Across the country, statues of confederate leaders are being moved, removed or vandalized and torn down, including a statue of Jefferson Davis, which was recently removed from the Kentucky State Capitol.
For those who don’t know, Davis was president of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Although not everyone agrees, there is a valid argument for removing statues of confederate leaders, who many would rightly argue were traitors to their country.
There is also a sizable contingent in this country, who want statues honoring past presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson removed because they owned slaves.
Again, whether you agree, it is a valid argument.
In a vacuum, it would be hard to make an argument in favor of honoring people guilty of treason to their country or to honor someone guilty of holding another human being a slave.
The reality is that we don’t live in a vacuum.
Now a group of University of Kentucky professors are demanding that Rupp Arena’s name be changed. The storied facility, which is home to the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, is named in honor of legendary former U.K. Coach Adolph Rupp, who was one of the winningest coaches in the history of college basketball.
The faculty members contend in an open letter to U.K. President Eli Capilouto that “the Adolph Rupp name has come to stand for racism and exclusion in UK athletics and alienates Black students, fans, and attendees.”
In Rupp’s 41 years as U.K. head coach, he signed only one Black player. At the time, the Southeastern Conference was segregated. In the 1966 national title game, Rupp’s all-white team lost to Texas Western’s team, which had an all-Black starting five.
The case for changing Rupp Arena’s name is murkier than some of these other examples.
What is certain though is that every single human being – with the exception of one if you are of the Christian faith – was, is and forever will be flawed to some degree.
Two serious questions that society and we, as individuals, have to ask ourselves in this moment in time are these. If we are going to implement a moral purity test in deciding whether people should be honored or if honors for people should be torn down, then what standards do we use for deciding this? Furthermore, who gets to choose?
Let’s start with something that almost all of us can agree upon. Cheating on your spouse is bad.
Do we tear down monuments and statues of people and leaders, who have cheated on a spouse for instance? How about people, who cheated on spouses multiple times?
If so then any statue honoring former presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton would clearly have to be done away with without question, not to mention never building any future statues to a bunch of other folks, including several current office holders.
Do we honor people, who, when drafted by the military, refused to serve their country, or used a flimsy excuse to get out of serving, like bone spurs? If so, then clearly, we couldn’t honor Louisville native and legendary boxer Mohamed Ali, a man who was no stranger to violence, routinely hitting people in the ring but refused to serve in the military. He was a “conscientious objector” as some would say, or a “draft dodger” as others have argued. There is a valid argument to be made both ways.
It is also worth noting that the flimsy excuse portion would disqualify a certain current office holder, who lives as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There are lots of other moral litmus tests that one could implement when trying to decide whether to honor people, particularly some of our very imperfect leaders.
The second half of this quandary provides an equally perplexing dilemma as to who gets to decide what we remove.
Let’s take the issue of removing the Confederate flag from official buildings and some southern state flags.
Who gets to decide whether the Confederate flag should come down? Do we take a poll? Do we do a referendum where people would go to the ballot box and vote on whether they consider the flag racist? Then if so, it comes down?
We might get a surprising result if we did.
I came across a Newsweek piece a couple of months or so ago that caught my attention with the headline “More People See the Confederate Flag as a Sign of Southern Pride Than as a Symbol of Racism: Poll.”
The piece cites a Morning Consult and Politico poll that revealed 44 percent people of people polled see displaying the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern pride while 36 percent see it as racist.
The point I am getting at is this.
Implementing a moral purity test in deciding whether to honor people is tricky to say the least, let alone determining who gets to decide this issue, and what criteria we use.
Do we honor people based strictly upon their greatest accomplishments? Does a great person’s biggest moral shortcoming forever disqualify them from being honored? Do we look at the person’s accomplishments and flaws as a whole and make a decision based upon that?
Before any more statues or monuments come down, society, as a whole, needs to figure this out.