I should say that we have Confederate soldiers in my own family tree. I certainly do not feel pride in this, but neither do I feel shame. I feel neutral about it, frankly.
It was what it was. They were who they were. And, thank God, our morality is not wed to our DNA. The worst parts of our families —in any generation— never reflect who we are as human beings.
For many years, however, I was *opposed* to taking down Confederate monuments. My opposition came from my time in Russia. I took nine trips to the former Soviet Union, in the years following its collapse. I saw ginormous statues of Lenin and Stalin. I saw places where others statues had been removed.
I believed at the time that it was a mistake for Russians to take down these reminders of their past. This was, of course, *their actual government* for more than half a century. Lenin/Stalin were the last in a line of “strong leaders” dating back to the Czars. It seemed to me that taking down those monument was a *mistake* in that it would allow them to…ahem… “whitewash” their own past.
However, in many cases the monuments came down. And, where are they now?
Ten years into a new-age strong-man leader…very much in the style of those Czars and Stalin. (Not perhaps the same level of violence against his own people, but very much the same style…)
Perhaps they have forgotten their history?
Or, more likely, perhaps ten years of lurching toward a new, more democratic, Russia was not enough time to kill the deep roots of authoritarianism that runs back for centuries.
The situation in the United States of America is quite different, and therefore we should draw a different conclusion.
To set the stage for what’s happening in our country, first imagine, if you will, something that thankfully never happened.
Imagine that it is 1993, and in towns all across the South suddenly monuments to Bull Connor start popping up. If you don’t know who Bull Connor was, Google it. (You need to know).
Fantasize this: that in town squares, on the lawns of courthouses and cemeteries, there were suddenly 60-foot statues to the racist commissioner of public safety in Birmingham, Alabama.
Now imagine that those monuments to Bull Connor *continued* to pop up across the South…and that some were built during THIS DECADE.
Of course, as we’ve said, none of that ever happened.
And if it did, I would bet that almost every last one of us would say, “Well, that’s terrible. That’s racist. We shouldn’t be honoring the memory of such a man…and most definitely not 30, 40, even 50-years later…”
Friends, that’s *exactly* what happened in the case of a great many of these Confederate monuments in the United States.
For example, the Confederate memorial in downtown Dallas —the largest outdoor sculpture in our city— was built in 1896; a full 31-years after the conclusion of the Civil War. It was moved to its present location in 1961.
You see this all over the South. These monuments, many of them, were NOT constructed in the immediate post-war period, to “honor” the recently defeated soldiers.
They were constructed, in some cases, DECADES later…as an attempt to recall and recast the “glory” of the South…and as reminders of the continue efforts at White supremacy. They were constructed as a message of continuing White dominance over African-Americans, at a time when Whites in the South were feeling their power slip away.
Friends, almost nowhere else in the *world* are the “losers” of some great war enshrined in monuments. *Decades* after the fact.
Life moves on. People want to *forget* the pain of their wars, especially (usually) if they are the losers.
So, just as you would be offended by statues of Bull Connor built today, so too you should be offended by Confederate statues constructed 40-60 years after the end of the war, still having a place of honor across the South.
We do not generally built monuments to the losers of war, decades after the fact. There are no monuments to Hitler in Germany. Except for his grave, there are few monuments to Mussolini in Italy.
No, there was another purpose to these monuments. They are not now, nor were they when constructed, morally neutral, politically innocent ways to “honor” brave soldiers.
And, they continue to have effect into the present day:
1. They serve as White supremacist signs of terror, oppression and a reminder of slavery for African-Americans, and
2. They enable and embolden the actual White supremacists of our time.
Let me speak mostly to the latter point, as I am not an African-American. While I can hear and empathize with the terror and continuing oppression these monuments bring to that community, it is what these monuments do for racists Whites that concerns me most.
White supremacists see these statues as inspiration. They see them as affirmation of their views, as a way in which their racist ways are morally licensed in the present day.
Many of you White people reading this will say “I am not racist. These statues don’t speak for me.”
But they do speak to racists, everywhere. And they embolden and inspire them. It’s a measure of our own White privilege that we can dismiss this truth as irrelevant. I do not wish to be associated or connected with such racists, and you shouldn’t either.
No, it’s not White guilt driving me to make this statement. It’s a purely logical conclusion: I wish to separate from those White racists in the present-day who still see these symbols as heroic and inspiring. I want African-Americans, and people of all races and creeds, to know that as an Anglo of the South, these statues do not reflect my views, and I do not stand with White supremacists of our day.
Does separating from the Confederate flag, or tearing down these monuments, change hearts?
Of course not. No.
Racists will still be racists.
But what *does* happen, when we divest ourselves from these symbols, is that society as a whole gets to say:
“We do not support racists. We do not stand with them. Their symbols do not speak for us, or get places of honor among our courthouses and parks. We are a part of the ONE people of United States of America.”
I am proud to be from the South. I am proud of my family. These monuments do not honor, or dishonor, my existence a White man. But I have no desire to defend monuments that were clearly constructed as symbols of oppression, decades after a war of insurrection.
I would invite every White person in the South to consider the same stance. Your existence is not diminished one bit…the history of your family and heritage is not sullied one bit…when these monuments come down.
In fact, quite the opposite. We have the chance to show, as White southerners, that we support *all* God’s children, including our own families.
Jesus was constantly reminding the people of his day that God’s family goes beyond biology.
In fact, just this morning, I was reading the passage from Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus talks about “family.”
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
Looking around at this followers, he then said:
“Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:33-34, CEB)
God’s family extends to people of all races and cultures. Let us, White southerners, show our commitment to that, by separating ourselves from racist and their symbols, and committing ourselves to the love, support, and of God’s people.