The protest in Charlottesville didn’t reveal anything new about our country.
Yes, racism still exists.
Yes, the KKK is still active.
Yes, David Duke still looks like a disgruntled Keebler elf.
But amid the assault rifles and swastikas, the reason why the permit was issued allowing this protest to take place has been overlooked: it was started in opposition to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
When asked in a press conference today about confederate statues and their removal, President Trump had this to say:
“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slaveowner? So will George Washington now lose his statues? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson, you like him? … Because he was a major slaveowner … you’re changing history.”
The problem with this statement is that it takes the argument of confederate statue removal to the extreme; that removing these statues would be trying to remove a part of America’s history.
Taking down statues doesn’t change history textbooks anymore than coloring a picture of a purple sky makes it so. History isn’t determined by statues and plaques, it is determined by written record and oral history. The confederacy doesn’t have to be immortalized in bronze so that it won’t be forgotten.
As a black American, I don’t think the confederacy should ever be forgotten. To erase the confederacy and everything that it stood for would be to erase a major source of the systemic racism we see in our country today. To remove the confederacy from our history would mean to remove slavery from our history. And while the confederacy should never be forgotten, it in no way should be glorified.
Removing the hundreds of statues dedicated to the confederacy and confederate leaders across the United States isn’t trying to keep America’s history from being remembered, it’s trying to change that history from being remembered fondly.
Even living in Northeast, Ohio I am no stranger to confederate flags. They adorn trucks and t-shirts, are hung in windows and on flag poles. On my way to church alone, I will pass three confederate flags hanging on fences along the highway.
We must ask ourselves what purpose does this flag and other confederate symbols serve. For too many, these symbols are used to glorify a past when blacks were enslaved. For blacks, slavery means so much more than just working for no pay. Slavery represents families being sold and torn apart, blacks being used for experimentation and slaves being whipped, maimed and killed.
This is why confederate symbols evoke feelings of anger and disgust. We have known since childhood what the confederate flag stands for and the views that those who wave it and wear it hold. While some argue the confederate flag is a symbol for state rights, we cannot forget that the right these states were fighting for was to keep black people enslaved.
President Trump fails to see that there is a huge difference between the statues of people like George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Statues of Washington memorialize him as our country’s first president, not as a slave owner. Statues of Lee have been erected to commemorate a man who fought to keep blacks enslaved. The intent behind these statues is what separates them from each other and why white supremacists will gather around a statue of Lee and not of Washington.
We don’t need statues and memorials to remind us about the confederacy any more than Germany needs statues of Hitler to remind them about the Holocaust. Confederate statues belong in museums, not on college campuses and public parks.
No one needs a daily reminder of the confederacy or of the enslavement of black people. No one should look up to Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis as heroes. Those who fought for years, even after the Civil War was over, to keep blacks in slavery should not be held up as Southern heroes but should serve as reminders of a shameful past that affects our present.