Changing symbols

Marian Wright Edelman t580
Marian Wright Edelman

 

By MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN

Children’s Defense Fund

 

“What we’re really talking about …[are lessons learned that] I think are helpful for people who are looking at what’s going on in our country right now and saying, ‘How did we get here, and how do we turn around?’ And so this book really is about how we offer what I call hospice care to that which is dying away, which I think is literally all of the things which this administration is offering us in this moment, and also how to offer prenatal care to the things that we want to birth, to the country that we actually want to live in.”

This is how Black Lives Matter Global Network co-founder Alicia Garza recently described her new book The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We Fall Apart. The record setting election turnout showed millions of Americans are asking similar questions and using their votes to make their voices heard. How do we turn our nation around now? How do we make sure the old things die away, and help the better country we want to live in finally be born?

For months there have been hopeful signs our nation’s long overdue racial reckoning may be underway at last, including some physical signs of change. From statues and school names honoring racist leaders and perpetrators of Native American genocide to Confederate flags and monuments that proliferated alongside Jim Crow, Americans are dismantling longstanding symbols of White supremacy, bigotry and hate. President Trump was a not-surprising exception as he continued to applaud Confederate leaders, refused to reject White supremacists, and denounced people who rejected symbols of hate as hating America. Yet even his loud voice could not stop the changing tide. The wave of opposition to racist and bigoted symbols is proving stronger than the individuals still embracing and clinging to them. The decision to finally remove the Confederate emblem from Mississippi’s state flag and the Election Day vote to approve a new design were among the strongest signals yet that even in the South it is a new day and world and the time for rejecting dead racist ideologues and the dying ideology they represent has come.

These changes have been repeated at a rapid pace in the last few months across the country and even in other parts of the world. New names have been especially welcome at our nation’s schools. It is well past time that people and institutions held up to our children as “great” and those honored in the naming of crucial formative spaces for children reflect values that affirm the dignity, sacredness and equality of every person and child.

In the midst of the catastrophic emergencies people of color are disproportionately facing from COVID-19, poverty and police brutality, some people might be tempted to dismiss names and symbols as unimportant. To save our communities and achieve a just future for our children and nation we need to dismantle the racist systems and structures they represent. This means not only reforming policing and the criminal justice system but also confronting our unjust economic and political systems that create deep disparities in income, housing, education, health, and well-being and hurt children and families of color. Removing Confederate flags from statehouses, choosing new names honoring African Americans and Native Americans for schools and public buildings, and taking down statues honoring racist leaders are not sufficient steps for dismantling systems, but changing these symbols is still an important step.

These changes are all part of the urgent march forward to ensure those who continue to bear the burden of our national birth defects of Native American genocide, slavery and the exclusion from the electoral process of non-propertied men of all colors and all women are able to experience a fair chance to succeed and to replace unjust symbols, policies and practices of the past with new ones that ensure access, equality and justice for all. Let’s finally help a new America be born!

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