Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Some thoughts on Notre Dame and Colonialism

On Twitter there was a discussion from some PoC regarding their inability to feel any sorrow for the destruction of Notre Dame cathedral because of the European colonial past.

When I suggested that we separate the art and architecture from the history of the people who happened to live in the country where it is located, I was told to mind my own business and not tell them what to do or how to feel.

Pondering this:  What scars must people have that will make them incapable or unwilling to feel the simple sadness of the passing of a great work of art and a world heritage site?

To answer their main point, however, the Notre Dame cathedral was built centuries before France became a colonial power, so, the colonists that have so upset these PoC were not the people who built Notre Dame.

In fact, the people who built Notre Dame were of the same stock of people who, at the time, were continually at war with the Saxon and Angles in Britain, so if anybody should celebrate the destruction of Notre Dame, it should be England.

The main protagonist in my discussions stated that his predecessors' homes were plowed under by the highway expansion in the USA during the 1950s.   I could have countered that many white towns were also economically devastated by the same highway expansion, since it took the majority of road traffic away from those towns.   The gentleman would probably have cheered at the knowledge that these whites were economically ruined.  Or, he would have simply laid claim that his black ancestors had it worse off.

and that's the point isn't it?  This is the old trope of who has it worse?  I suffered more than you because X, when in reality, it was other people who suffered, not us.   We are merely left with the effects.

Yes, there is disparity today, and yes, whites in American do have a built-in advantage due to the system that was established long before any of us alive were squeezed out of our mothers' vagina to take our first gasp of air ... however, I maintain that we all can mourn the destruction of a piece of art, a testimony to the architectural craftsmanship of human who lived, loved, and died over 800 years ago.

and yes, the French destroyed much architecture in Africa ... but there were the great great great great great grandchildren of those who built the cathedral. 

So, does the anger at the object for the actions of the descendants of the builders really prove any point at all?

Or is it simply racist?

"Your builders look like people who enslaved and killed people who look like me, and all those people are dead now, but I'm still not going to feel anything for the building because I'm so pissed off at all the shit that happened before that I'll never be able to change"

This seems to me to be the true tragedy of colonialism, and of slavery:  it has rendered highly intelligent human beings utterly incapable to appreciating art that was made by people who look different from them.

A true sadness, indeed.

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