Bryn Mawr wrong to cleanse campus of references to former president

tags: Confederate Monuments, M Carey Thomas, Bryn Mawr College

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author (with Emily Robertson) of  “The Case for Contention: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools” (University of Chicago Press).

As you might guess from my last name, I’m Jewish. And, like every other Jew I know, I was angered and alarmed by the violent display of anti-Semitism recently in Charlottesville, Va.

So you might also guess that I was gratified to see Bryn Mawr College scrub its website of some references to its best-known president, M. Carey Thomas, who was a racist as well as an anti-Semite.

Guess again.

The drive to cleanse the residue of famous racists from public spaces actually distorts our understanding of racism, which has been far more widespread than we like to imagine. And it encourages us to think of ourselves as somehow purer — more aware, more enlightened, and less flawed — than the human beings who preceded us.

Since Charlottesville, Confederate monuments have been toppled in several Southern states. In New York, there were renewed calls to take down the statue of Christopher Columbus on the edge of Central Park. Here in Philadelphia, protesters demanded the removal of a statue as well as a mural of former Mayor Frank Rizzo.

But these figures were creatures of their time, not of ours. Almost any white person in M. Carey Thomas’ era was a bigot by 2017 standards. Not mentioning her name’s use on a building or library won’t help us remember that. Rather, it will make it easier for us to forget. ...

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