Is There a Right to Forget? 533
our identities.”33 While identities must be de-essentialized, they cannot be de-historicized. Remembering is important, for Barkan, because both perpetra- tors and victims of the injustice must produce a shared collective memory of the past if they are to move forward with restitution and reconciliation.
The desire for a shared collective memory is, however, problematized by two important factors. First, Barkan is aware that memory is selective, partial, and contested. Even when there is no injustice being examined, we have contesting interpretations of the past. The contested nature of collective memory should not bother us, since there is a strong argument that the proper way to honor the past is to continually discuss, interpret, and examine both the glories and the injustices so that we “never forget.” Second, a shared collective memory is difcult to achieve under conditions of inequality between perpetrators and victims of injustice. This is especially the case when the injustice in question is seen by some as shaping and reinforcing inequalities in the present and by others as having little or nothing to do with the present.
Contested memories of a shared history are evident in renaming Custer Battleeld the Little Bighorn Battleeld, and the designation of the internment camp at Manzanar, California, as a national memorial.34 In addition to reecting legitimate differences of historiographical interpretation, this contestation is also due to the politics of (mis)recognition whereby a “public history which promotes negative views of a group, or simply excludes it from consideration, does real harm to the living members of that group.”35 In these cases, Native Americans and Asian Americans marshaled political inuence to alter our memories of the past and to rectify their representations in our shared public culture. Even with these new and renamed national sites and memorials, their meanings are not singular, making such sites “condensation symbols” in which visitors interpret, project, and understand them according to their own needs, experiences, feel- ings, and fears.36 For example, there is a debate about the extent to which a national African American museum ought to emphasize slavery, because slavery can be “read” as reinforcing black Americans as victims and/or as reinforcing black Americans as resistors and survivors. How the past is remembered and represented has powerful consequences for our current identities and percep- tions.
Nevertheless, the battle to overcome public mis-recognition and to redene identities, historical events, and historical sites is part of the effort to establish a more inclusive and less hegemonic collective memory. For Rhea, the “collective memory of a nation is that set of beliefs about the past which the nation’s citizens hold in common and publicly recognize as legitimate representations of their history. Collective memory is important because shared beliefs about the past provide citizens with common landmarks or examples which can be referred to when addressing problems of the present.”37
However, when collective memory of the past includes discussions of repre-
33 34 Barkan, op. cit., p. x. Joseph Tilden Rhea, Race Pride and the American Identity (Cambridge: Harvard U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 1 9 9 7 ) . Ibid., p. 2. For more on condensation symbols, see Murray Edelman, The Symbolic Uses of Politics 3 5 ( U r b a n a : U n i v e r s i t y o f I l l i n o i s P r e s s , 1 9 6 4 Rhea, op. cit., p. 2. ) . 36 3 7