I grew up in the Deep South and I can tell you first-hand, I was taught an awful lot of bullshit. I was taught the Civil War was about states’ rights (they fudged the part about the main right being threatened was the right to own slaves). I learned Sally Hemmings was Thomas Jefferson’s mistress; it never seemed to occur to anyone that you can’t simultaneously be a mistress – which connotes consent – and a slave.
My third-grade teacher held up a $5 bill and told our class it was “the flag of the Jews.” (My family was Jewish, and I ran home, excited to tell my mother that our flag was everywhere. My mother was, shall we say, not excited.) I learned girls like me deserved to be groped, should get used to catcalls and co-workers’ harassment, and that white Christian men were people – the rest of us were women, blacks, Jews…you know, OTHER.
We were absent from power, absent from history, largely absent from the primary narratives about America’s past and present. We weren’t seen or discussed as protagonists, and if we complained we were just antagonists.
Like most Americans (I hope), I watched Donald Trump’s press conference August 15th absolutely dumbstruck with my mouth agape and my fists clenched. (Never has the word “dumbstruck” been so apt.) I could go on and on about Donald’s false equivalency of angry White Supremacists filled with hate and the protesters there to express outrage. I could talk about how professional bigot David Duke thanked the President for his remarks, or how various pro-Trump talking heads on TV told me Donald doesn’t have a “hate bone in his body”. (See, when he grabs genitals, insists Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US, calls out Jon Stewart as “Jon Leibowitz” or calls for the Central Park Five’s execution, that’s all love.)
But let’s just talk statues for a minute.
Donald T. talked about how “innocent people” were protesting the taking down of historical statues. (Lovely, innocent history lovers who just happened to bear torches, baseball bats, Confederate and Nazi flags, chanting “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” as they splattered paint and urine on those who disagreed.) Look, all Americans have a right to voice their own opinions, but we don’t have the right to our own facts. Trump said the “alt-left” was trying to “revise history”.
People like me and the protestors in Charlottesville aren’t trying to “revise history” –
we’re trying to illuminate history.
The heroes of the Confederacy are not monuments to history; these statues are monuments to a way of thinking that says some human beings are superior to others. These Confederate statues were not erected during or right after the Civil War by defeated folk clinging to their heroes. The vast majority of these statues of white men defending slavery were erected more than 50 years after the Civil War –in many cases over a century later. Why? Because they enshrine a perspective on life, society and humanity that makes one race better than another. They were there to support segregation, buttress Jim Crow, and remind everyone who runs things ‘round heyah. (Apologies to Beyonce but, “Who runs the world…white men!”)
It’s pathetic when you’re a man with so little going for you that you feel you must cling to the idea that your race, religion or gender makes you superior. It would be sad that these tired-ass bigots need to locate their power in the dehumanization of Jews, blacks, and women.
But it’s not sad: it’s chilling. Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and alt-righters aren’t just recruiting the usual suspects of the dumb, dire, deplorable, and disenfranchised. They’re recruiting on college campuses, all over the Internet. They’re going after people who can be seduced by the idea that America can be “great again” – and this definition of great is defined as white Christian males at the top, with everyone else “in their place” – or living in some other place. These people, and the statues they cherish, lionize a past where women didn’t have the vote, wife-beating was a fact of life, Jews couldn’t mix with gentiles, and of course black lives don’t matter. They want to return to a world where women, blacks, Jews, and gays were “the Other”.
The 45th President and his supporters want to “Make America Great Again” – great for a fraction of Americans, and not-as-great for most Americans.
I, for one, don’t want to live in Trump’s unjust, racist, pussy-grabbing, alt-right-espousing, alt-facts-proliferating dystopia. I want to fight for my country and my countrymen (and women). I want to fight for a world where ‘women’ isn’t in parentheses. I want to fight hatred, selfishness, the anti-intellectualism and ignorance that fuel it. Donald Trump admonished protesters, saying “You’re changing history, you’re changing culture.” Yes, Mr. President, we ARE trying to change culture, a culture of exclusion, bigotry, hate, and entitlement. The White Supremacists in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us.” Likely they meant blacks, they meant Jews, “replacing white Christian men.” But all decent people want to “repeal and replace” is a society where everyone isn’t granted equal respect, equal opportunity, and equal treatment. We want a culture where our heroes inspire and serve, not enslave and slaughter.
An American Dream that doesn’t embrace all Americans isn’t a dream: it’s a nightmare.
I urge all Americans to stand up for our nation and stand up to hate. Let the President and his supporters know this is not who we are, this is not who we’ll be, and this will not stand. Let’s truly be one nation; let’s join together to topple not just wizened statues, but the shriveled ideologies for which they stand.
Do you think Germany has statues of Hitler or Goering up? No, but they have turned concentration camps into museums.