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
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!