By Dr. Denise R. Ames
The death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer has sent shock waves throughout the United States, and even the world. My point in this blog is to reflect upon what I see as some of the topics or questions that are being ignored or not sufficiently addressed. It is a good time to start to deeply reflect upon what the events mean to us as Americans, and internalize these thoughts and reflections to start the process of rebuilding something different. In a larger sense, the fate of our country depends on our responses.
The following series of blogs offer #11 and #12 of my 12 Reflections:
#11. Top Down Models
I have read some of the proposals made by the Black Lives Matter movement and others “demanding” change, and I have found that many of them are implementing a “top down” approach. Some city leaders, for example, are “defunding” parts of the police departments without getting community feedback or putting these measures to a vote. The democratic process is messy, with all sides having a voice in measures so important as defunding the police. The democratic principles, the basis of our country, are being abandoned in the name of “righting the wrongs of the past.”
- It Takes Minutes to Tear Down, but Centuries to Build
I am astonished at the rabid actions of a number of activists who are tearing down and defacing statues and monuments that represent our history and traditions. Although I am not particularly fond of Confederate statues, it seems as though there should be community input into the fate of these statues rather than a mob impulsively wielding hammers and spray paint.
As a world historian, I remind my students in their first class to avoid presentism as much as possible. This concept warns us to judge people and events in history within the context of their times. This perspective sees Thomas Jefferson, for example, as a forward-thinking politician taking bold steps to forge a new nation. The vast majority of people at the time did not regard slavery as a moral issue. In fact, slavery has been as a system of bondage used across the world for centuries, including in Africa. Evaluating historical figures should not be a black and white exercise, there are shades of grey that give these figures depth and complexity. Looking back, it useful to note that Jefferson was a slave-owner, but also that he was a man of his times in this regard.
Many activists judge our founding fathers from the values of today, instead of evaluating them on their actions within their historical context. Even poor Abe, the most skilled politician in our country’s history at moving public sentiment and policies about slavery forward, has seen a hatchet job. This lesson of presentism seems to be lost on marauding bands of ill-formed statue defacers, who probably missed that class in history.
I am also appalled at the move advocated by some to transform our country’s democratic foundation to one more akin to Identitarian Marxism. It is easy to tear down the past and all our traditions, successes and failures, in a move to replace it with a utopian ideal that will hardly work in a real world setting.
We need to be mindful of these 12 reflections before events get out of hand and there is no turning back to a time in our country when the democratic process was the norm. As our people and institutions lumber through this tumultuous time, hopefully, we will be able to eventually settle bringing about change to our way of life despite all the obstacles and mayhem that lies in its wake.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences—scholarly research, teaching, reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development trainings, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, developing globally-focused books and educational resources. She has written seven books, blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for the non-profit and clients.
Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!
Divided addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.
It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.
Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books