Steve Coon Blog

Symbols without Substance

America was roiled in 2020 by a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic slump, severe weather and protests demanding police reform following the deaths of George Floyd and other unarmed Blacks by law enforcement.

As politicians and scientists debate the best response to the coronavirus, the economy, the impact of climate change on weather patterns, the anti-racism protests have been marked by empty words and actions

Activists have focused on what they consider repugnant symbols of America’s racist history.  Their cries resulted in the lowering of the Confederate flag in Mississippi

Statues of Civil War heroes in the south have been torn down and a Christopher Columbus statue was removed from Philadelphia–the City of Brotherly Love.

The flags and statues purportedly are reminders of the nation’s history of injustice against Blacks, Native Americans and other disadvantaged groups.

Only for the English to see

These actions have splashed headlines and images across traditional and social media.   But they are symbols without substance.

Not a single improvement has been made to poor neighborhood schools. Long overdue structural repairs remain undone; too many students still lack guidance counselors, have no iPads or personal computers and learn from out of date books.

Toppling statues did nothing to end the social inequities that continue in America.

The George Floyd protests turned violent but did not end the violence, crime, poverty and drug problem in poor urban communities or rural America.

Celebrities such as Lady Antebellum and Dixie Chicks changed their names in symbolic support of the protests demanding police reforms and an end to systemic racism in America. 

Even the Washington Redskins of the National Football League is changing to as yet-to-be-determined name.

But name changes did not create a new alcohol treatment program in Native American communities.  New jobs were not created.  Quality medical care has not appeared.

The empty symbolism reminds me of a Portuguese expression.

When the British were in Brazil two centuries ago demanding an end to the slave trade, many Brazilians feigned reform.  They did so only “for the British to see ” (para inglês ver). Nothing really changed.

America faces many problems.  While the protests of 2020 have made news they have made not a single improvement for the people they purportedly are trying to help.

They are analogous to a quick whitewash to make a decaying city look good for a visiting dignitary.  When the vistor leaves and the paint dries and peels, the rot remains.