I saw some polling results this morning that suggested a little over 60% of people living in the U.S. were in favor of leaving confederate statues/monuments in place. I have been discussing this topic for a while now, and the overwhelming rationale is because removing them is like trying to erase our history. I don’t necessarily think everyone taking that position has malice in their hearts. In fact, I know that some do not. Taking that position while ignorant doesn’t make someone racist or bigoted. It is simply a byproduct of their privilege. It’s what happens next that will define them. If I could speak directly to them, I’d offer the following:
First, to understand my position on the statuary, there are a couple of premises you’ll need to accept. Mincing words about the Civil War and trying to disentangle it from slavery is counterproductive. Certainly, it can be complex. You can blame economics, state’s rights, geography, geopolitical climate and other issues that played a part. However, an in depth examination of all of those motives can be distilled down into justifications for the necessity of slavery. The confederacy needed slaves to continue their way of life. Every piece of the economy would be negatively impacted, if not entirely destroyed, by abolition. Certainly there were taxation issues and other feelings of disenfranchisement, but remember, at the time, a Confederacy without slavery would not have stood on its own. So, again, an endorsement of the Confederacy meant acceptance of slavery if not an outright endorsement of it. If you do not see that, cannot accept that, and are unwilling to look beyond the rhetoric and understand that to be true, then I have nothing more to offer you.
None of these statues was erected as a reminder of the horrible tragedy of the civil war. They are not accompanied by placards describing the atrocities of slavery and the misplaced righteousness of those that fought and died so that it may continue. The debate isn’t about statues in cemeteries that were erected to honor the dead. These statues were erected at civic places including court houses to remind Black people that even though slavery was abolished, they were not welcome and there would be no justice for them there. To put it simply; honoring the heroes of the Confederacy is to accept that they were heroes. Fighting, and even dying, for and unjust cause is not heroic.
Right now, you have an opportunity. You can choose to take what I offer to heart or to dismiss it and carry on in blissful ignorance. Just remember, there is a difference between learning history and paying tribute to it. The purpose of these statues has not wavered and I’m certain you’re capable of understanding it. The only real question is whether you choose to care. I only ask that you consider those that don’t have the luxury of that choice.
For the record, I’m not opposed to re-purposing them. I truly believe that they could be as powerful an exhibit as slave cabins, “colored” drinking fountains and the Rosa Parks bus inside of a museum. Some should be placed within exhibits and positioned as a reminder that race relations were not suddenly healed at the end of the war. We need to shed the romanticized notions many harbor about “The South” and instead face reality, head on. We need to accept OUR, modern day, responsibility in perpetuating the status quo through inaction and acquiescence. We need to stop deferring these issues to future generations by trying to minimize them simply because they make us uncomfortable. We should not seek to erase the racist history of our country but, its high time we stop honoring it.