It seems that with every year I catch myself looking back on the person I used to be. Reading posts from a decade ago sends a chill down my spine. Was I really that naive at 27 to think I could use derogatory terminology and think it was o.k.? Considering that I’m not that person anymore, should I remove those posts? Hide them away in some secret dark, for-my-eyes-only corner of the blog? What does the erasure of my old writing do for my present self? Does it make me feel justified in my change? Or does it make who I am a lie? Because I’ve grown since then, and continue to grow still. Who I am now may not be who I will be in another decade. There are still some beliefs that I carry that some may deem old fashion. And others that may be deemed too radical.
“You can’t erase history” is a common sentiment from conservative Twitter users. This “idea” that toppling statues of Confederate “heroes” is misguided. No one is trying to “erase” or “change” history. History happened – and continues to happen presently – and that cannot be denied. We just don’t want this country to celebrate and memorialize people who fought to enslave others. Removing their statue doesn’t erase the wrongs they did anymore than the toppling of Saddam’s statue wipe out the memory of the pain he inflicted during his dictatorship. People were still enslave, tortured, beaten, raped, and separated from their families. But don’t we deserve to represent our country better by not celebrating its traitors?
An artwork by the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan stirred up controversy in Warsaw in 2012. The piece, entitled Him, depicted Adolf Hitler praying on his knees. It was installed in a former ghetto where thousands of Jews met their end. The public outcry was understandable, but the piece wasn’t meant to praise or memorialize Hitler or his actions. This is neither an apology or an argument to defend its existence. Through a poetic – artistic? – lens, seeing Hitler praying, seemingly asking for forgiveness for all the pain his ideology inflicted, just feels right. Can we ever see Hitler as anything but the monster, the slaughterer of innocents?
The artwork and statues are not equals in any sense. Where the Confederate monuments seek to cement this country’s mistake in capturing and enslaving innocents in a positive light, Cattelan seems to take one of history’s greatest monsters and “unites it with a highly ambiguous moral gesture.” One glorifies a dark time in history, while the other invokes philosophical quandary – is there such a thing as forgiveness for unspeakable acts of evil?
Who am I if not a collection of my histories and futures? My present-self is a byproduct of my education – self and otherwise. To say that I “unlearned” my prejudices is a misnomer. You don’t “unlearn” these things; you carry them with you. Otherwise, you may forget they were prejudices in the first place. Looking through older posts, I no longer recognize who I once was. I don’t use derogatory terminology when referencing the transgender community. I no longer claim to be agnostic. No longer cringe at the thought being consider a feminist – I wear that term with honor.
I do not ask you to ignore who I was, or the people I hurt – knowingly and unknowingly – on my way to where I am now. Who I am no doesn’t excuse who I was then. But I do apologize for ever thinking any of it was o.k. And I will continue to educate myself in matters that I do not understand. That onus is on me to learn, not on you to teach.
- No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
- Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution by Susan Stryker
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie