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A wave of calls for social change is manifesting in movements throughout the country, including efforts to overhaul products with racially-tinged branding and take down public monuments of figures with controversial histories.
Famous food products like Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben's and others have promised to re-brand after facing scrutiny. Meanwhile, protesters have torn down or vandalized dozens of statues nationwide, including the Andrew Jackson monument in Washington D.C.'s Lafayette Square. Debates are surfacing around whether or not monuments for figures such as George Washington or Ulysses S. Grant (both owned slaves, and led America to win crucial wars) should be subject to removal.
Many left-rated voices say the brands and statues in question glorify America's history of racism and inequality, and should be changed or removed so as not to offend anyone or glamorize racial injustice. Some on the left label opponents of such change as racist, and say the U.S. should correct the purported wrongs of colonialism.
Many right-rated voices argue that history should be preserved in the interest of productive conversation and public knowledge, and criticize leaders for allowing statues to be toppled. Many criticize the left for supposedly trying to erase history, and decry the defacing of statues of abolitionists and others not connected to slavery. Other voices, particularly on the right, are speaking out against the apparent sanctioning of mob rule by public officials in allowing statues to be torn down.
Other big news this week: The U.S. broke its previous record for highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases Wednesday; partisan divides are holding up police reform legislation in the Senate; an FBI investigation found no evidence of a hate crime after a noose was reportedly seen in a black NASCAR driver's garage; turnout at President Trump's Tulsa, Oklahoma rallywas lower than expected; the Trump administration suspended certain visas for foreign workers through the end of the year; and an appeals court ordered the dismissal of the criminal case against Trump's former NSA adviser Michael Flynn.
On the Blog: In a now-deleted tweet, NPR Online News misleadingly used a photograph in what amounted to a case of fake news; and coverage of the HHS reversal of an Obama-era healthcare rule differed vastly from left to right.
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Snippets from the Center
"The president stood his ground in opposing efforts by protesters to remove or vandalize public statues and monuments of controversial historical figures, saying it’s “important” for people to “learn from them.”“Very sad to see States allowing roving gangs of wise guys, anarchists & looters, many of them having no idea what they are doing, indiscriminately ripping down our statues and monuments to the past,” he tweeted late Wednesday. "
"Earlier this week, Trump vowed to defend the statues by prepping an executive order to reinforce current laws that place penalties on those who vandalize monuments. The president tweeted early Tuesday that those who deface, damage or destroy federal monuments and statues should receive “up to 10 years in prison.” The push to remove statues of controversial historical figures, particularly Confederate leaders, comes as protests over police brutality have rocked the nation. The demonstrations were sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25."
"Eskimo Pie joins a growing list of brands that are rethinking their marketing in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in recent weeks triggered by the death of George Floyd. Quaker Oats announced Wednesday that it will retire the Aunt Jemima brand, saying the company recognizes the character’s origins are “based on a racial stereotype.” Other companies are reviewing their name or logo. Geechie Boy Mill, a family-owned operation in South Carolina that makes locally-grown and milled white grits, said Wednesday it is “listening and reviewing our overall branding,” though no decisions have been made. Geechie is a dialect spoken mainly by the descendants of African American slaves who settled on the Ogeechee River in Georgia, according to Merriam-Webster.com."
"Chicago-based Conagra Brands, which makes Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, said its bottles — which are shaped like a matronly woman — are intended to evoke a “loving grandmother.” But the company said it can understand that the packaging could be misinterpreted. Critics have long claimed that the bottle’s design is rooted in the “mammy” stereotype."
USA TODAY (opinion)
"Too often we view statues as permanent, perhaps influenced by the size and weight of these commemorative objects. They stay, sometimes due to inertia, long after the initial decision to erect them. Monuments around the world come down when regimes change. You may recall the toppling of Saddam Hussein statutes in Iraq in 2003. Why shouldn’t statues come down when a society’s values change?"
"The real test of America’s values today is whether we can muster the political will to remove these offensive statutes through a peaceful process. Real change doesn’t come from the brute force of knocking down a statue. There are a lot of people who should be heard from before a community — and not a handful of protestors — decides that George Washington or Ulysses S. Grant aren’t worthy of our respect because they owned slaves."
Snippets from the Left
Washington Post (analysis)
"When President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, he claimed that moving dozens of Native nations west of the Mississippi was an act of benevolence. Speaking before Congress, he called the policy “generous.” Instead of “utter annihilation” — the future Jackson foresaw if Indians remained in the East — his policy “kindly offers … a new home.” Native people disagreed. Creek elders informed the president that eviction would be the “worst evil that can befall them.” Cherokees saw “nothing but ruin before us.” The Creeks and Cherokees were right. The policy of removal had a catastrophic impact on these two Native nations and on dozens of other Native nations, both North and South."
