The desire to erase our history is growing farcical
At first I thought it was fake news. I was perusing Twitter on Tuesday night and read the following headline: “ESPN pulls Asian announcer named Robert Lee off UVa game to avoid offending idiots.”
I clicked on the link and it led me to an odd rant on a website called Outkick the Coverage. I thought it was a bad joke. I went to sleep. I woke up. It was true. An ESPN sportscaster was indeed removed from covering a University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville because he has the same name as Confederate army general Robert E. Lee.
The biggest difference, of course, is that Robert E. Lee is dead — and has been for almost 147 years! Robert Lee is very much alive, though he will no longer provide the commentary at the University of Virginia’s home-opener against the College of William and Mary on Sept. 2.
In a statement ESPN said: “We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name.” Sheesh. “It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.”
Regret, however, tends to be what happens when you spend your time over-thinking everything in an attempt to never offend others. The U.S. Constitution and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms don’t guarantee the right to not be offended. In fact, both documents guarantee the opposite — the right of people to say offensive things.
The absurd decision by ESPN was made after white-supremacist lowlifes, carrying Nazi swastika flags, marched to protest the removal of a statue of Lee, who fought to protect the “southern way of life” in the U.S. — another euphemism, this time for the evil of slavery. Tragically, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed when a neo-Nazi loser allegedly used his car as a weapon.
Since that violent event, a small but loud minority of people are looking to have other monuments removed, including blowing up Mount Rushmore and destroying the Washington, D.C., monuments of U.S. founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because both men owned slaves. This destroy-the-monument and erase-history trend has morphed into the farcical. Sadly, it doesn’t stop at the 49th parallel.
Closer to home, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario approved a motion this month calling on school boards across the province to rename schools bearing the name of one of Canada’s Fathers of Confederation, Sir John A. Macdonald, “in recognition of his central role as the architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples … and the ways in which his namesake buildings can contribute to an unsafe space to learn and to work.”
Canada’s first prime minister was both a great nation-builder and a deeply flawed human being. He drank too much and, like most people back then of all races, he was a racist. However, it’s safe to say that he was no architect of “genocide,” which is defined as “the deliberate killing of a people or nation.” Yes, Macdonald was in favour of residential schools and called Indigenous people “savages.” It’s a terrible word, but it was the word used at the time. Until recently, Canada’s Indigenous people were called Indians. If non-Aboriginals use that word today, they’d be labelled racists. Does that mean politicians who used that word recently should be stripped from the history books? This is treading on slippery ground.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne put things well when she said, “We need to teach our children the full history of this country — including colonialism, our Indigenous peoples and their history, and about what our founders did to create Canada and make it the country it is today … We need to understand our history, the good along with the bad.”
If we don’t do that, then we’ll be dealing with something a lot more dangerous than fake news. We’ll be dealing with fake history and the inability to learn from the past.