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A Short History of the Cancel Culture Movement in Westchester

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Photos courtesy of AdobeStock

As online petitions demand for the removal or replacement of local statues, one writer weighs in on the cancel culture timeline in the county.

Patience wears thin for the cult of censure that seeks to erase from our collective memory those titans of history who contributed to the greater good but committed the unforgivable sin of being flawed members of the human race.

None were saints. Some weren’t even likeable. They were imperfect people in an imperfect union always striving to become “more perfect”— and many risked their necks in the process. But here we are, in this crazy moment in time, debating whether or not social justice is served by subjecting their bronze heads to the destructive whims of a mindless flock of constipated pigeons. I mean… protestors.

It strikes me as ironic that efforts to reconsider, remove, or destroy statues and other supposed “symbols of hate” are often enabled by pandering, cheerleading politicians who are themselves living monuments to mediocrity. (Here’s looking at you, Bill de Blasio.) They will be remembered, too, but only in the small print of footnotes.

Anyway, we are well past the point of merely eliminating — with obvious justification — equestrian statues of Confederate generals who committed treason in the cause to preserve slavery. We’re perilously heading toward the terminal Orwellian stage, in which “every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

The tentacles of revisionist hysteria have curled around each of the presidents on Mount Rushmore — all alleged in one way or another to be irredeemable racists unsuited for reverence under the standards of woke sensibilities.

And who’s setting these standards? Faceless committees of “experts,” that’s who. At least that was the case in Washington, DC, where a specially appointed panel examined a list of 1,330 public buildings, streets, and monuments to determine which were connected by name to racists. The committee whittled the list to 153 “persons of concern,” a phrase that perfectly captures the manhunt nature of the endeavor, only in this case the suspects being hunted were long dead. Included in the perp walk were — yes, you guessed it — the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Did I mention Orwell?

Here in Westchester, the manhunt has been fairly benign and limited mainly to online petitions. One petition has targeted Christopher Columbus in Tarrytown’s Patriots Park. Poor Columbus can’t catch a break. He either did or didn’t discover America, but he did a pretty good job of reaching approximate-America without the benefit of GPS. His detractors have traced every ill of Western civilization to him, and yet there are hundreds of Columbus statues all over the world. There are eight statues and one relief in Westchester alone — though vandals decapitated one of the statues in Yonkers about three years ago. The head was recovered.

Photo by Stefan Radtke

“We’re perilously heading toward the terminal Orwellian stage, in which ‘every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered.

Another local petition demands that Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua be renamed but stops short of suggesting a replacement. (Hmm… what do you make of this, Hillary?) Greeley was an odd, erratic, old coot who commuted from a bucolic farm in Chappaqua to New York City, where he edited the New York Tribune. An abolitionist and a reformer, he was influential during the Civil War and was faithfully read by Abraham Lincoln, to whom, according to historian Harold Holzer, “every word seems to weigh about a ton.”

During the New York City draft riots of 1863, an enraged mob wanted to murder Greeley, in part for his antislavery views. They couldn’t catch him and instead had to settle for setting his newspaper office on fire.

The anti-Greeley petition centers on some racist comments he made about African Americans. Greeley’s outrageous utterances preceded his bizarre and ultimately unsuccessful run for the presidency in 1872, against Ulysses S. Grant — and it’s been speculated that the old editor may have been a little addled at that time. In any case, Greeley’s shelf life was at its expiration date; he died shortly after the election.

It’s probably not a good idea to erect a statue of any newspaper editor, unless it’s at the end of a bar. But Greeley has three statues — two in Manhattan and one at a Chappaqua traffic circle, where the only threat of removal came 26 years ago, when transportation officials suggested more room was needed for the Saw Mill River Parkway.

I figure Greeley this way: If he were alive today, he would be a mad tweeter and have better hair. His 19th-century thinking would be updated by 150 years of political and moral evolution, giving him enough progressive bona fides to appear regularly on Morning Joe.

And then one day, he would finally step in it — maybe by saying something snarky about Kamala Harris.

Boom!

Canceled!


The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at edit@westchestermagazine.com