So I was called ISIS on Twitter (this is the same person who retweeted David Duke, so I’m taking it with a grain of salt). I really don’t think the name calling means what the poster thinks it means as I have never advocated blowing up the monuments or murdering those who don’t share my beliefs.
However, such overly dramatic emotionalism of the defenders of the Confederacy has a long history. In Jefferson Davis’ own words:
Our cause was so just, so sacred, that had I known all that has come to pass, had I known what was to be inflicted upon me, all that my country was to suffer, all that our posterity was to endure, I would do it all over again.
And the fighting goes on: the Louisiana Lieutenant Governor beseeching the President to declare the statues federal monuments and the Louisiana House of Representatives passing a bill to prohibit the removal of such statues unless approved by public vote.
In addition, there are self described nationalists, hardcore patriots, alt-right activists, white power advocates and Confederate apologists descending on the city from across the nation. With AK-47’s in their arms and pistols on their hips, they’ve declared a new Battle for New Orleans and plan to defend the monuments, even unto death.
Removal, mind you, that was proposed in 2015 by the duly elected mayor, passed by a majority vote of the elected city council and, after it was contested legally by white supremacists, the removal was affirmed by a judge in federal court.
Despite the hyperbole, nothing is being destroyed or erased. In fact, our understanding of that entire time period may be enhanced with the inclusion of more context in a museum setting. It is certainly time students learned more than the myths. And that we all truly understood more about the costs.
Almost every African American you’ve ever met had ancestors who were brought to this country in shackles. They were kept uneducated by law and counted as less than a person by our Constitution. Women of color were raped with impunity and forced to breed. Their children were auctioned as property with no regard to family bonds or parental rights. They could be forced to work for more than twelve hours a day in the fields when the harvest was due. They could be starved, beaten and killed by their owners. Families were torn apart and, if you don’t think that hurt, then read some of the heartbreaking information wanted ads from after the war and emancipation.
African Americans have clearly said that it hurts when we celebrate slave owners and leaders of the lost cause. Can any need for historical validation excuse our doing that which causes others pain? Especially when the history is of a system that was cruel to poor whites and brutal to people of color?
Remember, too, that these monuments are at major intersections in the city, which thousands pass daily. Can you understand the revulsion of having your tax dollars used to maintain and preserve statues honoring those who bought and sold your ancestors and fought to ensure the practice continued?
As Representative John Bagneris said during the House floor debate, “It hurts to know you don’t feel the pain I feel.”
And that is the crux of this. We white people haven’t been willing to feel the pain of our brothers and sisters.
People of color have to deal with racism every day, in so many micro aggressions as well as institutionalized in the systems they access daily. Why do we then insist on keeping public monuments that glorify white supremacy they have to see every day?
Put yourself in their place for just a moment. Being empathetic isn’t easy but is something we must do if we are ever to find common ground.
There is a way to be proud of being Southern without just focusing on the Confederacy. We have so many leaders and legends who come from our states. Our regional music and literature is enjoyed the world over. We have food to make angels weep and weather to soothe body and soul. Can we take pride in what we have to live for, instead of what far too many died for?
Please, don’t let the removal of these monuments destroy our relationships with our fellow Louisianians. We’re the only ones who get us. We’re the only ones we have.