Can We Have A Safe Space Away From History?

Here in the present, we have college students who need “safe spaces” from things that offend their delicate sensibilities. Things like, you know, basic rights (i.e. free speech). That we as a nation have this belief that we can say what we’re thinking, even if it upsets just one person is so terribly problematic.

However, it is not just the present – in fact, it stems from the past that we have such rights. The past itself is terribly problematic, you see, so we must strive to eradicate the problems of the past in order to make today totally safe. We need to have a safe space from problematic history. This is why we as a nation need to purge folks like Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Woodrow Wilson from history.

At the University of Missouri, some people are apparently offended that the man from whom many of the ideas that created our nation has a statue. There is a petition up at Change.org that makes the case:

The need to project a progressive environment is just as important as food and shelter to survive. A welcoming environment does not stop at the feet of individuals in particular spaces. A welcoming environment is also determined by its physical environment e.g., the use of artifacts in designated spaces. Some individuals may not see Thomas Jefferson’s statue in the quad as a form of oppression, but in higher education settings where highly conscious students are present, it is relatively easy to see and read such nonverbal messages.

[…]

Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. Jefferson’s statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus.The University of Missouri Statement of Values include: Respect – “demonstrated by a commitment to act ethically, to welcome difference, and to engage in open exchange about both ideas and decisions”; and Responsibility – “a sense of responsibility requires careful reflection on one’s moral obligations.

Being responsible imposes the duty on us and our university to make decisions by acknowledging the context and considering consequences, both intended and unintended, of any course of action” (University of Missouri, 2015). Removing Jefferson’s statue alone will not eliminate the racial problems we face in America today, but it will help cure the emotional and psychological strain of history.

All of the evidence laid out is entirely reasonable, except that this very discussion is possible because of the foundations that Jefferson and the other founders laid down in early American history. The idea that we can have a free and open society was something he championed. His philosophy on government? That it was necessary at times to rise against it.

But, instead of focusing on the fact that the man made possible the right of these children to argue without being censored by their government, they wish to argue on his personal life – he had sex with a 16 year old slave, kept other slaves, and did not free them despite believing in freedom for all mankind. That these flaws on a personal level are somehow greater than the nation he helped build.

And, Jefferson (like Jackson and Wilson) was a Democrat, if you’ll recall. That would be the party of the Left, the very ideology these children claim. Jefferson was a slave owner, Jackson slaughtered Native Americans, and Wilson scoffed at the idea of equal rights for white and black men. One of Wilson’s appointees, in fact, wanted to keep blacks out of the party.

We aren’t just asking for a safe space from the things in the present that make us uncomfortable. Now, we want safe spaces from history itself. We want to ignore people, places, events, and ideas simply because they bother us. However, without these things in the public discourse, how will we ever learn from them?