though they wouldn’t be calling Teddy a communist if he were around today. There’s the dude who wanted universal health care over a century before OH-BAH-MUH and made it his mission to break up corporate trusts. Also supported the economic and military subjugation of Latin America (and more) which directly contributed to that whole immigration thingy, but damned if the right-wing will ever give enough shits to figure that out!

  9. bcwebb says

    My proposal was they cut up the base and put the two standing figures on taller columns on either side of the entrance so the heads are all on the same level as Roosevelt’s and you’d have the Africa and America figures standing as their own independent symbols. It is a cool statue but even as a kid I’d look at it and see lord/servants. Of course if you want real colonialism you have to go with the figures of empire around the Albert memorial in London.

  10. blf says

    @16, Indeed. From American Museum of Natural History to remove Teddy Roosevelt statue:

    […] New York mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, said the museum had asked to remove the statue “because it explicitly depicts black and indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior. The city supports the museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

    […]

    Theodore Roosevelt IV, a great-grandson of the former president and museum trustee, told the [New York] Times he supported the decision.

    “The world does not need statues, relics of another age, that reflect neither the values of the person they intend to honor nor the values of equality and justice,” he said. “The composition of the Equestrian Statue does not reflect Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy. It is time to move the statue and move forward.”

    […]

    The Times said [museum president Ellen] Futter “made a point of saying that the museum was only taking issue with the statue itself, not with Roosevelt overall”.

    “It’s very important to note that our request is based on the statue, that is the hierarchical composition that’s depicted in it,” she said. “It is not about Theodore Roosevelt who served as governor of New York before becoming the 26th president of the United States and was a pioneering conservationist.”

    Like, e.g., Churchill, T. Roosevelt is a complicated individual with some quite praise-worthy accomplishments and intentions, but also with some awkward or just plain wrong points. So might be Colston (the Bristol slave-trader), except the wealth he poured into Bristol (perhaps a good thing (albeit certainly abused (“Follow the money!”))) was obtained by being a slave trader (and part of a monopoly). Not just problematic words or disturbing beliefs in Colston’s case, but simply unacceptable & hideous actions, repeatedly, over a long period of time, for his own gain.

  11. bcwebb says

    I think things were carried too far in San Francisco where a bust of Grant was included in a set of toppled statuary. While Grant was a slave holder he did choose to end up being central to ending it. Then again, it was pretty ordinary.

  12. gorobei says

    My wife worked at the AMNH, and my kids visited it a lot on rainy days.
    All three of them sharing the news it was coming down was a moment full of relief and even joy. It was a not a statue celebrating conservation, or science, or learning, it had a feeling of hierarchy of people, and a celebration of white males just taking stuff they liked.
    Even my two young daughters intuitively understood the subtext. And, mom, growing up Jewish in Russian, was also attuned to that kind of crap.
    Screw it, replace it with something nice, like a bird feeder or goat tower.

  13. pipefighter says

    What about Jefferson? I’m going be right up front and admit that I think statues are stupid. That said, with Jefferson, he on the one hand helped author a constitution that was a massive improvement over any legal system present at the time and on the other hand he was a slave holder. Ditto for Washington, being a leader of the revolution who gave up power at the end of his second term which seems normal now but was pretty remarkable at the time. He was pretty awful when it came to first Nations too. If you think they’re both beyond the pale I won’t argue, I just want to know if anybody here sees nuance with them. I’m from Canada and our “father’s of confederation” were unapologetic imperialists and terrible in pretty much every way.

  14. blf says

    @20, A statue of T. Roosevelt at the AMNH isn’t, per se, inappropriate. As Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge puts it: “[As President h]e made conservation a top priority and established many new national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources.” And “Roosevelt was a prominent conservationist, putting the issue high on the national agenda. Roosevelt’s conservation efforts were aimed not just at environment protection, but also at ensuring that society as a whole, rather than just select individuals or companies, benefited from the country’s natural resources.”

    His naturalist avocation was life-long (not just some political gimmick). I can think of other individuals, but not too sure about a New York connection. The AMNH is located in the T. Roosevelt Park (albeit that may be named after his father, one of AMNH’s founders, and, as far as I can recall, also a keen naturalist, etc.)

    Not that a replacement has to be one, or indeed any, individual, of course.

  15. gorobei says

    @22, my family had no complaints about T. Roosevelt. They had complaints about the statue.

  16. blf says

    @23, Understood! Apologies if @22 implied otherwise. I was just commenting-on (responding-to) the last sentence of @20, “Screw it, replace it with something nice, like a bird feeder or goat tower.” Sorry for any confusion!

  17. gorobei says

    @24, No offense taken! Perhaps, I could have better articulated my feelings…
    A single TR would be fine. A TR with a guide as an equal would be fine. A TR a pace behind a guide would be cool.
    The AMNH is making real efforts to modernize rather than just being a display of dead things, models, and dioramas. They have done some great things with video of living creatures, etc, but it’s still a bit of frozen in time with Victorian grounds and staging. I remember waiting in line once, and a little kid screamed so excitedly when he saw a red cardinal. I’d love to see the museum find a way to bridge the beauty of the current environment to the historical environment.

  18. whheydt says

    There were three statues in Golden Gate Park (San Francisco) pulled down. The Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco blew a gasket over one of them….Junipero Serra.

  19. Stuart Smith says

    Couldn’t they just put the black guy and the native guy on platforms, so that they could look down on him. They could stand with their junk at his head height, just to make it clear that his horse doesn’t intimidate them. Maybe they could be on playground slides, then he’ll just be the weirdo who rides a horse at the playground.

  20. lanir says

    I feel for the historians on this one. As the ones asking for the removal of the statue, I think they’re quite well aware that this movement and this time are more historic than the statue and it’s continued presence signifies. But of course they’re just the subject matter experts. Every Dunning-Kreuger tormented ignoramus is quite certain their uninformed opinion entirely lacking in context is right and no amount of facts or studiously considered debate will move them from this position.

    As someone who has done computer tech support I have run into this on occasion. It’s the most damned obnoxious thing. I have only respect for the museum for moving forward with this despite the pointless opposition.

  21. mamba says

    Thank you for bringing up the point a lot of people are missing…context of the statue itself!

    Some people defend a statue by screaming about all the good the person did usually. And that’s fine. But every statue is specifically designed and specifically placed in specific areas, so symbolism is very important! THIS statue is an obvious F.U. to those races when it was built and should come down. Maybe another statue would commemorate his more positive actions? That one may stay up as long as it’s not placed in an area that would offend the previous 2 groups.

    Statues can stay or be built, but more thought has to be given to them and their symbolism to EVERYONE before they get built. It’s like building a large stone statue of a middle finger in your yard highlighted by spotlights, or building a large church with bells and a towering steeple with lights along the cross at the top. You are making a very clear broadcasted statement about who you are and what you believe that’s impossible to ignore, so make sure it’s not an obnoxious one!

  22. maireaine46 says

    T.R’s great-grandson is fine with the removal of the equestrian statue. As others have commented here, there are plenty of tributes to T.R. within the museum to acknowledge his contributions to conservation without glorifying racism.

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