Taking down statues isn't erasing history—it's making history, literally

In a generation or two, kids in history class will be reading about this time period we're living through now. They'll learn about a global uprisings for racial justice in the middle of a pandemic, they'll hear about the specific incidents that sent that spark into a flame, and they'll analyze the significance of the movement to remove statues and monuments that celebrate white supremacy or honor problematic individuals.

Some people claim that removing statues erases history, but the truth is the exact opposite. The entire reason for their removal is that people are finally becoming aware of history that had been erased, through whitewashed history books and glaring omissions in the heroic stories we tell. As a result, people are making history by taking down monuments that symbolize historic erasure.

The history of a nation is essentially the story of its people, and the removal of statues by the people is as much a part of the American story as the individuals and events they were created to honor. It's hard to see in the moment, but this kind of thing is exactly how history is created. In the same way that we middle-aged folks learned about the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, history students will learn about the history being made now with this movement.


In addition, the idea that removing statues erases history is nonsensical on its face. The fact is we don't learn or study history through statues or monuments. We study history through books, primary documents, first-hand accounts and other documentation. There are no statues of Hitler in Germany, and no one claims that not having them erases the history of the Holocaust. And there are plenty of historical figures we've all learned about who don't have statues erected of them.

A statue is not a history lesson; it's a way of honoring someone. The same goes with naming schools or roads or places after someone. It seems to be long past time to seriously question how and why we venerate historical individuals in general, especially since statues beyond the more clear-cut confederacy figures have begun coming down as well.

In recent weeks, people have toppled statues of genocidal explorer, Christopher Columbus, and founding father and former president Thomas Jefferson, who not only wrote the Declaration of Independence but also raped an enslaved Black woman and didn't free the children he fathered with her until he died. This week, a statue of Teddy Roosevelt in front of a New York museum is being taken down by the museum itself—not so much due to issues with Roosevelt himself, but because the statue has him atop a horse with a Native American man and a Black man flanking him on the ground behind him on either side. (Roosevelt's great-grandson, Theodore Roosevelt IV agreed with the museum's decision, for what it's worth.)

Of course, there's a lot of gray area here. "Where does it end?" and "How far do we go with this?" are questions we all have to grapple with.

In addition to the already established purpose of confederate monuments erected to reinforce white supremacy, we need to examine why we put up statues of people in general. The assumed purpose of a statue of someone displayed in public is veneration and honor. But what impact does that have?

Protesters in Portland, Oregon recently toppled a Jefferson statue in front of Jefferson High School. Rather than ask whether the statue should stay, let's ask why it's there in the first place. Does it even makes sense to honor Jefferson by naming a school in Oregon after him, when Oregon didn't even become a state until 30 years after Jefferson died? What's the purpose there, and what's the impact, especially on students Jefferson would have been cool with enslaving if they'd lived at the same time? Does honoring a figure like Thomas Jefferson by naming a school after him prompt us to gloss over the horrific aspects of who he was?

And what's the impact of removing the name? Would students at Jefferson High School never learn the history of Jefferson if it weren't for their school being named after him? Of course not. Was my history education lacking because I went to a high school called North Central and not the name of a historical figure? Of course not. Is there a better way of naming schools, buildings, roads etc. than pseudo-idol-worshiping historical figures? Undoubtedly.

I would argue that very few historical individuals are unproblematic enough to have statues of them displayed in public—especially in a nation whose history is steeped in white supremacy. Removing public figures from prominent places of honor and reverence allows us to sit with the full truth of who people were and are, to see them in their full history. With Jefferson, for example, it is possible to hold two truths at once—that he was a brilliant thinker whose powerful words pushed humanity forward in some important respects, and that he was also a rapist who kept his own children enslaved during his lifetime. But it's hard to balance those truths when we see his face everywhere in places of honor—statues, portraits, namesakes, and even our currency. We can't reconcile those two equally important truths when we constantly see him being honored and celebrated.

If we truly want to not erase history, we need to rethink statues and namesakes altogether. The over-honoring of historical individuals doesn't actually help us learn more about their history; it prompts us to elevate their positive contributions and brush aside their problematic characteristics. While focusing more on people's positives than negatives sounds nice in theory, that doesn't work in a country where the positives of people in power have always directly benefited an entire race of people while their negatives hurt entire races of people.

That's the nature of the history of our nation, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. And I hope our kids learn that truth more fully when they learn why people in our generation chose to topple statues.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Logan Kavaluskis holds his new puppy for the first time.

At 47, Joe Kavaluskis lost his nine-year battle with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer, on January 8, 2020, leaving behind a wife and two sons. But that didn't stop him from fulfilling one of his son's dreams a week later on his 13th birthday.

In the final days of his life, he told his wife, Melanie, to buy their son, Logan, a puppy after he passed. He thought the dog would brighten his spirits after such a loss and it was something he always wanted but couldn't have. Joe was allergic to dogs so he couldn't have one in the home.

"He said, 'Just promise that when I do pass, that you get Logan a puppy as soon as you can, because I know that it will bring him a lot of comfort,'" Melanie Kavaluskis told Inside Edition.

Throughout his childhood, Logan had hermit crabs and lizards, but never the puppy he always wanted. When he was 3 years old he got a stuffed Boston terrier and named it Puppers and took it everywhere he went for years.

Joe thought it was the right time for him to have a real Boston terrier of his own.

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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