Recent events should give us some perspective on changing a street name
The events of the past week have shocked most of us, I think. The boldness of white supremacists who have always lurked in the shadows, but now gather proudly showing their faces has brought us back to a place in history that I thought belonged to the generation that preceded mine. I was horrified by a few comments on a post about the first African American woman First Captain (top cadet) at the United States Military Academy. It’s not that I don’t believe there are people out there that believe those things; it’s that they used to just think them privately.
I make it a point to never discuss politics on social media — it’s a platform not conducive to a constructive conversation and too many well-meaning posts have devolved into name-calling and the lobbing of insults that only furthers the divide. What started out as a place to share pictures of your friends and family and brag about your vacation has turned into the single source of news for far too many people as well as a platform for opinions that have previously been unacceptable in normal social circles.
Content, opinions and news used to be filtered by news agencies and journalists in the business of separating fact from fiction and the real story from everything else. Those days are long gone. Everybody has a platform to be heard now. And while I’m a firm believer in free speech, that doesn’t mean we all have to listen. A lawsuit brought by citizens against Ray Scott for blocking them from his Facebook page only legitimizes social media as a source for news and information, which is unfortunate.
Whether it’s politics or race or gender, the issues are no longer clearly defined. Transgender bathrooms, race riots, sexism and now we have to figure out where the Nazis fit in? I remember when right from wrong was easy and now I have so much trouble explaining it to my kids.
The removal of historic statues in city centers was a step too far, I thought, until I read the transcript of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s speech to the city of New Orleans regarding the removal of the statues of Robert E. Lee, Andrew Jackson, and P.G.T. Beauregard. It changed my mind and it should change yours too if you believe in equality for all Americans. Go read it. These are statues in honor of people who don’t deserve to be honored. The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge of justice for all Americans and those three did not believe in justice for all Americans. Not because they owned slaves, but because they fought for and believed in a way of life where slavery was a natural and normal condition. Those are the words of the Confederacy, not mine.
All week I’ve tried to correlate the anger across America with the anger over the changing of the name of North Avenue to University Boulevard, as if our local issue was a symptom of a larger national problem of rewriting or changing our history (Stay with me here). As someone who loves the history of this valley, I really wanted to understand the anger over the decision and try to relate to it. No matter how I tried, however, I kept coming back to the fact that it’s just a name change. It’s a street that once labeled the northern boundary of the city, but now runs right through the center. And now we’re renaming it for a landmark that sits along it. That’s really what we’re talking about.
So while the country is imploding over really powerful and tragic issues that deal with our unhealthy racial history and past mistakes as a nation, let’s just all agree that changing the name of a street is not something we should be focusing any time or energy on. We have much bigger fish to fry and we should get started.