The recent news coverage of the controversy regarding monuments and statues has gotten me thinking. Before all of this, I never realized how many of these monuments and statues existed, nor did I know, until just a few years ago, that the flag of the Confederate States of America still flew over some statehouses in this country.
Regarding the more recent issue, here’s my “flow chart” of thoughts about the subject:
1. Slavery. A human institution for centuries, maybe longer. Accepted as a part of life by all, a “fact of human existence.”
2. Society progresses and evolves, yet, as recently as a couple of hundred years ago slaves were treated as a commodity right here in the United States, bought and sold as property at locations such as the yard surrounding the old courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky.
3. Let’s remember that these slaves (or their predecessors) had their homes invaded, they were captured, ripped from their homeland, their culture, their lives, families, etc. Forced to endure “shipping” to the “new world” under harsh conditions that caused many of them to die. And we (the USA, from its founding until slavery was “ended”), we were OK with that. Ponder that for a moment. Reread the very brief summary of the slave trade above. We were OK with that.
4. Civil war ensues. Slavery is ended. These facts are not disputable.
5. Reasons for the civil war abound. Read Lyon Tyler’s A Confederate Catechism for a viewpoint that’s different from the one many of us were taught in school. Lyon Tyler was a son of President John Tyler, a staunch defender of the Confederate Cause, and quite the critic of President Abraham Lincoln.
6. Think on this: even if all of Tyler’s points are valid (I do not believe that, but bear with me)… even if all of Tyler’s points are valid, the facts summarized in point number 3 above still happened. Again, this is not disputable.
7. Following the Civil War, successful efforts were made to segregate people of color, repress their right to vote, and treat them as second-class citizens. It’s my contention that this, also, is not disputable. Until 1965, a mere 51 years ago, segregation was still the common practice in many parts of the country. Read up on “Jim Crow” and you’ll see what I mean. Additionally, do a little research into “racist art and music” and I think you’ll be shocked at what you find.
8. During the period following the Civil War, efforts were put forth, such as Tyler’s “A Confederate Catechism,” to frame the narrative of the war in a particular light, justifying the conflict in such as way as to ennoble the struggle of the southern states, even comparing their struggle against the north to that of the original 13 colonies against Great Britain. The bravery and courage of southern soldiers, generals, and statesmen was highlighted, and groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy spearheaded a movement to erect monuments and statues in prominent public places, celebrating these luminaries of southern history.
We’ll come back to these points in a moment.
7. Growing up in the north, raised in a white home (not knowing my own ethnic heritage, I usually check the “other” box when asked to indicate ethnicity), I do not presume to know much about the experience of people of color in this country. Having said that, I can relate to you that questions about my complexion, country of origin, etc. have followed me, off and on, throughout my life. As recently as summer, 2013 or 2014, as I walked out of a local grocery story around 11:00 PM at night, someone yelled, clearly at me, “fu..ing ni..er!!) This occurred not a quarter mile from the center of my hometown, 700-800 feet from city hall and the local police station. I’m quite certain that my experience has been but a small taste of what the majority of members of the black community have experienced throughout their lives.
8. Back to the monuments and statues. Here now, is my opinion on the matter. These statues should never have been erected in the first place. It seems to me that they flow from a perspective on the history of the Civil War that is exemplified in Tyler’s document. Again, even if we accept everything that he writes (again, I do not), the facts mentioned above in points numbers 3 and 7 happened. They happened. If I’m successful at all in empathizing with African-Americans, whose ancestors went through the ordeal of slavery, I find that it’s reasonable to believe that these monuments and statues are offensive; that they celebrate a way of life that, again, allowed for points number 3 and 7 stated above to be part of American way of life.
9. Removing them does not erase history. If only it could. Better history may be learned in books, or visiting museums where these items could be better presented. Standing on public ground in prominent places is not appropriate, and never was.
Why now? many ask. Maybe because, as in the case with slavery itself, we as a society are evolving, becoming more inclusive, more moral, and more just. A better question would be, why not now?
Anyway, these are my thoughts on the issue. You are certainly entitled to yours, but let’s all please take a deep breath, turn off the news and social media sources of “information,” (remember, they’re mostly interested in generating revenue from viewers, clicks, likes, etc.) and give this issue the thoughtful reflection it deserves.