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Dismantling Racism in Public Art

Since the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre of June 2015, the United States has seen a growing movement to remove memorials and other imagery that glorify and uphold the tenets of white supremacy. Predominately relegated to Southeastern states, removal efforts have often been rife with contention and occasional violence instigated by those who cling to what they believe are physical representations of the cultural heritage of the United States.

As this movement has accelerated and flowed towards the western states, such as California, the efforts for removal has also shifted from Confederate symbols that reflect Jim Crow laws to those that continue to silence and degrade Native Americans and perpetuate a false narrative that Native Americans are subhuman or no exist. Erected during the same era, these ‘pioneer’ monuments glorified the state sanctioned genocide of California Indians and other Native Nations while establishing dominance over an ‘untamed west.’ The intent of the benefactors of these monuments, whether located in the South or the West were the same: to legitimize the white ruling class while using intimidation to educate non-whites as to their ‘appropriate’ place in society.

During the process for removal of pioneer monuments, comparisons are often made to confederate statuary. Many express the belief that the confederate memorials should be removed due to the history of slavery, while they viewed pioneer monuments as a token of appreciation to the ‘uncivilized’ and ‘extinct’ Native American population. There is a prevalent lack of knowledge and education around the true history of slavery and genocide against Native Americans, particularly on the West Coast, which has worked against indigenous communities as they have argued for removal.

Check back for updates to this site as tools are developed to support future removal efforts.


Monuments to the Past and Future:

Reclaiming land and space with Sogorea Te’ Land Trust

by Jewelle Gomez and Inés Ixierda 

As people grow more open to discussion of the exploitation that is the history of this country, it’s become clear that the contemporary landscape is dotted with reminders of the colonialism and racism that have suppressed the cultural expression of Indigenous people.

Removal of statues and other monuments to oppression are a necessary step to creating a healthy, balanced nation. We’ve seen the shadow that ubiquitous Confederate monuments have thrown over the lives of African Americans.  They also provide rallying points for believers in ‘the Lost Cause’ of the institution of slavery.  Political uprisings of recent years have shown a variety of multi-racial approaches in responding to monuments to racism using strategies ranging from grassroots organizing, ballot measures, to direct actions to remove statues, names of institutions and reclaiming public space. Removing anti-humanist monuments is necessary for real democracy. 

Case Study: Early Days Statue, San Francisco, California

After the September 2018 removal of the Early Days Statue in San Francisco's Civic Center, the Indigenous community occupied the empty plinth over a two day period. This video, entitled "Reframe, Refocus, Reclaim"  is a tribute to the often silenced history of Indigenous Peoples and their efforts to reclaim the narrative.

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