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A Word About Statues

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

On August 28, in Claremont, New Hampshire, some teenagers were playing with a biracial eight-year-old boy. After taunting him with racial slurs they put a rope around his neck and pushed him off a picnic table. He swung back and forth two or three times before freeing himself - it is a miracle he survived.

Where do children learn to do this to other children?

It’s not that such incidents never happened before. But people who harbor feelings that lead to such behavior now feel a greater sense of permission to express them. So the number of such occurrences is increasing. Overt expressions of white supremacy are definitely on the rise.

It is therefore appropriate to protest the placement of symbols of hatred, such as statues of Confederate soldiers in the public square. These statues are not innocent monuments to our cultural heritage. Most were erected during the Jim Crow era to assert white dominance and to intimidate black people. For those who truly care about our history, that is their historic significance.

This is why it is misguided and frankly stupid to extend the battle to statues of Thomas Jefferson or Christopher Columbus. If we removed the statues of everyone who ever had a moral flaw, there would be none left. All the attacks on Columbus are accomplishing is to trivialize the significance of the Confederate symbols and to camouflage the real symbols of racism that still persist.

There is something special about the Confederate statues. The motives for their creation were not innocent. They were put up for a particular purpose. They are memorials to secessionism and apartheid. White supremacists then and now have not marched with banners of the Santa Maria. They march with Confederate flags.

The hate-filled backlash against efforts to eliminate these anachronistic totems to the subjugation of black people, which has already cost one life in Charlottesville, shows the power that these symbols still wield. Toppling Thomas Jefferson will offend Americans with a sense of history. Killing Christopher Columbus will offend the Italian community. But the Confederates are different. They stood not for building this country but for tearing it apart. Removing the Confederates brings out the basest, most degenerate strain of our society, the most ardent supporters of Donald Trump and his xenophobic policies. They are being exposed for who they really are.

This is what we need to face. How could this country allow racist hatred to gain so much political power? What has happened to our soul? How can we seriously entertain any suggestion that there is some moral equivalence between those defending the heritage of slavery and those opposing it? How can we fail to see that racism is still a very potent force in American life and politics?

Making Christopher Columbus the issue is only a distraction, and a way to escape confronting these hard questions.

Those Confederate statues are symbols of white supremacy whose admirers receive winks, nods, and even words of encouragment from our President. If the Trump Presidency has shown us anything, it’s that racial hatred is still a powerful influence in American life, a fossil fuel waiting to be ignited by those willing to exploit it to maintain their power.

September 2017