I am nervous about tearing things down

Because when you disappear the past, you have a hard time understanding what happened. I admit, I don’t want to tear down Robert E. Lee on horseback.

RobertELeeRichmondIn Richmond, Virginia, Monument Avenue is a beautiful  and elegant allee with statues of Civil War leaders. Some of them are dramatic and beautiful.

And they represent the grief, sadness and injustice of white supremacy. But rather than tear them down, I think we should surround them with images of what slavery and war really looked like.

Pictures of of slave auctions, of faces, of beaten backs, of thousands of dead lying in war fields. Images of Black strength and resilience despite systematic oppression. Because they were brave. But they got erased.

I want the evidence.

We need to see how wrong humans can be. And how strong they can be. So, I want the whole history. Not half. When younger generations forget that it can happen, demagogues get elected.

When history gets erased, and we become accustomed to erasure as a methodology, those who are most vulnerable become invisible.

Sure, I’d like to destroy every copy of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” but if we did, we wouldn’t recall that it was a forgery, a complete fiction, cooked up to incite anti-semitism. Because that’s how the Nazi’s were able to pick it up 40 years later and use it as evidence of a “Jewish conspiracy”.

And yes, I’d like to burn every print of “Birth of a Nation”. It’s a bullshit, racist document that through the power of early film narrative, justified an ideology of racial oppression. It’s horrifying to watch today. But if I don’t see how oppression was skillfully normalized, I can’t read that normalization today.

When anti-immigrant hatred is used to stir up frustrated whites, it’s important to preserve the documentation of past public relations campaigns for state-sanctioned wrong-doing. (And look, I’m trying to avoid the word “evil” here because I don’t believe in evil – I believe that fear and trauma drive this crap. Its us. We’re not evil, we’re fucking wrong as fuck. Because of damage, ignorance and trauma.)

I want the evidence.

I want to be able to point to something —  “Can you believe they put up a statue to Andrew Jackson?! He authorized the killing of so many Native Americans…” Because the statue shows what the culture thought at the time. That it was ok. Normal. And right.

I want the evidence.

Let’s look ourselves in the eye, dead-on and see what we are. Let’s look at the bad things that dominant white culture did (does) to others. Because if we don’t look at this sore we can’t heal it. Otherwise, we are just the walking wounded, lost and damaged. Betraying our values as Americans, denying our humanity and the deep connection to all beings.

So, I want to build other monuments. That surround the monuments. That contextualize them. (An exhibit on the modern slavery of sex trafficking right under General Lee…? Amen, sister. Giant photographs of what’s happening in the camps on the border right now? Yes Lord.) I want the overwhelming nature of the wrong to be seen. Not disappeared.

Because, it must have looked like “right” to those old whiteys. Everybody said it was. There were statues. And everyone gave money to erect those statues so that their overlord system would remain in place. But they were wrong. And let’s show it for what it was.

Now, maybe it’s easy for me to write this. I’m white. I can never truly know the hurt and pain that makes people want to tear down the evidence of white supremacy.

But, I don’t want other white people to pretend that it didn’t happen.

So, I want to surround the statues. I don’t want to forget. I want us to have something to point to. I know it’s painful. But, this time we have to learn this lesson, once and for all.

And, as we take our country back from the idiots, racists and fascists, we have to see the past clearly. So that we are reminded to fight for the future. Today and every day.

Peace to all. Change is hard. much love


3 thoughts on “I am nervous about tearing things down

    • I’m evolving quickly on this though. The heat of Charlottesville, and smolders now close to home and around the country; a chance, helpful exchange with a person of color on Facebook, and seeing what people are expressing on social media and on the streets, has nudged my perceptions. Us all feeling the rising, real threats. I am not sure I agree with my initial response.

      Those traumas you mention and that we have spoken about–maybe an essential part of healing requires letting others make decisions about this kind of thing now. If it hurts, and you are descendants of people whose families were torn apart in slavery, it seems we need to listen to you then. Does the statue need to be destroyed? I don’t know. Is the feeling that we should somehow preserve this just another white filter? Regardless of who and what it represents, it’s a pretty impressive equestrian statue and just on those ground I hope not. Trump, and Charlottesville, and the forces at play there and elsewhere, however, indicate to me that these symbols are no longer serving us, and are in fact now hurting us. Maybe the question of destruction has to be given to the descendants of slaves as well.

      Imagine an artist winning a competition to create a new, daring work to project Richmond and the nation toward a new era, from that prominent circle on a grand avenue. Have it incorporate the base, move the statue itself to Hollywood Cemetery. Done with care, it would not have to be erasure. Maybe it could be more like evolution. It’s a thought. Even as I cherish the history you and I have, which includes youthful summer evening conversations sitting on the base of that sculpture, cars circling us up and down the avenue around us…

      • Yeah, clearly they have to come down. Art in the service of fascism is disgusting. Goodbye Monument Ave. If that’s all that has to go to end racial hatred, I’ll gladly take the deal. I’m heartbroken it’s come to this.

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