My Alternative Proposal To Toppling All Of The Confederate Statues
Removing Confederate statues is the hot issue creating division across these here United States. There are those who believe the statues should be removed because they valorize historical Generals who led armies that fought for the rights of the wealthy to keep slaves. Others believe that the statues are a part of American history and should be kept in place so people can remember the mistakes (read: slavery and genocide) of their ancestors. Finally, there are those who think of the Confederate Generals are heroes, deserving of a memorial. I fall closest to the former stance, but argue for a fourth-way. We should make the history of slavery more real and integral to these monuments to supposedly great men and institutions, I am looking at you here The Bible!
These statues, these monuments to the men who benefited the most from slavery, should be renovated to more accurately reflect the lives and deeds of the men they are meant to honor. If the statues are taken down I think they should be replaced by monuments to the victims of our white supremacist economic system. I do not believe that we are in danger of forgetting our history, at least those of us who have made an effort to understand it. I do worry, however, that by removing the statues we will further allow the racists with political and economic power in this country to whitewash their legacies.
I am all for the autonomous removal of Confederate statues by locals who want them gone. Direct action gets the goods and it could save the cities money in removal costs. I would not want to work or study in a community that demonstrates its disregard of my identity by placing a man who benefited from the slavery of my ancestors on a, literal, pedestal in front of my City Hall or Student Union. When Corey Menafee smashed a stained-glass mural depicting slavery on Yale’s Calhoun College campus last year, I celebrated and shared the good news with my friends. When Yale refused to prosecute him I celebrated more.
The generational impacts of slavery on the African American community are profound. According to a 2014 study in the European Economic Review regions that had the highest proportions of slaves in 1860 still exhibit higher rates of inequality, specifically on a racial basis. The researchers, Graziella Bertocchi and Arcangelo Dimico, concluded that the impacts were caused by the political and economic exclusion of former slaves in the aftermath of abolition, and continued disparities in educational resources provided to the communities. I would not deny the descendants of slaves justice and am always happy to support their autonomous actions. However, I think that there is a more strategic, humorous, and amicable way to express this rage than to simply tear down these statues.
This idea was inspired by Eugene Puryear in his speech at the DC Vigil for Heather Heyer, the woman who was intentionally run over by a white supremacist while counter-protesting a White Nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA. He led an intimidating crowd from the White House to the statue of Brigadier General Albert Pike. From the base of the statue he told the crowd how this Northerner left a nativist political party, the Know-Nothing Party, because he saw them as insufficiently pro-slavery. He wrote for pro-slavery newspapers and joined the Confederacy in the war. Some people even believe he had a hand in the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, although his Freemason supporters denied it.
The plaque on Pike’s statue reads, “AUTHOR, POET, SCHOLAR, SOLDIER, JURIST, ORATOR, PHILANTHROPIST and PHILOSOPHER”. I think the most simple form of my idea would be to add, “MASSIVE RACIST”, to it. From time-to-time the statue is vandalized with messages such as, “Black Lives Matter”. I think this should be done more. But during Puryear’s speech members of the crowd began to yell out, “Tear it down!” Then the crowd began to chant it. Puryear even seemed to flirt with the idea for a moment. If it would have happened I would have helped. But I think DC could have more impact on the national debate by replacing the statue to memorialize the cruelty of slavery for its victims, and to paint its historical villains for what they were.
In the heart of America I cannot imagine local town councils being particularly open to my proposals. We can demand that they replace statues for Robert E. Lee with ones that tell readers how he extended his slaves internment for five years after their previous master had set them free, or accounts of his order to, “Lay it on well”, to a Constable about to give dozens of lashes to three escaped slaves. We can offer to renovate the statue for them. And we can hope that they respond to the wishes of local non-white and anti-racist voices.
We can try, and if we fail we can take the matter into our own hands. But I recommend turning these emotion-laden statues into beautiful, educational, self-aware public spaces. Instead of simply cratering them and leaving local governments to clean up the mess. This would be a pro-active culture jamming project with the potential to empower people and deepen communities.