This summer, a white nationalist rally protesting the removal of Confederate statues in Charlottesville, North Carolina sparked a national debate. Supporters of the removal argue that statues of Confederate leaders are symbols of white supremacy, and only help to encourage hate groups that appear to have been given new momentum under the Trump administration. In reality, the removal of statues — however controversial — does little to fix the issues actually oppressing minorities in America.
Whether the monuments stand or not, black Americans will still face a poverty rate 13 percent higher than white Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found the unemployment rate for blacks sits at 7.3 percent, much higher than the national average of 4.2 percent, and farther still from the percentage of unemployed whites (3.7 percent).
Factually, there’s no denying black Americans are at an economic disadvantage compared to whites. The removal of confederate statues will not help a single one of them. It will not drop the unemployment rate. It will not heighten the test scores of black children in underperforming school districts. If anything, the uproar over confederate monuments only distracts from real issues facing many black people everyday.
Politicians are more than happy to remove confederate statues; it’s easy, popular, and gives the illusion that they’ve taken on an important issue, without actually doing any grunt work to better their community.
In a recent interview with NPR, Andrew Young, a lifelong civil rights activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., argued that not only do those advocating for the removal of confederate monuments lose focus of what’s really oppressing them, but doing so also alienates potential civil rights allies.
“This is a total distraction that is undercutting most of the progress we’ve made…these are kids who grew up free, and they don’t realize what still enslaves them — and it’s not those monuments” said Young.
It seems the majority of black Americans agree. In a poll conducted by NPR, 44 percent of African Americans said statues honoring leaders of the confederacy should remain as a historical symbol, compared to 4o percent who thought they should be removed. Nationwide, 62 percent of adults believe confederate monuments should not be taken down.
President Trump’s response to the controversy was met with outrage when he published a tweet condemning the statue removal and suggesting that next, people would call for the removal of monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Despite the backlash, it took only hours for the President’s prediction to come true. That very evening, a fringe group of campus lefties called for statues of Washington, Jefferson, and even Abraham Lincoln (evidently because he didn’t abolish slavery soon enough) to be pulled down.
Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice sees the statues as a reminder of history, something especially important for those who weren’t apart of it.
“You don’t have to honor the purposes of people whose history now shows that they were on the other side of history, but you better be able to remind people. So, I myself am not much for whitewashing history” said Rice in an interview with Cameron Smith.
Taking down monuments of our nation’s leaders because they were involved in a dark part of our nation’s history prevents future generations from learning from past mistakes. Instead, monuments should be added to or revised – a statue of Robert E. Lee with a description of what the confederacy stood for is more beneficial, and certainly more accessible, than a textbook in a high school history class or an exhibit at a museum.
The removal of confederate statues not only erases history, but also provides politicians and political activists a chance to look admirable in the eyes of the liberal public without making any real change for the better. Melting down Robert E. Lee will only distract and divide a country that needs to be united if its racial barriers are to be broken down.
Confederate statue and flag supporters argue that they represent “heritage not hate” while in actuality, they represent a time of terrorism among people of the same country and continue to use it to intimidate and justify their racism. Clearly, they don’t understand what they’re defending. From the beginning of the Confederacy to its miserable defeat in May of 1865, it stood for white supremacy and continues to stand for it now. Monuments should reflect American values that can be respected by everyone, not arouse negative and hateful ideas of superiority.
Though the Civil War was from 1861-1865, many Confederate statues weren’t built until the early 1900’s. With the rise of black power and wealth during Reconstruction, white supremacists wanted to find new methods of control; they used this time to further their crusade against the black population. This crusade consisted of the KKK, lynchings, Jim Crow segregation, and rewriting of history through the mass production of Confederate statues.
The statues were strategically placed in areas with a large black population in order to instill fear into the minds of African Americans. White supremacists were focused on maintaining the power they had over black people and had a concerted plan to do so. Each peak in the production of confederate monuments coincided with a time of blatant racism.
With even the smallest accomplishments in black rights came a targeted backlash in white supremacy and the creation of Confederate statues. This occurred alongside an increase of white supremacist groups, the “Lost Cause” myth, and as the Jim Crow laws were cemented into southern societies. This is not a coincidence, this is a clear sign that confederate monuments are symbols of racism.
If these statues are put in place to commemorate “heroes” of the Confederacy and the Civil War, why isn’t there a single statue of an emancipated slave? Or any person of color? Why put up reminders of a loss?
Even Robert E. Lee, the center of the Charlottesville rally, didn’t want to erect the statues, saying in 1866, “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
For some reason, southerners can’t face the facts about the history of the Confederacy. People walk the streets of southern towns dressed head to toe in Confederate flags and other white supremacist regalia, chanting slurs and hate speech; what does that say about their heritage? These people aren’t protesting against the elimination of Southern culture and history, but instead reacting to their own deluded ideas that white people are losing control.
The South lost the war, but it seems people are still fighting in one with the same core ideas: racism, intolerance, and hatred. And at the center are symbols that represent the most racist and hostile times in U.S. history.