You Can Tear Down Racist Symbols and Not Erase History

The Fall of John A. Macdonald’s Statue Doesn’t Erase History, It Brings It to Light

Montrealers finally took matters into their own hands and took down the statue of the man who oversaw the creation of the horrible residential school system in Canada Photo Caroline Marsh

The statue of Canada’s first prime minister and the father of Confederation John A. MacDonald, situated across the street from Dorchester Square is no stranger to controversy.

It has been the target of countless instances of vandalism over the years, but the city has repeatedly ignored calls for its removal. These acts have come in response to MacDonald’s role in the genocide of the Indigenous Peoples that lived here thousands of years before any European settlers.

Well, during Saturday’s Nationwide March to Defund the Police, Montrealers in attendance finally decided to take matters into their own hands and tear the statue to the ground, much to the joy of the protesters.

For good measure, MacDonald’s head went flying immediately on contact with the ground. The entire sequence wasted no time going viral, making national headlines.

Following all the attention, many took to social media and began to voice their opposition to the tearing down of the statue—as if it were somehow on par with the countless lives MacDonald himself had either taken or profoundly ruined. Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta even went so far as to offer to install the fallen statue in the province’s legislature.

The bigger discussion surrounding this is the ridiculous notion that tearing down or removing symbols of genocide or oppression equates to erasing history.

What needs to be understood is that there is a massive distinction between remembering the atrocities that happened on this unceded land—acts from which the repercussions can still be felt today—and glorifying them.

This is somehow a hot take, but here it goes: if you at any point owned slaves, contributed to a peoples’ oppression, or—in MacDonalds’s case—oversaw the creation of the residential school system and contributed to the genocide of countless peoples, THEN YOU DON’T GET A STATUE IN YOUR HONOUR.

You get what every other one of history’s monsters gets—your name in history textbooks along with a recounting of all the horrible things you did. That is how history doesn’t get erased.

Taking down statues changes the narrative surrounding people who get put on a pedestal and shines a light on all the harm they brought into the world. Nobody is saying wipe their name from existence because then everyone that has suffered at the hands of people like MacDonald gets forgotten to history.

A similar debate is going on in the south of the United States surrounding the waving of the Confederate Flag. Many southerners want to keep it because it reminds them of their cultural heritage. Well, when the symbol of your heritage is also the symbol used by people who wanted to keep slavery in effect—then PLEASE GOD find a new symbol.

At the end of the day, it’s a telling sign when you have politicians and public figures who stay quiet on or denounce social justice movements who then turn around and throw a hissy fit when their larger-than-life racist action figure loses its head. I don’t give a shit about all the good you’ve done if it’s built on the back of unspeakable horrors. You helped build a country? Congrats. You still nearly decimated an entire civilization and culture in the process so fuck you and your headless statue.