Category Archives: Race & Racism

Historical Value of Confederate Statuary?

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.

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As a White person…

What kind of way is that to start a sentence?!?  I’ve been guilty of it myself on occasion, but as I write this, I’m sitting here thinking about how ridiculous it is.

I’ve met and read many people that weren’t White who actually resented the fact that so many White people would expect them to speak on behalf of their entire race.  As if somehow all people of a particular race think alike and therefore you can just ask anyone a how they feel about the confederate flag or Trump or whatever and you expect that person to be answering based on a shared opinion that they all agreed to at some annual convention.

So, I’m left wondering what it is about White people that compels us to start a sentence out with, “As a White person…”?  Are we so self-absorbed that we actually believe we CAN speak for all White people?  I mean, most of the time I see it written fairly passively, perhaps to offer additional perspective on a topic, but still… It’s not as if we’re really speaking as a collective.

Most of the time, I see this written as another form of the the “Not all White people” argument.  In other words, the reader understood the point of what they read, understood how the issue was primarily caused or enhanced by White people/privilege/racism and felt the need to point out that some of us think and act differently.  Ok, but you have to ask yourself, does telling people how you think, “as a White person”, change the current situation?  If not, it only serves an an attempt to dilute the power of the original point being made by trying to point out that, “It’s not quite as bad as the writer made it out to be because not everyone thinks like that.”  In any event, I’m quite certain the person making the point knows that there’s exceptions to their point and that their point may be more nuanced than presented.   They probably don’t need someone trying to dial back their point by offering an alternative White person perspective.

As a White person, I’m going to try and be better about this.  I only wish I was writing on behalf of all of us.

The ‘N-Word’

I have to admit, I just don’t understand the allure of using the “N” word for otherwise well-meaning White people.  Sure, I get why white supremacists and racist types would use it.  What I struggle with is people that would otherwise seem to be on the right side of racial issues.  You know, people that would argue against racism or at the very least consider themselves to be colorblind (which is an entirely different topic that I won’t dig into here).

I’ve spent a lot of time discussing, reading, and listening to various points on both sides of this and I still don’t get it.  I do understand the “free speech” side of the argument, but just because you’re free to say something doesn’t mean that you should.  Isn’t that why we limit children from swearing?  To teach them that there’s a difference between appropriate and inappropriate speech?  Why would a grown adult use language that they know to be hateful, disrespectful and condescending to a huge group of people they’ve never met?  Whether it’s targeted at an individual or used generically is irrelevant.  Perhaps they just don’t have a sense of the impact.  There’s no equivalent word that can be used to imply all Whites are “less than” in the way that the “N” word implies a belief that all Black people are somehow below you.

A classic example was how Bill Maher used it recently.  There’s a guy that, whatever you may think of his intellect or his politics, is generally thought of as someone that wouldn’t intentionally attempt to degrade an entire race.  However, that’s exactly what he expressed when he used the phrase, “Work in the fields?  Senator, I’m a house N…”  He was trying to be funny, but what he did instead was imply that somehow, some slaves “had it good” and that he would somehow have had a choice in the matter of what kind of slave he would be.   Hmmm… you think the slave masters also felt field work was beneath them?  Now, Bill apologized and maybe learned something along the way, but I just can’t wrap my head around how someone that makes a living from being informed on the current social and political climate could be so ignorant in the first place.

So, for those of you that stumbled on this silly little posting and happen to be White, here are some rules I’ve been able to put together based on my extensive research:

  1. DON’T SAY IT.
  2. Seriously, it’s not funny, it’s not artistically expressive, it’s not cool or hip, it’s not somehow ok because you think you’ve earned anti-racism credits by marching or having Black friends, spouses, kids or whatever.  It’s hateful.  It’s hateful at the deepest level.  Using it, no matter the context, conveys that you feel you have the privilege to define its meaning instead of the people it hurts. So, don’t.  Just… no.