Degrees of Removal | When Are We Going Too Far?

The other day, I saw an article about the potential renaming of a “Jefferson Davis Highway” to something that didn’t celebrate the President of the Confederacy. It got me thinking about the cost of renaming things, and created the urge in me to explore it with a post:

  • Removing Statues. What is the cost of removing a statue celebrating a son or daughter of the Confederacy? First and foremost, there is the surface cost of removing the statue and moving it somewhere that places it in historic context. This, in general, is a cost incurred by government, not private organizations. There likely aren’t significant other references to the statue; it is relatively straightforwards.
  • Changing a Mascot. The next step up is changing a mascot, such as is common with schools that have a “Southern Rebel” as their mascot. In general, this would involve getting a new costume, perhaps renaming a building and changing a few signs. The impact on tradition is harder to cost.
  • Renaming a School or Building. A step up the cost ladder happens when we rename a building. What happens when we rename a public school from “Robert E. Lee Elementary School” to “Sojourner Truth Elementary School”. There is likely the cost of new stationary and new websites, and the cost of resigning the school. There is the association of the old with the new, and how one might deal with old yearbooks and such.
  • Renaming a Street. Here we see a significant cost increase. Changing Jefferson Davis Highway to Emancipation Highway impacts much more than a map. There is significant cost to government: street signs must be changed, directional signs on freeways require update. Property mapping databases require update. Similar updates must occur in all mapping services — an impact not to just the government, but many private organizations. Then there are all the businesses on the street that must update their advertising material and stationary, orders, and such. Homes must order new checks and such. This is a significant impact on private citizens, with no recompense from the government. How do we balance that cost against the impact of the name? Can there be a compromise of changing it to a less offensive name (perhaps dropping “Jefferson”)? This is a much harder question.

Then, of course, there is the overreaction renaming, such as ESPN pulling a sportscaster from a game because his name was “Robert Lee”, or similar reactions to the numerous folks named Jeff Davis and such. That is clearly stupid, and an overreaction (deserving of ridicule).