I’ve just signed a petition about this bridge to dignity as seen in SELMA. It is named after a KKK grand wizard and confederate warlord. Edmund Pettus Bridge should be the John Lewis Bridge. Named for a hero. Not a murderer. Join this call. It’s past due. https://t.co/EZqu7ic0bU— Ava DuVernay (@ava) June 13, 2020
Bree Newsome climbed up a flagpole and took down the racist, Confederate flag of South Carolina in 2015. I was teaching 7th grade Humanities that year, and her actions were shared with my students.
Newsome’s move, for many, was nothing short of cathartic. Weeks before, white supremacist Dylann Roof gunned down nine parishioners and injured three more during Bible study at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The day before Newsome climbed the flagpole, former President Barack Obama gave a moving eulogy for South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the shooting’s victims, in which he called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, describing it as “a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/6/27/15880052/bree-newsome-south-carolinas-confederate-flag
The debate over whether or not to take down statues of the Confederacy began to heat up, and information and background history of when and why those statues were erected shared, but still the debate waged on. And nothing was done. We forgot about this work.
Just this past week, a mother of one of my favorite people, and she is a loving, Christian woman who is on his side, loves his bravery and voice, and shares his convictions, stepped out in one way –she believes the taking down of the statues is a form of censorship. Now, I am sensitive to the word ‘censorship.’ (This morning a colleague said, unequivocally, that “racist texts need and should be burned.” She didn’t cite specific works. She said it would be an anti-fa act. I said it is also a fascist act. One of the paradoxes of our times. But the book burning post is for another day.)
Instead of debating or making a case whether or not taking down statues is censorship, I had this epiphany this morning, and I am going to explore further. It came to me while listening to the news about Britain putting barricades around statues to protect them from protestors:
I do not know everything about history. I know quite little, actually, and this lack of knowledge affords me this opportunity to think about the statues and monuments I’ve encountered. If I see a statue of a man on horseback dressed in military gear, I assume he’s a famous person who has performed some act of bravery. The statue is shorthand and communicates an agreed-upon statement. If there is a statue of someone that means they did something worth getting a statue for. Right? I mean, we don’t honor horrible people, do we? We honor brave, kind, intelligent, worthy people who save lives, heal others, tell stories, or share a greater gift with the rest of humanity, right? There are statues that are works of art, fountains, monuments, that bring beauty and joy. But think: when looking at them, what assumptions do we make?
When we see Confederate military statues, or statues such as James Marion Sims, we assume heroic deeds. And that is where the true censorship happens. It happens when the voices of those enslaved, tortured, harmed, killed and exploited are silenced. The censorship happens when we don’t know whose land we’re on. And in the cruel legacy of Sims, medical students still think BIPOC don’t feel pain the same way white people do. Still. To THIS DAY. Or what treacherous and heinous acts they performed. If we do keep colonizers, slave owners, and religious zealots statues present, why not put up a huge sign that tells the whole story? Would you have known what Sims did if you just walked through the park, saw his statue, and went about your merry way? Or Columbus? Would you have known about the Taino he slaughtered? If we’re going to keep Christopher Columbus status should we put the hands of the slaughtered around his neck? And how is Georgia planning on blasting off Stone Mountain? (Look it up.) Because that one is large and horrifying.
Now, of course, I would prefer that the statues just come down. Go in a museum basement somewhere. Or melted down and made into beautiful bells and chimes. For every statue that’s taken down, if we need to replace them we have thousands waiting who truly did do wonderful things. Brave things. Acts of courage and generosity. People half-joke about putting up statues of Dolly Parton. What about Harriet Tubman? What about Ida B. Wells?
And I wouldn’t mind seeing his work in every city across this nation: