I'm not a big metaphor person; my mind is just too literal, too concrete.
But it did strike me as a remarkably fitting metaphor when the state curator told the Historic Properties Advisory Commission that the floor of the Capitol Rotunda simply can't stand the weight of any more statues.
This came up when the commission — could anyone have predicted only a few months ago its actions would claim front-page space? — tried to find a way to make it acceptable to keep the statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the renegade, self-proclaimed country that tried to destroy the United States in the 19th century, in the Rotunda.
One member of the all-white commission wondered if perhaps they could add a statue of a black Kentuckian to the Rotunda, apparently to kind of even things out. It was then that David Buchta, a commissioner as well as state curator, said the floor couldn't support another statue.
So it is with narratives. We've got our narrative, false though it may be, of the Civil War, the Confederacy and Kentucky's role in both, and we can't support a more nuanced telling.
The load of slavery, rebellion, outlaw raiders (terrorists in today's verbiage) is all but insupportable. Better to stick with the lite version.
The trouble with that, as we've learned painfully, is that history informs our present. If the history is a crazy, mixed-up mishmash of a chivalrous white South that fought honorably to preserve its culture, then people who believe it start doing crazy, mixed up things. Like killing black people.
What in the world are black people supposed to do with this bizarre version of our history? I mean, really, the Confederacy was all about preserving slavery, a system in which blacks were property not people. So, when black school children are touring the Capitol, what are they supposed to learn from the heroic statue of Davis? Should they just brush it off, refuse the freight of our state's officially honoring the Confederate president? What educational materials will the commission develop to lighten that load?
Would it be possible, I wonder, to chisel away at Davis and the others in the Rotunda — Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, Ephraim McDowell and Alben Barkley — to make way for one statue of a black person? Who knows, if they're reduced to busts we might be able to have a woman, too.
Perhaps I've carried this metaphor too far. They aren't, as I said, my thing. But I am really good at recognizing false dichotomies, arguments that incorrectly imply if one choice is made it necessarily eliminates another.
Commission Chairman Steve Collins, who voted with the majority to keep the Davis statue, offered one in explaining his vote. He said that if we really want to serve the memories of the nine black people killed in a South Carolina church, "our time would be better spent on demanding the repeal of voter-suppression laws."
This creates a couple of problems. First, the commission's charge is historic properties not voting rights. I've got no problem with that commission passing a resolution against voter suppression but, frankly, I don't think it would carry much weight.
The second point, though, is where we get into the dichotomy. There is no reason why we can't, and shouldn't do both: get Jefferson Davis out of an honored spot in the building that embodies our state government and repeal voter-suppression laws.
We could add a few other things to that list: eliminate inequity in public education, stop imprisoning black people at six times the rate of white people, stop shooting black men for traffic violations. We could do all of these things. And we really should. It would lighten the load for everyone.
Reach Jaci Carfagno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-1652.