Controversial Statues & Our Ties to the Inanimate

By Athena Abadilla, FINDink Contributor

Could the objects and figures we choose to put on display be the very things that make us who we are as humans?  And, thinking about it in a much greater capacity, how do the choices our local government officials make affect how we are viewed and our dynamics as a community?

Upon wracking my brain over what topic I should focus on for my very first contribution to FINDink, I thought over what makes a good first impression. Then I thought about icebreakers and all those crazy personality-probing questions such as “if you were a flower, which would you be and why?” or “what type of candy best describes you?”  It’s interesting to see the extent to which our answers would be taken seriously; as if simply identifying with a yellow sunflower or chocolate-covered gummy bears would somehow shed light on who you are as a person entirely.  Perhaps it goes to show how much we humans use even the smallest of inanimate objects as symbols that represent our (and others’) beings.

Minority communities and our allies in the United States have been asking one essential question for decades now: “Why, though we are supposedly a nation moving towards peace and racial justice, are our parks and public spaces home to statues that glorify former slaveowners and confederate war generals who had no regards for humanity?”  These questionable statues are seen spread throughout the nation, from places like college campuses to even homeowners’ own front yards.  Images of people who have dealt out gross injustices are memorialized in rock for the sake of preserving history, often taking a toll on the lives of those who have had to suffer because of them.  Though this has been a controversial concern for a while now, it has now risen to the forefront of news and media outlets due to the recent work local officials have been planning to relocate or tear down these monuments that commemorate our country’s racist past.   At many locations around the country, residents from both opposing sides of this issue have been standing up and letting their voice be heard.

In a specific ongoing incident in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacists rallied with anger (and tiki torches) to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate General who fought to uphold slavery.  The frustration that these people had over a statue grew even to the point of violence and bloodshed.  It raises the question: how can someone care that much about inanimate pieces of stone shaped like a person, more than they care about living human bodies that stand before them?  Many do argue that a removal of Confederate objects such as the Robert E. Lee statue is an erasure of American history and will be a detriment in educating our future children.  The keeping and presenting of these items to the public eye is thought to play a huge part in displaying who America (and to a greater extent, the American government) is.  However, these proponents of the racist statues are in no way being kicked off their land, forced into subservience, or deprived of their basic human rights.  Their communities aren’t being pushed into nonexistence, yet they still feel the need to fight back.  It’s amazing to think of the reasons that lie behind such strong attachments to a statue and such bold actions that flow from the value that people place on these non-living things.  

Similar to the United States, the government in the Philippines recently received some pushback when making a decision concerning the displayal of certain inanimate objects.  A relatively new law that came into effect this past summer and kindled a bit of controversy banned the placing of religious icons on the dashboard area of cars.  Naturally, different people with different opinions fell on different sides of the issue and became vocal about it.  This ban, though notoriously known to target the commonly visible rosaries that often hang from Filipino drivers’ rearview mirrors, extends beyond just objects related to religion.  It was put in place as a traffic safety initiative to minimize distraction while driving.  However, legislators have received complaints from the Catholic Church and common Christian citizens alike, expressing their disappointment in the restriction of freedom of expression.  I’m not at all saying that the protesting people and conditions following the Filipino government’s decision is like that of the United States in any way, but I would like to point out the strong and action-fueling passion that the humans in both situations have for the inanimate objects in question.

So we see this trend of attaching deep human value to inanimate objects happening; now what?  It teaches us to be mindful that the physical world impacts and elicits emotions in people in so many different ways; a single statue can mean one thing to one person and a completely different thing to another.  The items we choose to put on display, the items we choose to keep and not remove, and the items we choose to hold dear to us are all crucial parts that compose our social being.  It’s important to understand beyond surface-level and not just blindly accept the face-value of those objects, like statues, that we see day to day.  Ultimately, then, we must be aware of the depth of the people we encounter and intentionally make it a point to hear someone out when they respectfully voice reasons as to why or why not an inanimate object should be removed from the public eye.  It’d be a great fall of humanity if our ties to the inanimate were to be the driving force that severs our ties to each other.

Hoy, anak, is-statue? Disclaimer: the contents of this article reflect my personal views on the topic at hand and are in no way representative of the views/opinions of FIND inc.


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