One year ago today, Tuesday the 15th of August 2017, we were deep into the aftermath of Charlottesville, the city in Virginia where a violent, white nationalist rally led to the death of an innocent counter-protester. It’s hard to believe a whole year has already passed, but here we are.
And though it has been roughly 365 days, nothing has changed. The U.S. appears to be just as divided as it was then, if not more so. Locally, last year on this day there was a Durham rally in my homestate, which ended with a Confederate soldier statue being pulled down by protestors. This happened because, as quoted in the article:
“This is a really an opportunity, this moment of Charlottesville to see what side of history we are choosing to side with. This is not a call to make someone to feel guilty or ashamed. This is a call to say this is an ask from people of color to say which side are you on… Conversations about loving your neighbor have not worked.”
People flocked to social media to voice their opinions on the Durham story. Opinions ranged from “I enjoyed the satisfying thump of that monument to white supremacy hitting the ground,” to “I support the removal of them, but pulling them down with a rope and a pickup truck in the heat of a protest is not the right way,” to “we should compromise and put them in a museum,” to “you can’t erase history! The monuments should stay put.”
Some counterbalanced against the removal by playing devil’s advocate, i.e., “if it’s okay to take down confederate soldier statues, then what’s to stop KKK members from pulling down a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?” Others implied how it would be problematic, at best, to attempt drafting a law that would only allow for the destruction of property when someone disagrees with what that property stands for. Where would you draw the line? Hypothetically speaking, would this open up a can of worms where people could vandalize whatever they please and claim they had the same protections as other protestors?
And there were, of course, calls to ‘civility.’ Fears that actions like kicking and spitting (even if only aimed at an inanimate statue) would tarnish the cause behind the movement due to the inherent violence associated with those actions. Others pointed out that this was all a bit ridiculous because it’s just talk, and further, that even having the option over whether to act with civility or not in these situations equals privilege, a point I happen to agree with.
At any rate, these were my thoughts from that day, on the Durham story:
I fully support the removal of Confederate statues, because they aren’t a part of NC’s history that I want to commemorate or honor.
I realize that to (predominately) white people, who may have even had ancestors who fought in the Civil War, they consider those statues as part of their heritage and history.
But to others, including – but not limited to – those who are descendants of slaves who were owned by these confederate figures or their relatives, these statues are offensive symbols. They are unnecessary and painful daily reminders of the racism, bigotry, discrimination, and microaggressions they still face on a daily basis.
I’m also aware of several ongoing anti-removal arguments, but primarily, the one stating that the removal of these statues is the symbolic “erasing of history.”
Well, what have we really learned from history? In my childhood education, NC history was presented in glossy text & picture books written by white men who probably never stepped foot in a classroom. They were written by white men in power who wanted to infuse textbooks with warm fuzzy feelings so that us kids would grow up to be proud of our southern heritage, and patriotic North Carolinians who never questioned things.
As a little girl, I actually learned more about racism from my mother, who grew up living in the Jim Crow era, when there was legally enforced racial segregation, from schools to movie theatres, to water fountains and doors. Her firsthand accounts looking back on how egregious that type of overt racism was, and how everyone just thought of it as ‘normal’ were striking notions to me. How could no one speak up and say “this is wrong?!” How could it not occur to anyone that these people were human beings? The questions really bothered me.
Later in life, the combination of a few black friends plus many black writers whose works I read helped me to understand how much potentially worse “silent racism” was (and still is).
I can’t just forgive and forget away the fact that these same confederate men, who are celebrated as heroes and commemorated in historical statues, were also men who fought to preserve the slavery of black people, and some of them were traitors.
The bigger question is, ultimately, who gets to be gatekeeper? Who gets to officially narrate history – to, in the words of Broadway musical Hamilton, “tell your story?”
While I can appreciate the sentiment behind people just doing it themselves for faster action, I wish the protesters in Durham wouldn’t have taken down the confederate statue themselves.
What I wish that group of protesters would’ve done, if they really wanted to be effective, would’ve been fighting to change the stupid bill that former Governor McCrory signed into law in July 2015 that bans the taking down of any statues on public, tax payer’s property that commemorates events/people/military service that is part of NC’s history, whether it’s offensive or not. A new state law would actually be needed to remove those monuments, or to relocate one to a site that’s not of similar prominence.
N.C. General Assembly Democrat, Rep. Graig Meyer, was against that bill banning the removal of confederate/historic statues. (As a side note, I’d like to point out that Graig is one of the younger handfuls of people in the NCGA with decency and common sense, and is someone who’s actually working on and addressing issues deemed important by his constituents.)
Folks, if you want to make a difference, please, please, please vote in your local elections. I cannot stress how important local elections are. Research the candidates, find out what they stand for, how they’ve voted in the past, even reach out and contact them. Ask questions. Tell them your concerns.
I know it’s not as satisfying as hurling a rope and yanking down a cement statue, and I can’t say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed taking part had I been there, caught up in the moment. Voting locally takes research and time, and it’s boring work. But, it’s far more noble an effort.
Here’s a tangent, which I kind of knew I’d want to ask as soon as I wrote the original post: If folks are willing to break the law to remove a statue, what’s stopping them (aside from secret service) from going to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and removing Trump from the White House? Preferably with a vaudeville hook and the loud strike of a gong (you know, like on The Gong Show!) Ooh, and it could be aired on TV, reality show style…