"At a time of growing awareness of systemic racism, it is important to challenge a monumental landscape that celebrates Confederate leaders and European colonizers. To fully reckon with our past, however, will require a deeper understanding of the actions and policies of U.S. presidents. Other presidents — Washington and Jefferson — were also slaveholders and guilty of crimes against Native Americans. Even revered opponents of slavery — Lincoln and Grant — authorized genocidal warfare against Native Americans."
The Atlantic (opinion)
"Statues are toppling—even that of Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York; even that of Ulysses S. Grant, the general most responsible for the crushing of the Confederacy. Yet surely some statues, some memorials, some place names and portraits should come down. As David Petraeus has pointed out in The Atlantic, it has long been absurd to have American military installations named for Confederate generals; and one cannot defend keeping a statue of Jefferson Davis or Alexander Stephens in a public building other than a museum. So where should we draw the line?"
"Moral judgment can coexist with humility and perspective. In his remarks, Landrieu, a Democrat, approvingly quoted George W. Bush, a Republican, at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture: “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” That sounds strangely out of mode just now. But its truth illuminates a path forward for an agonized country."
"As support for Black Lives Matter spreads across the globe, attention has turned to how stereotypical images of people of color are an inherent facet of mainstream culture, right down to our breakfast options. Prompted by this moment of national reckoning, Quaker Oats Company announced last week that it would remove the image and name of Aunt Jemima from its products because the character originated from a stereotype. This cued the parent companies of Cream of Wheat and Uncle Ben’s to announce they are also re-evaluating their imagery."
"Socially conscious consumers may be inspiring food companies to rebrand, but don’t expect sports teams to follow suit. The longevity of racist mascots parallels the longevity of racist food branding and indicates the historic dehumanization of black and indigenous peoples in North America is interlinked."
Snippets from the Right
Wall Street Journal (opinion)
"Even though historical figures have complex legacies, a few main points usually stand out. For instance, George Washington isn’t remembered—or revered—because he owned slaves. Many people, including many of his contemporaries, have owned slaves. Washington is remembered because he commanded the Continental Army, won the Revolutionary War and served honorably as America’s first president. He has become a symbol of freedom and independence; that’s why statues of him were built, and why they should stay up."
"People must be judged by the contexts into which they are born. George Washington was born into a time, place and position that made owning slaves likely. That he didn’t dissent and renounce his slaves during his life should be taught and never overlooked; it represents a horrible flaw in his character and a blind spot in his outlook. Yet it isn’t fair to judge him as harshly as we would a slave owner in 2020. He didn’t have the benefit of the past 220 years. Where he did rise above his time and station, however, was in dreaming of and fighting to found a great country that many others lacked the vision to see."
"“This is an injustice for me and my family. This is part of my history, sir,” Larnell Evans Sr., a great-grandson of Anna Short Harrington, who portrayed Aunt Jemima, told Patch. Harrington played Aunt Jemima after being discovered at the New York State Fair in 1935. Critics of the character claim that Aunt Jemima “is based on a racial stereotype.” Quaker Oats announced the removal of the image June 17, saying that it was part of an effort “to make progress toward racial equality.” But Evans said the news of rebranding “comes as a slap in the fact,” according to NBC. “She worked 25 years doing it. She improved their product … what they’re trying to do is ludicrous.”"
"“We just don’t want my aunt’s legacy — what she did making an honest living at the time — to be wiped away,” Vera Harris, Richard’s great niece, said according to Fox 6. “Her story should not be erased from history.” ... Harris and her family have spearheaded multiple efforts to honor Richard, including putting signs leading to Hawkins, Texas that read “Home of Lillian Richard ‘Aunt Jemima,’” according to NBC. “If we wipe out our history, we have nothing to strive for in the future,” she added. “Our history will help us prosper in the future,” Harris told Fox 6."
"In the progressive retelling of history, the role of both victim and oppressor is predestined according to the hue of a person’s skin. Everyone involved is stripped of agency. And every injustice is retroactively framed in the light of contemporary racial grievances. This week, a bunch of people decided that it was time to portray Jesus, an ancient Jew living in Roman Palestine, as a man subjugated over his skin color. The activist Shaun King says “white Jesus” was a symbol of white supremacy. Jesus, he argued, fled to Hellenistic Egypt rather than “Denmark” so he could blend in with the African population. No amount of evidence will dissuade him, I’m sure."
"What do you do when your moral truths don’t align with the historical record? You fix it. As Jacob Siegel notes in an excellent essay in Tablet, moral truths are wrapped in the veneer of scholarship and appeals to forms of authority that are borne from biology and credentialing. This is why New York Times editorialists can cast the American founding as a purely racist endeavor, or throw Ulysses Grant in with Hitler, or erase the sacrifices of thousands of Union soldiers. It doesn’t matter that a slew of distinguished historians with a long records of genuine scholarship disagree. They’re missing the moral truth."