In recent years, protesters around the world have been calling for the removal of commemorations honouring those who are, by contemporary standards, generally regarded as seriously morally compromised by their racism. According to one line of thought, leaving racist memorials in place is profoundly disrespectful, and doing so tacitly condones, and perhaps even celebrates, the racism of those honoured and memorialized. The best response is to remove the monuments altogether. In this article, I first argue against a prominent offense-based account of the wrong of simply leaving memorials in place, unaltered, before offering my own account of this wrong. In at least some cases, these memorials wrong insofar as they express and exemplify a morally objectionable attitude of race-based contempt. I go on to argue that the best way of answering this disrespect is through a process of expressively “dehonouring” the subject. Removal of these commemorations is ultimately misguided, in many cases, because removal, by itself, cannot adequately dishonour, and simple removal does not fully answer the ways in which these memorials wrong. I defend a more nuanced approach to answering the wrong posed by these monuments, and I argue that public expressions of contempt through defacement have an ineliminable role to play in an apt dishonouring process.
Comment (from this Blueprint): Two things should be noted in this paper. First, many have discussed the importance of stopping or blocking the harm of objectionable commemorations. This paper goes a step further and discusses the importance of “answering” the wrong done by these monuments. Second, the paper engages with a “negative” emotion, namely, contempt, that is present at both racist monuments and the effort to confront them. It allows us to see the legitimate role this negative emotion may play in the struggle for equality: contempt can be apt towards inapt contempt expressed through racist monuments. It also nicely spells out the potential practical implications of taking this negative emotion seriously.