I was ecstatic to see that Nascar has banned confederate flags. This may seem contradictory since last year I wrote in favor of the display of a Nazi flag in a classroom.
The difference lies in the motive for display. Both flags are symbolic of beliefs, which I find abhorrent, but the use was totally opposite. I do not believe in worshiping symbols in and of themselves. I am glad to see that "taking a knee" in sports is gaining acceptance. Whether we respect our government or not (and the flag is only a symbol of it), we live in a country where we are constitutionally guaranteed the right to express our opinion! This, of course, also applies to the right of peaceful protests! Unfortunately, this right is mistakenly used to defend not wearing face masks to prevent the spread of disease. Health measures should never be a symbol, but rather should be used for the protection they offer.
Another symbol which has gained attention recently is, of course, the display of Confederate monuments. The historic importance is not the issue. At issue is the belief in slavery which underlies them. Many of these monuments were set up years after the Civil War to try and reinstate the worship of a lost cause. Other monuments have, of course, also come into question. For example, there is a statue of Columbus at our state Capitol. Why? Is it to honor Italians? But Columbus was not an honorable person and had nothing to do with California!
More problematic is the statue of Theodore Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This issue has been raised in the past and is complex. Basically, it arises because Roosevelt is on horseback with a Native American standing on one side and an African standing on the other. This is felt to make them subservient and therefore is insulting. It is, of course, open to other interpretations.
Roosevelt conducted studies in the American West and in Africa, which contributed to the museum. He was, in fact, the first U.S. president to visit Africa (I have a copy of his book, "African Game Trails," which was published in 1910). I visited the museum many times when I was a graduate student in New York. (In fact, our older son learned the names of the dinosaurs there at an early age.) The ethnology division was under the guidance of Margaret Mead at that time and was quite excellent.
There are many more monuments around the world which might be taken as insulting. It is difficult to draw lines as to what should be displayed. I might even point out that the original owners of the Black Hills might take umbrage at the graffiti on their sacred Mount Rushmore!
Bruce J. Hargreaves is a retired biologist with a bachelor's degree in field biology, master's degree in public health and a Ph.D. in parasitology. He taught parasitology at the University of Malawi, botany at the National University of Lesotho and was head of natural history at the National Museum of Botswana.