University of Alabama at Birmingham archeologist Sarah Parcak tweeted detailed instructions on how to bring down an obelisk over the weekend, using 12 detailed tweets as George Floyd rioters in the college town tore down a statue of Charles Linn, a Confederate Navy captain and one of the founders of Birmingham . She then coyly suggested that “there might be’ an obelisk in downtown Birmingham,” and that the obelisks “might be masquerading as a racist monument.” There is, in fact, a Confederate monument in Birmingham, and it is an obelisk. Sure enough, it was targeted by rioters.
The esteemed professor began by saying her comments were a public service announcement.
“PSA For ANYONE who might be interested in how to pull down an obelisk* safely from an Egyptologist who never ever in a million years thought this advice might come in handy,” she wrote. “There might be one just like this in downtown Birmingham! What a coincidence. Can someone please show this thread to the folks there…Just keep pulling till there’s good rocking, there will be more and more and more tilting, you have to wait more for the obelisk to rock back and time it to pull when it’s coming to you. Don’t worry you’re close!… WATCH THAT SUMBITCH TOPPLE GET THE %^&* OUT OF THE WAY IT WILL SMASH RUN AWAY FROM DIRECTION. Then celebrate. Because #BlackLivesMatter and good riddance to any obelisks pretending to be ancient Egyptian obelisks when they are in fact celebrating racism and white nationalism.”
- So, as I read this, a professional archaeologist whose field involves preserving and studying the various monuments and artifacts of past civilizations actively advocated tearing down monuments and statues erected by past American societies.
How could she possibly defend her tweets in light of the mission of her field? Egyptian obelisks were entirely erected by slaves. Well, she can’t, but then integrity and political activism are often incompatible.
- The open pretense of just giving out information when the obvious intent is to facilitate property destruction and historical censorship is both cowardly and dishonest.
Parcak apparently thinks this “I’m not really doing what I’m obviously doing” act is cute. In fact, it is revolting.
- How is Twitter justifying leaving her tweets up? They aren’t trying, and they can’t justify it.
The platform’s foolish decision to interfere with the President’s tweets has left it with an impossible task if it is serious about even-handed policing of its users’ messages.
- Following her tweets, Birmingham demonstrators managed to damage but not topple the obelisk-shaped Confederate monument she referred to.
Imagine if moral luck had stepped in, and one or more of the vandals had been killed or seriously injured carrying out her instructions.
- Of course her tweets were an abuse of her position as a professor and her authority as an archeologist. Also of course, her craven employers refused to directly condemn her conduct, though it is a federal crime to use any facility of interstate commerce, like the internet, to aid or abet participation in a riot. A university spokesman said,
“These are not the opinions of the university. Our 45,000+ students, faculty and staff often use social media to express thoughts that do not necessarily reflect the voice of the university.”
They are, however, the opinions of a university faculty member being sent directly to an overwhelmingly student audience using the prestige of the institution and the faculty member’s authority in its field to attempt to provoke illegal activity.