Legacies of Racism (Part 2)

Media outlets, as a result of the fast-paced news cycle, may have largely moved past the deadly Aug. 12 clash that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, but the event has renewed  a discussion that should have been salient in the public sphere before now. As a refresher on what happened, at 8 pm on Aug. 11, a group of white supremacists and white nationalists brought lit torches to the University of Virginia’s campus to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, Confederate Army Commander. They marched militaristically in line two-by-two, young men yelling at participants to stay in line and not step out of formation; the whole scene was reminiscent of a dark past of Nazis and their supporters marching the streets of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The counter-protesters carried clubs and shields, while white supremacist and neo-nazi protesters carried pistols, rifles, shields, and clubs, all protected under Virginia’s open carry law. Also armed and present were the “self-appointed militia” that came in support of the protesters to “keep the peace.” The resulting clashes between protesters and counter-protesters resulted in several injuries. But that proved only to be the tip of the iceberg: the following day, a neo-nazi driver plowed through a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing one protester and injuring nineteen others. The day was characterized by multiple skirmishes between the protesting groups, and two police-officer deaths as the result of a helicopter crash outside the city. The event was mishandled, by city and state police forces alike.

So what has been the result of these incendiary events?  For one, they have re-invigorated debates regarding the appropriateness of Confederate monuments in public spaces. Currently, at least 700 Confederate monuments are erected in 31 different states, and over 200 of those reside in the state of Virginia alone. The argument that these monuments are intended to commemorate those who died in service to the Confederacy is shaky at most. Many of these monuments were posted decades, sometimes upwards of fifty years, after the Civil War, during a revival of anti-black sentiment in Reconstruction South. Some appeared in the wake of similarly racist uprisings in response to a burgeoning black civil rights movement during the 1950s. Thus, it seems that these statues were established more for the purpose of subversively defying the incremental increases in the rights of formerly enslaved black people and their ancestors.  The desire to commemorate and mourn those fallen in war is common and sometimes understandable.War is an instrument that reflects the opinions and interests of a few powerful, and perhaps not the beliefs of every individual fighting.  

However, we do not honor fallen Nazis, and for good reason: those who fought for the Nazi cause, regardless of personal motivations, were supporting a genocidal system that denied basic human rights and horrifically abused minorities.  The same goes for Confederate soldiers.  The open display of Confederate monuments strikes a chord with many, occasionally inciting violence, but more importantly, it normalizes the idea of repression and glorifies the sacrifice of seceded Americans to uphold the slavery.  By erecting these monuments, we as a community, whether explicitly or implicitly, are placing a certain degree of respect and deference towards rebels who not only committed a crime against their government, but also fought and died to protect the right to own humans beings as slaves.  This flagrant disregard for the outcome of the Civil War is unacceptable in a time when the U.S. should be desperately attempting to address its past and move forward into a better future.  If we the people are looking for a solution, keeping, and continuing to erect Confederate monuments is not the answer.