North Texas Daily

We should not excuse reprehensible actions of historical figures

We should not excuse reprehensible actions of historical figures

We should not excuse reprehensible actions of historical figures
October 10
23:13 2019

I’ve only regretted majoring in public relations once, and it was when an industry official cited historical figure Ivy Ledbetter Lee as the founder of modern public relations. Lee did wrote a Declaration of Principles, established the third public relations firm in the United States and is often credited with issuing what some have speculated to be the first original press release.

However, he also propagandized on behalf of Nazi Germany and represented the Rockefellers after they massacred unionized workers.

The public relations expert who told this information to me did not seem to perceive Lee’s actions as irredeemable, glossing over their impact on individuals in favor of emphasizing the contributions Lee made to the public relations industry, and vaguely referring to the complexities of human nature when the validity of this mindset was called into question. Portraying innocent people as collateral damage while venerating white men of old seems to be a common theme among the white men of today.

Lee may have contributed somewhat to the betterment of society, but there is virtually no way that his respective accomplishments could contend with the combined potential of roughly 11 million holocaust victims. Then again, is that even relevant? Are people not worth more than their perceived usefulness? Personally, I think more highly of a hypothetical person who has not had either a particularly positive or negative impact on society than I do of a man who knowingly participated in a genocide to cement his legacy.

The glorification of deceased bigots is something I have observed too often.

A science teacher I had in high school lauded the work of Werner Heisenberg, who won a 1932 Nobel Prize and developed nuclear weaponry for, you guessed it, Nazi Germany.

I fail to see what would motivate Heisenberg to utilize his scientific expertise in such a way, but according to my former teacher, being morally bankrupt is somehow synonymous with being brilliant. I have often witnessed people equating objectivity with emotional unavailability, but doing so is a gross oversimplification of human nature in itself.

Humans initiate progress in order to improve society, and in order to maintain a functioning society, people have to actually care about one another.

Let it not be said that men are the only ones guilty of deifying historical figures at the expense of minorities, because they surely are not the only ones.

Susan B. Anthony is often cited as a key player in the women’s liberation movement, but her sympathies did not extend to all women.

She and another first-wave feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, prioritized white women attaining the right to vote over black men because they found the comparison degrading. Stanton even attempted to characterize black men as inherently sexually aggressive.

African American activist Sojourner Truth spoke much more eloquently in her “Ain’t I a Woman,” speech than the white feminist who transcribed it would have had the public believe.

Many white feminists I have encountered feel as though the positive impact Anthony and Stanton had on women’s liberation negates the repercussions of their racism, but by prioritizing our own rights over those of black women, we subtly imply that being black invalidates both their womanhood and their humanity.

During my freshman year, a man attempted to justify the actions of his confederate ancestors by claiming they had not acted out of a desire to preserve the institution of slavery, but out of concern for the continuation of their civil liberties.

I would counter by reminding anyone under this impression that the civil liberties confederates were so enamored with included the supposed right to strip other people of their civil liberties and force them into slavery. But even if this were not the case, his ancestors would still be racist.

If they did not become confederates because they felt compelled to harm black people, they became confederates despite knowing that black people would suffer devastating consequences as a result, because they wouldn’t alter their opinions or actions for people they did not regard as fully human.

That exact reality encapsulates why idolizing historically relevant bigots is actually incredibly dangerous.

Progress should not come at the expense of human life because human life is what progress is meant to preserve. Dismissing the suffering of minorities in favor of defending bigoted white men sets an ominous precedent for which people are to be considered valued members of society, and which people are to be perceived as disposable.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

About Author

Rachel Card

Rachel Card

I am a junior majoring in public relations and minoring in sociology. I was born in Austin, Texas, and currently live in Denton with my roommate and starter cat, Gen.

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