Complicity and Naming Buildings

When I joined my current school, we only had one building named after a person. It was named after St. Clare of Assisi, who I knew only as the patron saint of television.

In recent years, the school has gone through a bout of renaming buildings. We have three more named after nuns and one named after a person I honestly know nothing about, and this has happened at the very time when students at other schools have started protesting buildings named after people they disapprove of.  So I’m wondering what the point is of naming buildings after people, anyway. I never see a defense of some historical name that explains why the person chosen was memorialized in the first place.

It would be pretty interesting to have truthful explanations of why buildings have the names they do. I’m betting the plaque would usually read ‘This person gave us a mess of money and we didn’t ask how they made it. You wouldn’t have this building without their tainted money, so suck it up. You’re complicit.’

That is not the case at my school, of course, since we’re naming buildings after people who’ve taken vows of poverty and obedience. A time will come when that’s viewed as problematic in itself, I’m sure. I hope we will then be honest enough to put up our own plaque: ‘This person gave countless hours to run the school, and we didn’t ask or care whether she wanted to spend her time that way or not. You wouldn’t have any of this without her. Suck it up, you’re complicit.’

What are we trying to accomplish when we take names off buildings? Are we trying to hide from our own complicity? ‘I’m not too good to benefit from this thing I deplore, I’m just too good to admit it.’

Today’s Memorial day, one of the few days in the year when we all unite, or at least seem to, in celebrating the ways we benefit from something we deplore. This is the day we all suck it up. We’re complicit. But tomorrow we will start anew looking for ways to deny that.

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