What are we remembering?

So this is the deal…I can’t not comment about what happened in Charlottesville this past weekend. I’ve held off on saying much because my reaction to what I witnessed on TV, the commentary from Trump, and the barrage of comments on both sides would have resulted in a screed, and much of that screed would not have been very Christlike. I don’t want to contribute to that. But I do have a lot to say.

The other day my cousin posted an awesome response on his Facebook page. His particular focus was on Trump’s equivocation of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Here is what he said:

“If we’re talking about a founding father, i.e., George Washington, yes he was a slave owner, as were most of his contemporaries. He probably didn’t believe slaves should be free or equal. However, he fought another nation for the freedom to create this nation. Because of the government he established our society was able to mature to the point that people of good [will] of all races will have come to where we are today… The distinction I make is that Lee fought to break the union Washington helped fight for and found. Lee fought to further domestic oppression based on race. I get that he was a central figure in the civil war. [He fought on] the side that wanted to preserve a way of life that existed, in part, based on subjugation of non-white people based on race.

The thing [Trump] misses is that despite what he may want to believe, we have evolved as a society. What was acceptable in Washington’s time was divisive in Lee’s time. Today, the idea that we could do that to each other or subscribe to those beliefs is un-American.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself…but I will add to it.

I cannot, in good conscience, be anything but supportive of removing monuments that were erected in public spaces to memorialize or venerate leaders of the Confederacy. The Confederacy came into existence because of one issue: slavery. Yes, there were other issues, but they all coalesced around the issue of slavery and states’ rights to continue that practice (to view the original documents related to the formation of the Confederation, visit this link; this link is also a good resource for source documentation on the Civil War).

So what are we really memorializing? How are leaders who fought to break apart the union considered patriots? I do not doubt the sincerity of their beliefs that what they were doing was right; but as my cousin rightly pointed out, we have evolved as a society. We should be able to look back on this era of our history and see the error of these beliefs, not to celebrate them, but to learn from them.

What I find so interesting is that the monuments we speak of were not erected immediately after the Civil War. They were erected in the climate of the post-Reconstruction South, when Jim Crow laws were being formed and rights that had been won during Reconstruction were being taken away from Black people. Their existence was twofold: On the one hand, they were built at a time when Civil War veterans were beginning to age and die. They acted as a memorial to them, many of them erected by family members of fallen soldiers.

But, unfortunately, there was also another purpose. In particular, statues of Confederate leaders acted as a symbol, a message, of the true desire of the Jim Crow South to keep Blacks “in our place”. Their presence, especially in places like county and state courthouses, communicated a message of White supremacy and control. This second purpose is not divorced from their presence, and is the main reason they are a flashpoint of division along racial lines.

A  side note: The Confederate flag returned to prominence during the Civil Rights era, and again was a symbol of racism and oppression against the advance of the Civil Rights cause.

This is my primary point: Removing these monuments is not an erasure of history. In fact, I prefer that these statues not be destroyed so much as relocated. They belong in a museum, as a testament to history. Those monuments that were erected to memorialize to fallen soldiers by their families should also pose no real problem or threat, and perhaps a distinction should be made as we discuss the various monuments and statues in question.

As I think through this issue in my mind I have to ask the question: What history are we remembering here? More importantly, I think the question we must all ask ourselves as we consider this is: Are we remembering history aright? As it pertains specifically to monuments that honor the leaders of the Confederacy: If theses monuments obscure the painful reality of what the Civil War was about, they do not properly represent that history. If they serve to idealize an era that was brutal and painful, and that celebrated a belief that is completely and utterly antithetical to not only what our country is supposed to be about, but most importantly to the truth of Scripture and the message of Christ, then they need to be removed. If they venerate someone who led a fight to dismantle our country for the purpose of maintaining an institution that subjugated and dehumanized a race of people – of whom I am descended – then I cannot support their continued existence in public spaces.

As long as we allow these symbols of our past to remain and be celebrated, without being fully truthful about all facets of that past, we will not heal. The wound of race was inflicted on us upon our founding. We removed a race of people who were already here, and then took yet another from their homes and countries on another continent to build up this land and this country. This is the foundation upon which America was built. We cannot escape that; we must face it and realize that we are simply reaping what we have sown. God has indeed blessed America; but that does not mean He will not call us to account for our wrongdoing.

We cannot point the finger at the indigenous people who were here – and still are here, even if we don’t acknowledge their existence – and blame them. We can’t even blame the African people who helped sell off their own. The slave trade was lucrative for them because we participated in it. Our guilt is as great as theirs. We cannot project it all onto them, for it does not negate the reality of we did.

And I say “we” because I am an American citizen. I may have some general idea of where my family came from in Africa, but I have no tangible connection to it, no names, no understanding of custom. And my ethnic makeup is “mixed” in purely technical terms. I have European blood in my family history too, so where then shall I be placed? What would I “return” to? This is my country. And I care about its future. We must let go of an idealized version of our past in order to see that future.

This is not a theoretical issue for me. The people who marched in Charlottesville have a particular goal in mind: To advance and enact their belief of White superiority over every other nation and race of people. They are not “nice people”; they do not wish anything but harm to people like me. They were chanting “White Power” and “Jews will not replace us” as they marched. Any well-meaning person who sincerely wanted to protest the removal of the Lee statue would have left as soon as they heard these things and saw Nazi salutes flying all around them. There is nothing good or well-meaning about what this movement is about.

You may wish that I “get over” slavery, or “get over race”. But the clinging to and celebration of symbols of an era that was defined by it betrays the fact that we as a country have not yet gotten over it. For all the things the Confederacy may or may not have stood for, one thing it most certainly stood for was the continuation of a brutal, dehumanizing institution. I cannot celebrate it or its leaders. We should remember them, but I firmly believe America should not celebrate them either.

For more information, please check out the following:

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy

National Geographic: Why the U.S. Capitol Still Hosts Confederate Monuments

How Charlottesville Looks From Germany

Vice News – Charlottesville: Race and Terror – WARNING: This video contains adult language and disturbing imagery. Please mentally and spiritually prepare yourself before watching.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s