Buildings That Whites Hate

Ibram X. Kendi has an excellent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the argument that buildings (or monuments, for that matter) named after individuals such as John C. Calhoun can be used as a “teaching tool.” To wit:

But the more I thought about it, and the more I saw it invoked, questions arose in my mind. I started seeing the teaching-tool defense from the reverse perspective. I can find museums and plaques but I am struggling to find prominent buildings and institutions, on or off college campuses, named after people whom white Americans commonly consider their enemies. I am struggling to find buildings named for those who terrorized white people on the scale that slaveholders, Confederates, and Klansmen terrorized black people. I started imagining these memorials and the teaching-tool defense. And the more I imagined the defense from the standpoint of white Americans, the more inconceivable this defense became.

Can you imagine New York University having a building named after Osama bin Laden? Can you imagine NYU officials arguing that retaining bin Laden Hall allows us to learn anew about 9/11? Isn’t bin Laden Hall unthinkable — and rightfully so?

Can you imagine Boston College having a building named after the anti-Catholic politician Nathaniel P. Banks? Can you imagine BC officials arguing that retaining Banks Hall ensures that we don’t downplay the withering persecution of Irish Catholics in the 1840s and 1850s, especially in Boston? Isn’t Banks Hall unthinkable?

Can you imagine Yeshiva University having a building named after the anti-Semitic radio preacher in the 1930s, Father Charles Coughlin? Can you imagine Yeshiva officials arguing that retaining Coughlin Hall prevents us from hiding the history of attacks against Jews that Coughlin and so many other anti-Semites incited? Isn’t Coughlin Hall unthinkable? . . . 

When we peel back its progressive pedagogical covering, the teaching-tool defense is embodied in unequal reasoning. It is embodied in racist logic: our national inability to value the same, to reason the same, to think the same for different racial groups.

To name campus buildings after their enemies as a teaching tool is unthinkable for white Americans. At Yale, Oxford, and Oregon, and on campuses across the Western world, antiracist activists are simply asking for equal logic.

I noted in Loathing Lincoln at least one example (covered in newspapers at the time) of when a statue of Lincoln was dedicated in Richmond, Virginia, that this is how some – a minority, to be sure – reacted. Or, consider how people felt when a statue to tennis great Arthur Ashe was placed on Monument Avenue in the same city. So, I guess I would qualify Kendi’s point somewhat. Still, it is a thought-provoking essay, as is this one by James Loewen.

I’ll let Kendi have the last word:

To name campus buildings after their enemies as a teaching tool is unthinkable for white Americans. At Yale, Oxford, and Oregon, and on campuses across the Western world, antiracist activists are simply asking for equal logic.

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