Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Changing the Narrative: Part II—Let's Talk About Statues

Continuing the story of the Facebook caper. The person who posted the original concern about Confederate statues being taken down responded to my last comments with the following:

• Doug I was a history major and did graduate work on the spirituality of the slaves. I do not for a minute diminish the terrible ordeal of slavery nor do I support it. I also don't suppose the meta stance for us to even have this conversation. We agree about slavery but this agenda is intended to pit against one another based on new labels that are false. I am not a white supremacist, but I value my history and the complexity of many factors that go into seeing the good in someone like a Robert Lee. That's it for me. Over and Out. Thank you no harm intended.

I was astounded that someone who voted for Trump (she did) was a HISTORY MAJOR and did graduate work on “the spirituality of slaves.” The contradictions possible in the human being are simply beyond my comprehension. But having begun the conversation, I was obliged to continue, as follows:

• I know Facebook is a terrible venue for these much needed discussions. But here's something to consider. We all need to look at the balance of good and bad in public figures and then decide which side of the line we'll stand on. Hitler was an artist and a vegetarian and loved his dog, but his other deeds far outweighed all of that. Lincoln was not as enlightened about slavery as I would have liked, but his actions that helped end that inhuman institution outweighed his flaws. And we also look at who is attached to the continued idolizing of figures and what their motivation is. Like the Klansmen and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville expressing their "concern" about removing statues. I'd like to think that these are group that you would hesitate to identify with.

I did a little research on good old Wikipedia and found out about a person who “opposed the construction of public memorials to Confederate rebellion on the grounds that they would prevent the healing of wounds inflicted during the war. Nevertheless, they were constructed and after his death, (people like) Robert E. Lee became an icon used by promoters of "Lost Cause" mythology, who sought to romanticize the Confederate cause and strengthen white supremacy in the South." I find it disturbing that over 150 years later, we’re still wondering about whether such statues have a place in our landscape and its obvious from the events in Charlottesville that so many are still romanticizing the Confederate cause and thus, strengthening the continuation of the white supremacy narrative.

But here’s the surprising thing. The person who warned about this and was opposed to these statues was… Robert E. Lee!!!! It doesn’t make him a hero in my book, but it does elevate his humanity in my eyes a few notches higher. I thank you for helping me learn about that and I hope you can pause and see that the person who would have applauded removing his statue was Robert E. Lee himself! Food for thought.

And then one more reply from her:

• I appreciate your thoughtfulness and care on this issue. Thank you so much for raising consciousness here. No easy answers certainly.

Well, there you have it. Civil dialogue that kind of worked. A Facebook exchange that went one inch beyond the self-affirming no-thought-needed hall of mirrors.

But beyond that, it made it clear that simply removing statues without the necessary dialogue falls short of the mark. There need to be conversations and education and actual facts that can slow down or reverse the fantasies of those fed by right-wing talk shows and the like that the “libtards” are trying to rain on their parade and take away their rights. It’s probably not too likely that any statue converted some innocent person to neo-Nazi or Klan membership, but it certainly is symbolic of a nation’s intention about what is worthy of celebration, what values the statue represents that we either want to continue to honor or re-think. The removal is necessary so people hurt by those values don’t have to pass them by. The people threatened by their removal need some images to help them understand what that feels like. (No woman domestically abused by her husband who goes to a shelter would be likely to put his photo in her room.) But what’s most important is that the next generation be wholly educated as to what values are represented by different icons and make a conscious choice as to which are worthy. Of course, I would highly recommend those that lean toward tolerance, celebration of diversity, justice, kindness, love.

Anyone want to argue with that? Well, yes, Klansmen and Neo-Nazis would. But my hope is that someone who paid money to a graduate school to study the spirituality of slaves might learn to connect the dots and reconsider her voting choices. I won’t count on it, but hey, I did what I could.

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