When I heard that Albany’s statue of Philip Schuyler was being removed, my first response was that the action was an extreme, but well intentioned, reaction to the current Black Lives Matter movement. When it comes to dismantling history where do we stop? Are we going to strip every former slave owner’s name from each edifice and street sign in our country? Is there no historical perspective from which to view the behaviors of people who lived centuries ago?
Christopher Columbus and other explorers devastated native populations and destroyed established civilizations centuries ago, but I am not convinced that was their intent. Their mission was to discover new lands and resources and they indeed did that. But, at what price?
With our perspective of hundreds of years of continued intellectual growth and development, we can see the incredible damage these men, and others throughout our country’s history, caused. While we’d all like to believe, as we were taught in primary school, that America was founded and settled by people seeking religious freedom and opportunity, the truth isn’t quite that benevolent. Especially if your skin wasn’t white.
The first African slaves were delivered to our country’s shore more than four hundred years ago. As “property” they were overworked, raped, beaten and prevented from living their lives as free human beings. We will never know the full scope of the damage caused to generations of families who are the descendants of people who were told they were less than first class citizens. If there’s anything we, as a collective society, can do to eradicate that false message of inferiority it seems more than worth an attempt.
At a time in our country’s history when the president elects to restart his campaign rallies with an event (originally) scheduled to occur on a date that is recognized and celebrated as the end of slavery, it is clear that racism remains a fundamental and serious issue. The initial scheduling of that event was not an accident, but instead can only be interpreted as a dog whistle to the racist Americans who support this current federal administration. Trump truly is the king of the deplorables.
The more I thought it about, the less important a statue of a man dead for more than three hundred years became. Honestly, it’s just a heap of concrete that probably has very limited meaning to most Albanians. I don’t believe I’ve ever spent a moment admiring it, be it as art or a symbol of the city I’ve come to know as my own. I don’t expect to miss it.
Removing the statue of Philip Schuyler is but a small gesture in a much larger movement. The focus should not be on what we are “losing” from our history, but rather on what we can offer to those who have already lost more than can be imagined.