Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calls-out overwhelming white imagery in the U.S. Capitol
“This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like!” wrote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Out of the hundreds of statues and portraits at the US capitol, nearly all are of white men. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) highlighted this on her Instagram story last week as she walked through the Capitol among dozens of statues that represent a white-centered history of the United States.
“When we talk about sexism and racism being cultural – aka just the water that we swim in and don’t even realize – I want to show you a real life example.” AOC wrote, as she panned across the Capitol building.
“This is the crypt of the U.S. Capitol. In general, the Capitol has statues all over the place. They’re everywhere you turn. I walk under past them every day on my way to work,” she said.
AOC is talking about the real-life oppression at play. When it’s not realized, it's easy to take it at face-value – as the norm. But AOC decided to use the opportunity to show it is just a version of history that doesn’t represent its entirety.
Where are the BIPOC individuals and women figures who have been vastly unheard of throughout history? The writers, scientists and revolutionaries who have shaped the country’s history?
“Millions of people come here every year to learn these stories and see who is celebrated as heroes in U.S. history. Who do you see? Who do you not see?” AOC said.
“Even when we see select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told – and virtually no one else.” she wrote.
To make a point, the representative pointed out Queen Lili’uokalani, one of many historical figures who made an impact, but through lack of visibility and representation, one could argue this is erasure at play.
“Check out Hawaii’s statue. It’s not Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii, the only Queen Regnant of Hawaii, who is immortalized and whose story is told. It is Father Damien. This isn’t to litigate each and every individual statue, but to point out the patterns that have emerged among the totality of them in who we were taught to deify in our nation’s Capitol: virtually all men, all white, and mostly both. This is what patriarchy and white supremacist culture looks like,” she continued.
“It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture and how it impacts the present day.”
Critics were quick to try and point-out that AOC mentioned Father Damien, but she was merely highlighting the discrepancies at play. Queen Lili’uokalani as a historical figure is actively being lessened by her lack of presence — and one could argue this is intentional.
“At no point did I say Fr. Damien was a bad figure,” she said.
It’s true. AOC said in her original statement that her observations were to highlight the “supermajority” present in the capital which point to a larger issue at hand, not to condemn any one figure.
We have 100+ statues and portraits in the Capitol. Almost all of them are of white men.
Every single statue there could be of a canonized saint and that *still* doesn’t change the fact that the erasure of women & BIPOC from American history is a feature of white supremacy.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 2, 2020
In her Instagram story, AOC pointed out that in the Capitol rotunda, you can only find only two women: Rosa Parks and Frances Willard.
“Note that Barry Goldwater – a pretty recent GOP figure who built a coalition with racists and voted against the Civil Rights act of 1964 — has a statue. These statues aren’t all relics from history. Some, like this, were made pretty recently,” she said.
They are just statues. But the fact that a lot of these figures are recent shows there is currently no effort to highlight BIPOC or women, further strengthening the narrative that the nation was exclusively built by white men, and has progressed by their influence only.
As Congress expands its diversity, representation will continue to be scrutinized. Statues, though trivial, become much more when they are looking down on you.