Charlottesville has created a lot of important conversations. A couple of days ago, Wilbert Cooper (an editor at Vice.com) wrote an article entitled Let’s Blow Up Mt. Rushmore, as a response to the notion of tearing down racist monuments.
He later clarified that “The headline and URL of this story have been updated. We do not condone violence in any shape or form, and the use of “blow up” in the original headline as a rhetorical device was misguided and insensitive. We apologize for the error.”
Right wing publications have run with the sensationalism of his headline and have used that as evidence of the left’s craziness (as if any more evidence is needed—both sides are crazy as hell.) I am pretty sure Cooper did not mean to actually “blow it up.”
That being said, it was a bad article and he should still apologize.
You may ask, “Well if he was being facetious, why would he have to apologize?”
Captain Obvious Statement
If I wrote a piece about slavery plantations and whether they should be destroyed, and yet I didn’t ask any black people about it, I would be rightfully eviscerated. If I wrote that same piece about slavery plantations and I didn’t even mention or contemplate black folks, I would rightfully be called “racially insensitive.” (No, people of color cannot be “racist.”)
But that is exactly what happened in Vice.com’s piece. The writer, Cooper, raises a very important question, “If Rushmore ever did get “blown up,” what should those dudes be replaced with?”
Yet somehow, in asking that important question, Cooper doesn’t contemplate, ask or even mention the Native people who have lived in that area since time immemorial.
How the hell do you not even mention Native people in an article about gorgeous Native land known as the Black Hills, which was desecrated and, like a plantation, turned into a shrine of white supremacy?
Somehow, Cooper didn’t talk about the Indigenous people from who the federal government literally stole this sacred ground. Somehow, Cooper contemplates a more equal America—without ‘old monuments to famous white American men,’ but perhaps with famous black American men—but doesn’t contemplate a more equitable world where the folks most directly affected by the land theft or this monument, Native people, are even in the conversation.
This is not to pick on Cooper, by the way. I’m sure he’s a good person and is undoubtedly a solid journalist. But Cooper is not just a writer; he is an editor for Vice.com. He is black. He writes about social justice. He has a pedigree that SHOUTS, “I know better!”
Yet, this shows that even a black editor who writes about social justice for Vice.com—a person who is very likely incredibly very justice-oriented—can think of Mt. Rushmore exactly like Doane Robinson and all the racist white folks when they conceived the huge monument: They don’t contemplate Native people. None of us are immune—he thinks through an anthropomorphic, selfish and ultimately from a white supremacist lens. Like gentrifiers across the U.S., Cooper did not and does not contemplate the impact on the people who were there before.
For the Record
I’m cool with removing as many of these monuments of racists as possible although I still think it’s important to ask the folks most impacted by the racism what they think.
Who am I to tell them what’s best for them? But I also think that there’s a danger that we confuse removing the monument with removing the white supremacy that gave rise to the monument. The two aren’t the same. We see that with the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville.
A reporter called me a few days ago and asked me about removing a George Washington statue. ‘Sure. Tear them all down. Cool.’ But I also explained that I feel simply focusing on removing or not removing statues is missing the point.
For me, having a very serious and very honest conversation about history and also these historical figures—from George Washington to Andrew Jackson to Abraham Lincoln—is crucial. That is the point. Why do we hold these slaveholders or genocidal maniacs or mass-hangers up on a pedestal?
Maybe there’s a good reason to keep them around and maybe there’s not. Who knows? Maybe for some, the ‘goods’ outweigh the ‘bads’ and they should be memorialized for eternity. That’s not my call. That’s why the conversation is so important and we should not simply skip ahead to ‘tear them all down.’
I also think that it’s good to have a conversation about what qualifies anyone for immortalization in a statue, including Indigenous, black and woman leaders. No one is above reproach and I’m sure folks can bring up any amount of bad things about our most iconic historical figures.
Does anyone qualify for this royal treatment?
I asked a few brilliant Indigenous people about Mt. Rushmore. Unfortunately, Vice (and surely not the right-wing rags like Breitbart and other garbage sites that have running with this story,) has not thought to ask the original inhabitants about our thoughts on this topic. What else is new, right?
Here is what they had to say:
Nick Tilsen, Oglala
Those aren’t my forefathers on that mountain. They represent the spilled blood of my ancestors. My forefathers are Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse and I would never blow up a mountain to memorialize them. I would do it through my actions to help my land, water, air and people.
Joye Braun, Cheyenne River
Turn it back over to the treaty-signing tribes. We could change the name to shrine the hypocrisy, charge the heck out of the American patriots, give workshops on rewriting history and reconciliation. Or blow it up. Either way it needs to come down. We should also file for theft for all the years they’ve overcharged and perpetuated colonist lies and racism. I think they are culpable regarding the continued racism and the many hate crimes against Indigenous people. It’s a symbol of the colonizer mentality and steeped in racism.”
Chelsey Luger, Hunkpapa
There’s no way of repairing the damage/desecration, but as far as property, it falls right back into the rest of the Black Hills conversation. The Sioux Nation still owns it rightfully, and we should never take the money, and I don’t think we will.
In sum, journalists, you have to include Indigenous people into these conversations and ask, ‘What does this continent look like after we begin to deconstruct white supremacy?’
It’s not just these monuments and things that you consider ‘Indigenous issues.’
You’ve gotta check in with us.
Why? Because we’re the only ones who know what this continent looked like before the construction of white supremacy.
Ask us. We know a little something.
Gyasi Ross, Editor at Large
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories