This is a response to "Same Durant Doesn't Need Defending" by Jillian Steinhauer.

Those comparing the Dakota Nation's choice to destroy "Scaffold" to a censorship of all of Durant's work about non-whites admittedly display a bit of unwarranted moral panic. The Dakota Nation was given ownership of the piece, and as Steinhauer explains, protest is not censorship - censorship is done by those in power. However, I cannot agree with Steinhauer that political correctness is merely a "right-wing specter." Whatever your position, you'd be blind to deny that our culture has become intensely concerned with redefining acceptable speech.

I doubt we will ever reach the scenario those painting Durant as a victim fear - one where white or male artists are censored from discussing any subject involving other identity groups. However, it has become normal in many circles to judge art or other speech entirely on the identity of the speaker, which I find fundamentally absurd. There are many who would argue that white or male artists have no right to speak about matters concerning other identity groups - this attitude does not have institutional power, but it has gained mainstream acceptance in a way that often serves to shut down genuine discussion.

I do not fear an imagined future world of censorship, but I do believe that we are already in a world which may in some ways be worse: a world in which almost any conversation can be quickly derailed into hyper-polarized arguments about offense, identity, and acceptable speech. The controversy around Durant's Scaffold is an enlightening example of this fact, because in all of the discussion one thing is overlooked: the piece was not about the execution of Dakota people by the US government. That particular event was only one of seven gallows referenced in the sculpture. It was about the use of the gallows in US history. Here's an analogy:

Slavery has been a constant throughout all of world history. Imagine a white artist created a piece about the history of slavery, including examples from the ancient world up through present-day human trafficking. It would be somewhat irresponsible to stage this artwork in the US without specifically addressing chattel slavery in American history, and its legacy in the form of racism. And many black people would feel traumatized by its presence. And perhaps rightly so - the legacy of American slavery lives on in a way that, say, serfdom in medieval Europe does not. But if the entire public discourse around the artwork turned onto the black community's objections to the piece, and the piece was subsequently dismantled as a result, something - the primary message of the piece and the discussion of slavery in world history - would be lost.

But so much in our culture now falls prey to this fate - it becomes a controversy, which echoes across the 24/7, oversaturated mediascape, then fizzles out. In the process, the original content is forgotten.