Originally published on Sumner Newscow on June 26, 2020
Happy Friday. As protests continue around the world against racism and, in particular, police brutality there has been a new avenue of rebellion: tearing down statues. The first wave to come down focused on notable idiot explorer, slave driver, genocider, and man who never set foot on United States soil nor figured out he wasn’t actually in India: Christopher Columbus.
American’s obsession with a man who never claimed to discover anything then was posthumously awarded the “honor” of having discovered a land where people were already living for thousands of years never sat right with me, but I’m glad we’re finally doing something about it. As nice as it is that his monuments are coming down (or being beheaded as in some cases), the largest faction of toppling statues concerns the biggest losers in American history: confederate soldiers.
The Confederate States of America was never a country in its own right and only lasted five years, which is shorter than the TV series Glee was on the air, which tells you anything about the success of their rebellion. For a cause as deplorable as wanting to keep enslaving people, why are there so many monuments to famous losers? Is it to honor history? No. Are they targets that everyone tries to hit with apples every day? No. They were always about intimidating Black people whenever there was a modicum of humanity from the government oppressing them.
Below is a chart from the Southern Poverty Law Center tracking when statues or other iconography honoring the Confederacy started going up, and strangely, the biggest spikes happen during the Jim Crowe era and in the 1960s when the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. Even Robert E. Lee, the king loser in their band of traitors, stated on several occasions that these types of monuments should never be erected because they would “keep open the sores of the Civil War.” Statues like the ones being torn to the ground around the nation were never meant to honor our “history.” They were always meant to intimidate and remind Black Americans that there is a sect of the populace who hates them.
We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook or heard the arguments from dumber family members that “tearing down these statues is erasing history” and that is so laughably wrong you almost feel bad for pointing it out. Germany doesn’t have statues reminding their citizens about the Nazis and that time they had a cult defined by their racism, but still seem to remember the 40’s easily.
Even in Russia, they fought a civil war to overthrow the monarchy which is an institution on the much higher moral ground than the Confederacy’s, yet they don’t name their elementary schools after Nicholas II. The idea that we would somehow forget the cause of the only American civil war and the losing side of it is ludicrous and these statues don’t remind anyone of that history except the oppressed parties who walk by it and realize they still live in a country that wants them to remember.
The escalation of that argument leads to another thing you’ve no doubt heard; “if you tear down these statues, you’ll have to go after the Founding Fathers next.” And to that I say: “OK.” And to that I say: okay. The founding fathers were a collection of slave owners who didn’t want to pay their taxes and I guarantee that you and I are smarter than every one of them. The idea that these white dudes built the perfect country and should be venerated for doing so is not only untrue, it’s disingenuous to act like it. Every country that fought for independence before the 20th Century did so under a series of flawed people that accomplished something great. But they don’t need to be treated as gods.
We don’t need to burn down the Washington Monument, but we can easily turn it into a monument to the executive branch or the concept of the separation of powers, which was something actually nice the founding fathers gave us. History and the people who study it will always have a level of nuance that a big bronze statue can’t provide. But in the short term going after the founding fathers is a far cry from targeting confederate soldiers, which is the very least we can do.
What makes tearing down these tributes to racism so important (other than we should’ve done it decades ago) is that it’s a clear symbol of the U.S. finally moving in the right direction. Putting up a statue is a marker in history that can never be erased, but pulling one to the ground is an even stronger symbol. The country is finally fed up with these testaments to our racist past (and largely racist present) and, as a populace, are deciding to do something the government refuses to do, which is what democracy truly means.
The people are making the decision now to take active measures to move forward and a strong symbol of that is by tearing down the testaments to their oppression. And if people are really concerned about somehow losing that bit of history, U.S. history books are packed with people deserving of their own statue that never gets one. We can replace these statues with Women’s rights leaders, prominent scientists and inventors, Civil Rights advocates, and so much more. If you really think these statues you never realized were even in your neighborhood actually make people remember the past, how about reminding them of some of the good people our history has to offer instead.
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