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SURIANO: Statue madness continues, extending into sports world

Opinion Column: A Rino's View

President Donald J. Trump again reignited the debate over Confederate memorials in recent days in a somewhat vain defense of his own words following the white supremecist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. But, there has been another monument debate brewing in the world of sports. 

The subject of the debate is singer Kate Smith whose version of “God Bless America” had been a main stay of New York Yankees ball games and Philadelphia Flyers hockey games. Some believe the song to be good luck and even put up a statue of Smith for her efforts in helping them win the Stanley Cup. 

But recently, a song with racist lyrics was brought back up that had been recorded by Smith, leading to the Yankees stopping the use of Smith’s version of the song and the Flyers removing the statue. So how should we deal with this specific case and the larger debates over the history of statues.

Well, the Smith case is far more clear-cut than the one of Confederate monuments. This has been a case of sports organizations rushing to make decisions without really thinking out their actions. There are several factors that these organizations did not consider. 

Let me be clear that these songs have racist lyrics. This is not in dispute. But with context, we should consider if we should damn a woman’s memory as racist. One of the songs is considered to be a satire at a time when racism was far more wide-spread. The song was recorded by Rutgers alumnus Paul Robeson. Should we tear down the brand new Robeson Plaza on the College Avenue campus? 

She also recorded a racist song in a movie from 1933. She did not write these songs, she just sang them. A woman starting off in show business in the 1930s did not have the power to say, "I will not sing that song." Should we damn a woman because of the sexist attitudes of Hollywood? 

We should not forget why she was so beloved. She was a superstar singer but beyond that she raised hundreds of millions of dollars in war bonds to defeat the Axis in WWII and she traveled thousands of miles to sing for the troops. We must not damn someone’s memory with out-of-context singular moments in long careers. 

The ongoing struggle over Confederate monuments is far more complicated. Let me put my cards on the table here: I am an unabashed Yankee. I am a descendant of a Union Army officer and believe General William Tecumseh Sherman did absolutely nothing wrong. I am still uncomfortable with the wholesale tearing down of Confederate monuments. 

Firstly, it should be left up to the local communities as it is not really a national issue. Now, all of the Confederates were traitors — this is not a question. But there is some grey area here. Jefferson Davis should have been hanged after the war and Nathan Bedford Forrest was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan. Neither of these men should have statues and you would not see me arguing against their removal. 

But I am uncomfortable with removing statues honoring dead Confederate soldiers, who mostly did not own slaves or really understand that they were fighting for slavery. Do not get me wrong, they were but they did not understand that. Also, the Confederates had a large military draft. It seems cruel to tear down monuments to dead soldiers. But again, it should be left up to the local communities.

The larger reason I do not like the tearing down of statues is because I believe it is a cop-out. Think back to high school: when did we learn that Christopher Columbus was a really bad guy? At least for me, we learned about the darker story around Columbus Day. Without Columbus Day, we would have likely not learned about it at all. 

High school courses run so fast that I have no doubt he would have been cut out of the popular historical record. We should have to face the bad part of our history and I believe that if we start taking down statues it would be easier for us to forget. 

The response to this will be, “Well we do not have to honor bad people to remember them.” This is true, but I think a less divisive idea would be to add to the historical record. For example, where there is a statue of a Confederate general, the town should put up another statue to  Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman talking about their stories. In addition to that, I would put up a sign explaining the history of the statue and explain the cause of the Civil War — slavery. This would be the best way to continue to keep the country together. 

Robert Suriano is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history. His column, "A RINO's View," runs on alternate Mondays.


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