Sanitizing History

With the recent decision of the American Library Association to rescind the Wilder’s Medal for Excellence in Children’s Literature due to “...dated cultural attitudes toward indigenous people and people of color,” reflected in the work of the award’s namesake, Laura Ingalls Wilder, I fear we take another step in the dangerous direction of repeating the very history these actions seek to avoid.  While the American Library Association has every right to create or rescind any award they would like, it is concerning with the recent emphasis of silencing offensive historical content, we also risk silencing some of the most important parts of history.  

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has again been the subject of criticism, a book written and set in pre-Civil War America due to it containing offensive and derogatory terms.  The troublesome element of Twain’s censorship is we may be throwing the baby out with the bath water.  In rejection of these offensive terms we also reject how bold of a statement Twain was making in his day by humanizing a slave and making him one of the heros of his book.  

In the case of Wilder, to remove an award in her name, due to “...dated cultural attitudes...” is equally dangerous as we must then begin to embrace the fact that if certain attitudes were “cultural” and “dated” then it would be unwise to ever honor anyone, as their memory and accomplishments will always be subject to the evolving views of future cultures.  We must be careful when sanitizing history’s unpleasant elements, for as we tear down statutes and memorials dedicated to people who were viewed as the heroes of their day but the villains of today, we also tear down their memory. In doing so, it's possible we will also tear down the opportunity of future generations to understand why these figures were so controversial. 

If history has taught us anything, it's that it is repetitive.  Should the prevailing mindsets of past generations ever come back around, shouldn't we have preserved all of history, both the negative and positive?

Statues don’t honor people.....people honor people.   But statues can help us to remember people -- and even evil and flawed people are worth remembering.  In fact, evil people may be the most important of all to remember!  For if it is forgotten history that is more likely to be repeated shouldn't we seek to never forget history's most troubling or uncomfortable elements? Lest future generations recreate the very things we erased. 


Popular Posts