Louisville, Kentucky, United States : Figure of Confederate soldier rests on a flatbed truck as workers dismantle a Confederate monument near the University of Louisville campus.

History, Erasure and Revision: The next ReNEWS conversation

I have been taking an online class about the years 1962–1965, focusing exclusively on the two leading musical forces of this short but extraordinary time: The Beatles and Bob Dylan. In a recent class, one of my fellow students took umbrage with a lyric by Bob Dylan in which he says he’s sorry if he hurt some women in the past through what we’re led to believe is some pretty rotten treatment, as that was never his intention. The song is “Restless Farewell” and it was written in 1963, appearing on Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” album the following year.

“I will never look at Bob Dylan the same way again. He’s a misogynist. And we cannot let misogyny like this go unnoticed,” my classmate said.

Responses to this ranged from, “Hey, Dylan wrote this song 58 years ago and you can’t look at what someone did then through the same lens as what they would do or say now”, to “Well, the guy never claimed to be a saint,” and, finally, at the far end, “Yeah, me too (or is it #MeToo, perhaps?). I’m deeply disappointed. I thought he was better than this.”

The argument is a real one.

How do we evaluate the past from the vantage point of the present?

How we cope with grievous injury — the absence of marginalized or silenced voices, systemic racism or misogyny or homophobia, for example?

How do we right the historical record and who does the writing?

Would you watch a Woody Allen film now? How about Roman Polanski?

What about that statue of Winston Churchill? That school named for Abraham Lincoln? Christopher Columbus? Cecil Rhodes? George Custer? Would you want to walk past a tribute to a historical figure that waged a genocide against your people?

Should people really have to feel offended, repulsed, victimized, unheard, unseen on a daily basis? Of course not.

At the same time, what about the belief that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it? What do we lose when we erase or revise?

How do we address this? How do we navigate through these difficult and divisive waters?

For many people, especially younger people whose academic studies emphasize Critical Race Theory (or Critical Gender Theory, etc.), the world comprises the oppressors and the oppressed. It is the oppressors — history’s winners, that is — who have always crafted the narrative. The prevailing narrative of the day is seen as a one-sided story: the perspective of the white male. And the call for redress — erasure or revision or rewriting — is insistent.

In our next ReNEWS conversation, set for April 8th at 10 am EST (1500 GMT, 1600 CET), we’re going to dig deep into the issue of how and when and why — and by whom — history is rewritten. We will bring speakers with differing perspectives. Not a debate; a discussion. And, as always, we’re going to look at this divisive issue through the lens of what this means to newsrooms, to editorial choices, to challenges to journalism.

Hope you can join us!

Sign up for the conversation here: www.joinrenews.com

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