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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Grappling with history’s demons

<ally that descended upon Charlottesville this past August  was a clear and tragic reminder of just how deeply racism, bigotry, and hate continue to infest our nation. Organized by white nationalist Jason Kessler, the rally was held in response to the proposed removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in an area formerly known as Lee Park. However, it soon became clear that the gathering represented far more than grief for the endangered Confederate monument; it was an opportunity for neo-nazis, klansmen, and other white supremacists to proudly proclaim their vitriolic sentiments against all non-white, non-Christian segments of our society.

It would be absurd to think that such racial sentiments arose recently and suddenly, but it cannot be denied that subscribers to these hateful ideologies have become emboldened by a presidential administration that at times appears sympathetic to their cause. Such sympathy was made completely evident when, after the events subsided and a counter-protester was mowed down in an incident of domestic terrorism, President Trump still refused to condemn white supremacists by name, rather preferring to give vague and superficial statements on the need for unity and law and order. Whatever moral decency that the president still retained was eroded away when he expressed anger at the continued efforts to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces, claiming that such acts were attempts to “take away our culture…take away our history.”

As infuriating and insensitive as the president’s statement is, we must take it extremely seriously, as it it is representative of what large swaths of the American population believe to be true, for many in areas of the deep south, the removal of Confederate statues and memorials is nothing other than an act of extreme political correctness, motivated by a zealous desire to reshape history into more palatable terms at the expense of southern heritage and pride. To those individuals, the confederate monuments aren’t a tribute to racism but rather are homages to a time when the south stood up proudly to the supposed “tyranny” of the north.

What those people fail to understand, however, is that maintaining such structures in public buildings and parks is an endorsement of the ideals that motivated men like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to take up arms against their nation. When black citizens of South Carolina or Alabama see a statue of Stonewall Jackson in front of their town hall, they aren’t filled with joyful pride and nostalgia for the olden days. Rather, they are reminded of the oppression and humiliation that people like them were forced to endure since before the founding of this nation. Having such monuments on government land only serves the purpose of detaching those citizens from the institutions that are supposed to represent their interests as Americans, that government by the people and for the people only applies if your melanin count is low enough.

That is not to say, however, that statues and memorials from the confederate era should be destroyed and forgotten. On the contrary, they should still be prominent for the sake of education and remembrance. Let them be donated to museums that are dedicated to exploring and unearthing the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow. Let them serve as reminders to all of us of the shameful eras of our history when not all men and women were equal, when we failed to live up to the revolutionary ideals enshrined in our founding documents. More importantly, let them motivate us to continue working towards the nation that we know we need but have not quite established yet. Ultimately, such progress cannot come through intimidation or violence, regardless of how malicious we perceive our opponents to be. Resorting to such tactics would only lead us to a deeper state of moral penury and chaos. All of us who care about equality and common citizenship for all people must choose the path of discourse and vigilance if we are to have any hope of making profound and lasting changes.

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