On statues, dignity and the definition of American hero

Crazy Faith Ministries

There have been a fair number of complaints about the furor over Confederate statues being scrutinized and taken down; a common response, coming from the White House and others, is that removing the statues is tantamount to removing a valuable piece of American heritage. Coupled with that is the question which bespeaks of the lack of understanding about what is going on. “Should we remove the statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, too? They both owned slaved. Where does it stop?”

It is hard to believe that anyone could be so clueless about the difference between the Confederate statues and statues of America’s founding fathers. While it is true that 18 of our presidents owned slaves, the jab African Americans feel in looking at statues of Confederate “heroes” is that they fought against the United States. They committed treason, and they did it because they wanted to preserve slavery.

How anyone could not understand that is troubling.

Yes, it is troubling as well that 18 presidents owned slaves. It is troubling that many of them were racist; Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Johnson, Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge are a few who come to mind. It is troubling that under the leadership of openly racist presidents, the fight for human and civil rights on the part of African Americans was all the more difficult. There was no comfort, no hope of help from the man in the White House with the presidents who could not escape the grip of White supremacy and its child, racism. In their own way, they fought to preserve the “Union,” though their idea of what the Union should be often did not include Black people as equal citizens under the law.

Yes, many White people have relatives who lost their lives to save the Confederacy; they fought against the United States of America. Fighting against one’s country is treason, sure and plain. And it cannot be forgotten that many of these statues were erected long after the Civil War as signs of a belief in White supremacy and an anger against federal laws that gave African Americans more rights. Some of them, like a plaque in Montgomery, Alabama, which is present at the bus stop where Rosa Parks boarded the bus she ultimately refused to leave, seem like a slap in the face.

In other words, these statues are monuments of resistance, not monuments of honor for fallen ancestors. These statues were erected as a sign to let Black people know that the spirit of the Confederacy would never be eliminated or erased, that in spite of the Union having won the Civil War, the spirit of the Confederacy and what it stood for would not be forgotten.

I asked a few friends of mine if there are statues of Hitler in Germany. There are none, they said. A statue of Hitler anywhere in Germany would say to children and relatives of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust that Germany does not care about what happen to their predecessors. It would say that Germany honors a demagogue, and Germany has not and will not do that.

America has no such feeling of wrongdoing on the part of those who owned slaves and who fought against their own country to preserve the “peculiar institution.” Too many Americans have an attitude about racism that is arrogant at its core: It happened and anyone who has suffered because of it or the ripples it continues to produce should get over it.

It’s not that easy, any more than it is for Native Americans to look at statues of White men who participated in the desecration of their land and their lives.

Removing these statues is not about the statues, per se; it is about removing the reminders, the “in-your-face” reminders that those who supported and believed in White supremacy did not care about the pain slavery caused a huge swath of American citizens who were African American. They are not American heroes; they are Confederate heroes and as such, perhaps should be placed in a Confederate museum where those who love White supremacy and who yearn for a White America can experience their nostalgia in a place and in a way that will not offend people who actually fought for this country and who survived the vestiges of a war which was fought in order to keep people bound.

Maybe some day someone who has his or her ears plugged to the explanations of what is going on and why will hear and understand. But until then, it’s a good thing that those who love what the Confederacy was and what it stood for may be able to celebrate their heritage in peace, away from those they so totally offend.

Rev. Susan K. Smith is a preacher, writer and organizer. To book Smith to speak at a church or an organization, call 614 245-5411.

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