Take It Down:Racist Sculpture in the Center of Manhattan

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This white supremacist sculpture in front of the Museum of  Natural History has outraged my brother Mike for a long time. It’s in front of a major museum in a very prominent place on Central Park West.  I remember being angry every time I saw it, when I went to the museum from the time I was a child….Laurie

Mike says:

Statues of Confederate generals are not the only official symbols of white supremacy.

When you walk into the Museum of Natural History from the Central Park side, you are greeted by a statue of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt is astride a horse; he is leading a half-naked Black man and a half-naked Native American man, both of whom are grasping his legs as he points the way.

To call this status racist, jingoistic and extremely offensive is to understate the case. The City of New York and the Museum of Natural History are reminding every visitor every day that they believe in white supremacy, that white privileged people like Roosevelt are appropriate leaders of “inferior” races. The statue says clearly that they are inferior: he’s dressed and they’re half-naked; he’s on a horse and they’re on foot. Thank God that in 2017 we still have powerful White men to show you Black people and Native Americans the way.

Theodore Roosevelt was a white supremacist. In 1913, he referred to Blacks as “degenerates breeding,” In his book Africa Game Trails, Roosevelt referred to Black people he encountered as “ape-like naked savages.” Native Americans fared no better: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians,” Roosevelt said in an 1886 speech, “but I believe nine out of every 10 are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th.”

Is this how we want to represent New York City at one of its finest institutions? Is this how Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Black director of the Hayden Planetarium, should be greeted when he gets to work?

When I have approached New York City (who owns this statue) and the Museum of Natural History about removing the statue, the Museum said the statue would not be removed because it is historic and highlights Mr. Roosevelt as an explorer. Let’s take that apart.

First, historic: Using that flawed logic,“historic” ads and images depicting Black and Native Americans should still be okay. Why not keep the old Uncle Ben’s Rice or Aunt Jemima’s Syrup packages showing them as slaves/servants? Maybe we should have kept the old “Colored” and “White” drinking fountains down south. They are gone because they are wrong and are offensive, and depict a white supremacist ideology whose time is long past.

Second, exploring: how does this racist depiction show exploration? Are we supposed to assume that a White man fully clad and on a horse is exploring with his two companions who happen to be on foot grasping his legs? Exploring what? If he is exploring the US, does that mean the Native American needs White Teddy Roosevelt to explore his homeland? If he is exploring Africa, are we saying that native Africans need a rich privileged White man to explore their own continent?

In post-Charlottesville America, we cannot tolerate this blatantly offensive relic in front of the Museum of Natural History. Take it down now!

Transgender Language Confusions Resolved!

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Debbie says:

I could certainly style myself as a radical copyeditor, but somehow until recently I had missed the existence of The Radical Copyeditor, Alex Kapitan, a genderqueer copyeditor who blogs in the intersection between copyediting and politics, and also sells copyediting services. Believe me, I’ll be taking a deep dive soon. Kapitan says:

I believe that language matters, and that those of us who are working to manifest a better, more just world have a responsibility to use language in ways that describe the world we are working to create, rather than unconsciously perpetuating bias and prejudice.

Meanwhile, however, I wanted to introduce our readers to the very comprehensive The Radical Copyeditor’s Style Guide for Writing about Transgender People. You get a hint in the illustration above. Like all good manifestos, it comes with appropriate disclaimers:

A style guide for writing about transgender people is practically an oxymoron. Style guides are designed to create absolutes—bringing rules and order to a meandering and contradictory patchwork quilt of a language. Yet there are no absolutes when it comes to gender. …

There are profound reasons for why the language that trans people use to describe ourselves and our communities changes and evolves so quickly. In Western culture, non-trans people have for centuries created the language that describes us, and this language has long labeled us as deviant, criminal, pathological, unwell, and/or unreal.

… Just as there is no monolithic transgender community, there is also no one “correct” way to speak or write about trans people.

Then there’s How to use this guide and (perhaps more important) How not to use this guide. The how not to section includes links to some fine articles:

words don’t kill people, people kill words”and the glossary introduction “there is no perfect word,” both by Julia Serano. The second link also takes you to Serano’s glossary of trans, gender, sexuality, and activism terminology

I Was Recently Informed I’m Not a Transsexual,” by Riki Wilchins.

Then we get into the main course of the style guide, which is broken into three sections. I’m limiting myself to one example of each.

Correct/current usage:

1.3. Transition is the correct word for the social and/or medical process of publicly living into one’s true gender.

Use: Chris transitioned at age 32; the transition process

Avoid: Chris is transgendering; Chris had a sex change; Chris had “the surgery”; Chris became a woman

Bias-free and respectful language:

2.4.3. Pronouns are simply pronouns. They aren’t “preferred” and they aren’t inherently tied to gender identity or biology.

Use: pronouns; personal pronouns; she/her/hers; he/him/his; they/them/theirs; ze/zir/zirs; Sam/Sam/Sam (and any other pronoun or combination)

Avoid: preferred pronouns; masculine pronouns; feminine pronouns; male pronouns; female pronouns

As J. Mase III once succinctly put it, “my pronouns aren’t preferred; they’re required.” A person’s correct pronouns are not a preference; neither are pronouns inherently masculine, feminine, male, or female: for example, a masculine person could use she/her/hers pronouns and a female person could use they/them/theirs pronouns.

Sensitive and inclusive broader language:

3.2. Do not use LGBTQ or its many variants (LGBT, LGBTQIA+, etc.) as a synonym for gay.

Use: LGBTQ people versus non-LGBTQ people

Avoid: LGBTQ people versus straight people

If you’re using an acronym that includes transgender people, it’s important to actually include trans people in the context of what you are writing about. For example, if you’re only writing about people in same-sex relationships, or if you’re trying to refer to everyone with a marginalized sexuality, don’t use LGBTQ. Some transgender people (15%) identify as straight.* LGBTQ and straight/heterosexual are not, therefore, opposites, and should never be treated as such.

As you can imagine from these tidbits, there is much more. The guide is thoughtful, careful, respectful, comprehensive, informative and — if you’re a copyediting nerd like me — well-written and entertaining.

If you write anything at all relating to these topics, bookmark it and refer to it regularly. I will.