Protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd
have now ignited a sweeping national debate about the racial prejudices of some of the country's political icons. Monuments to Confederate generals who fought with secessionist states in the Civil War to preserve slavery, as well as President Donald Trump's favorite president, Andrew Jackson
, whose record was replete with racism, are obvious targets for tear-downs.
Some would also like to go further, removing tributes to Ulysses S. Grant
, the Civil War general and later president who defeated the Confederacy but whose family owned slaves; Thomas Jefferson
, a slave owner who developed modern democracy and pioneered the American Enlightenment's elevation of science, reason and individualism; and George Washington, who defined the US presidency itself and kept hundreds of slaves
, freeing them only upon his death. Whether messing with their bronze and marble likenesses amounts to a dangerous erasure of history or is a needed corrective despite their achievements is now the subject of fierce debate.
In some cases, what's at issue is how the famous figure was memorialized. Outside the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a statue dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt
-- who faced vitriol in his time for inviting Booker T. Washington, a former slave, author and community leader, to dine at the White House in 1901 -- depicts him astride a horse, flanked by an African American and a Native American on foot, in what critics agree is a symbol of racial subjugation. (The statue is coming down.)
The extent to which great historic figures are stained by their participation in the racist codes of their age is hugely complicated. Yet why should an African American child in the 21st century have to learn in a school named for a Founding Father who owned their ancestors? And why shouldn't White Americans, who have never faced the impediments of their Black neighbors, consider the context of their own forefathers' accomplishments?
Pulling down statues can't change what happened. And digging up the past is treacherous because no one knows where it will end. Reexamining history is painful and requires nuanced public debate -- but is impeded by social media rants, mob scenes and politicians' attempts to demagogue history for their own gain.
'Change it to avoid embarrassment'
People of color in the US are no stranger to the dismantling of their historic and cultural artifacts -- even their own names. A professor in California was recently placed on administrative leave
after arguing with a student over his request to "Anglicize" her name. On the second day of class, Laney College mathematics professor Matthew Hubbard asked Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen to "Anglicize" her name because "Phuc Bui sounds like an insult in English," Hubbard told Nguyen in an email obtained by CNN.
She firmly declined, but the professor pursued his request, explaining that her name sounded like "F*** Boy" to his ear. "If I lived in Vietnam and my name in your language sounded like Eat a D***, I would change it to avoid embarrassment," he said. He later told The New York Times that his first email was "a mistake." "The second email is very offensive, and if I had waited eight hours, I would've written something very different," he added.
Covid-19 has "brought this nation to its knees
," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday. As of Tuesday, half of all US states had recorded higher rates of new cases compared to last week. No state has effectively transitioned from stay-at-home orders "to a public health model of testing, tracking, isolating and quarantining," said Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the US CDC.
The new normal
You may not be able to vacation on the Mediterranean anytime soon, but as some Americans rail against masks and social distancing rules, Italy offers a vision of the future from afar. According to Italian photographer Federico Floriani, life is mostly back to normal in Milan, capital of the coronavirus-hit Lombardy region -- though it's a far cry from the kind of normal that we'd all like to return to.
Businesses are open and restaurants humming, but if you want to enter a supermarket, shop for clothes or board a train at the city's cathedral-like Milano Centrale terminal, you'll have to submit to a fever check. "It's different (from before the coronavirus struck) -- the feeling of being under surveillance," Floriani says. "The other day, I took the train from Milan to Treviso and they check you -- they check your temperature at the train station. It feels like they're looking at you all the time."
The city's sacred aperitivo is back, too, but the famously abundant spreads of stuzzichini -- finger foods like fried green olives and stuffed pumpkin flowers -- that typically accompany an early evening cocktail on the terrace in Milan are no longer. "When they bring food, it's all packaged, whereas we used to have buffet," says Floriani. "Everything is more organized than before because everything has to be under control and nobody wants to take any risks."
"Work wise, if you go to a (photo) set, you still need to get your temperature checked. You have to wear a mask, and you have to declare that you don't have Covid-19," he adds. "It's summer, so I don't like wearing a mask but I do it." But the meticulous precautions are just a "facade" that many Italians only pretend to go along with, he adds.
"You can divide people into two or three categories: the ones who are still really afraid of people, so they're still in a kind of quarantine and avoid going into public places and being close to others. Then there's somebody like me, who does almost everything but I'm not going to have beers or aperitivo. I'm just seeing close friends," he says.
"And then there are -- perhaps half of all people -- who don't give a f***. For them, life is really back to normal."
'Our border has never been more secure'