The tragedy and chaos in Charlottesville over the past weekend has re-ignited a discussion whether or not Confederate and white supremacist statues should be taken down across the country. The answer is simple. Yes, they need to be taken down immediately.
Confederate statues are not simply “celebrating Southern heritage” as defenders claim. They are a symbol of slavery and these men are our country’s biggest traitors. To diminish their insulting presence by saying it’s just “Southern heritage” is a spit to the face of every descendant of slaves, every black American and those who fought and died to preserve America from the Confederacy. Slavery over other human beings is one of the most despicable, disgusting things that we have ever done as a species. It hurts to even need to type this, but celebrating slavery’s defenders needs to end.
We need to take a lesson from the Germans. Germany has come a long way over the past 70+ years since Hitler’s reign. Not only is brandishing Swastikas illegal, but their entire country condemns the actions of Hitler and the Nazis. They do not celebrate the Holocaust, they memorialize and mourn it. They have museums and remembrances to honor the past, and remind themselves why we will never go there again as a people. The term “Never Again” is famously used as a tribute to what we shall never allow ourselves to become, ever again. Imagine Germans proudly displaying a Swastika on their vehicles and waving Nazi flags and as a defense say it “celebrates German history.” As they should, our stomachs would turn at this sight. Our stomachs need to be equally as revolted for those proudly loving the Confederacy, white supremacists and their statues. We need to be better than our current Governor who likened taking down these statues as removing September 11th statues. We cannot compare innocent lives who died in the Holocaust or 9/11 as even remotely the same as those who fought to maintain slavery. They are simply incomparable.
Statues of these Confederate traitors are not the same as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. What do Washington and Jefferson symbolize and represent? Freedom, the foundation of America and preserving America against the Confederacy. The truth is that yes, they owned slaves, and we should criticize them for that and stop seeing them as gods. They were far from perfect. They participated in this barbaric culture. But when someone sees a statue of George Washington they don’t think anything similar to what they think when they see Robert E Lee. That’s what statues are about – celebration and symbolism.
Supporters of the Confederacy who also claim to be Patriotic to America are simply confused. You cannot be both. The Confederates left the country. They fought against it and attempted to rip it apart. They are traitors, they are not heroes. As one example, here in Auburn, ME I have seen a confused citizen proudly displaying an American flag, the Confederate flag and a bumper sticker that says “If you don’t love America, then LEAVE!!!!” This person is beyond confused and needs to find clarity.
Well then, why were these statues put up in the first place? There have been two major times in our history when Confederate statues were erected – during the era of Jim Crow and during the 60s during the Civil Rights movement. These statues were in direct response to black Americans moving toward equality. They were not erected for heritage purposes, they were put up as a form of white supremacy and to cause continued pain and suffering to the black people of America. They were meant to terrorize and remind the black community who was truly in power. That is these statues sole reason for existence.
50 years after the Civil Rights movement, the black community in America feels so marginalized, so defeated and unequal that they created a movement of the past few years called Black Lives Matter. The thought is “Can we please just acknowledge that black lives matter equal to others?” We have many statues in parks and many highways named after those Confederate generals who fought to keep slavery. How can we question why this community feels like their lives don’t matter equal to ours when we keep around these symbols to constantly remind them? We can’t. BLM’s whole argument is that yes, in the eyes of the law or on paper things are “equal”, but we have systematic racism and as a nation we value black lives less. We need to acknowledge that these statues do exactly that. And then remove them.
These statues need to go into a museum or into a Confederate cemetery, similar to Germany’s Holocaust museums. We cannot white wash this part of history and forget a terrible, dark park of our past. Putting them into a museum or Confederate cemetery would accomplish the desire to not forget the past, while also at the same time not celebrating it.
The best way to do this is to do it through government officials removing the statues – legally, as Baltimore voted unanimously to do after the events in Charlottesville. Groups of people taking the matter into their own hands, illegally destroying the public property is not going to do much to move us forward. It’s hypocritical considering we often demonize violence, vandalism and destruction when it is against our causes we believe in. We have to all work hard to be consistent and do things the right way. The cause and the logic behind their removal is pure, but how things happen matters. Let’s put pressure on elected officials to get this done legally and as a nation-wide movement of equality and progress. Let’s take down these statues and take one more step to actual, real equality.
All opinions are my own and not representative of any other organization, company or person other than me. -James
James is resident of Auburn, a member of the Auburn Democrats, the Maine Young Dems, Maine People’s Alliance, and the Communication’s Coordinator of the Androscoggin County Young Dems