“History has its eye on you.” You may have heard this if you have been lucky enough to see Hamilton in person, listened to the soundtrack, or watched the filmed version on Disney+. What I find most striking about this specific verse is how appropriate it is for what we have been witnessing as of late. Many people are watching to see what is going to happen next.
For the past several weeks, we have seen images and heard pundits discuss the merits, whether right or wrong, about removing controversial images from all across the country.
Before I go any further, please understand that I do not condone violent destruction of any kind, let alone that of statues and monuments. I believe that there is a way to have these symbols removed civilly to ensure that the public discourse can focus on the rationale as to why people feel the statues or monuments should be removed. In many ways, I feel that educating people as to the “why” needs to be further articulated. After that happens, I believe more people would be willing to listen to the motives behind the desire to remove these public displays.
It is important to remember that statues are commissioned and installed to honor people for who they were and what they did. For many, the removal of the specific statues has been a desire for a long time.
What we need to realize is that the people who are pushing for their removal are not trying to erase the past, but rather make sure the complete history of these individuals is being told. With this in mind, I feel we must remember how, and by whom, history typically is chronicled. History is almost exclusively told by the “victors;” or more specifically, by those who remain in power. Unfortunately, these individuals are rarely interested in making sure “all of the details” are kept. It is why books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States are so vital to read and learn from because these authors painstakingly try to capture and share the complete history.
As we know, history is important to remember… all parts of that history… even if we are not proud of what happened. It is why places like Manzanar (a Japanese internment camp about three hours north of our community) and the Old Slave Mart in Charleston, South Carolina need to be visited and seen because they serve as reminders of our past. These historical sites are different from the statues because they tell the story of what transpired at those specific locations.
It is okay to be ashamed of how our ancestors acted, even though we know that we cannot change the past. However, what we can do is acknowledge that what they did was wrong…even if “everyone else was doing it” or that it was “okay” to act that way in the past. It becomes our responsibility to right the wrongs of the past and we do that by calling them out. It is why even the efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Mississippi’s state flag or the demand that sports teams change their name needs to be made. This is not being done out of political correctness, but rather, because it is fair, it is just, and it is the right thing to do. As it says in Deuteronomy Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdoff (Justice, justice shall you pursue).
Just as our eyes are seeing our past, it is our children’s children, and their children’s children, who will be the ones reading and learning about what took place during our lifetime. Will they be ashamed of their past or proud of the steps we took to right the wrongs of past generations?
Jason Moss is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys.