The “Monsurrection” 2020

June 25, 2020

On Tuesday night, I taught several classic poems and short stories in a three and a half hour period. One of them, James Baldwin’s harrowing account of a lynching, “Going to Meet the Man,” was by all accounts a challenging piece of reading on the part of the students. Indeed, it has not gotten much easier for me to read over the years. Even a half-dozen encounters with Baldwin’s story have not enabled me to get through the story without looking up from the page, as though I could somehow avert my eyes from the psychopathology that has ravaged the United States of America.

One of my students reported to that class that close to 5,000 incidents of extreme racial violence occurred between the end of Reconstruction and 1950. In my lifetime, how many more hundreds and hundreds == indeed, thousands — of egregious acts of torture and death have occurred at the hands of utter iniquity? Should anyone really be shocked that the oppressed have had it up to here, as the expression goes.

At this point, “monuments” are being torn down in a rage that unfortunately has targeted even the memory of those who themselves died in order to put a stop to the perpetuation of evil. In Wisconsin, a statue of man who was a hero in the battle against oppression has been decapitated. It needs to be said: when rage becomes indiscriminate, it’s time for those who have lost control of their emotions to begin to think of alternatives. (Those who burned the American flag in the 1960s, as I noted in the previous post, chose the wrong symbol, and should have targeted the Confederate flag.) Instead of tearing down the statue of a Civil War hero, why not build a statue of George Floyd in which one of his feet is lifted off the ground, both buoyant with a sense of justice’s triumph, but also poised to strike with its tip anyone who would dare to make him submit again.

One has no choice, it seems, but to acknowledge that a cultural insurrection is taking place, and that the targets are symbolic appears to make it all the more poignantly viable. It is an updating, it seems to me, of the burning of draft cards during the Viet Nam war. It is a monumental insurrection — a monsurrection — in which those who have been oppressed know that “Authority” has infinitely more weapons except in one area: the refusal to accept the insult of seeing the monuments of those who advocated and practiced oppression held up as being admirable, instead of carved into niches of reprehensible hypocrisy.

Let us hope that the statue of Colonel Hans Christian Heg can soon be restored to a place of honor; let us not, however, forget the lesson of the infamy of its desecration: “those to whom evil is done / do evil in return.”