As you all know, white nationalists gathered in Virginia for a “unite the right” rally in protest against the city’s plans to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the downtown park. Protesters held tiki torches near the statue while the counter-protests organized a candlelight event in retaliation to the confederacy, white supremacy, and racism.
I understand how offensive the statue of Robert Lee is: Although slavery is no longer practiced here in America, the problems that came as a result of such practice are still affecting black people. And although the statue itself is not the cause of these problems, its existence in a public space that is supported by the state sends a message that within the government there exists an acceptable sympathy towards those problems and that the government may back up those who cause such problems. In that, some people may see the statue as a permission given from the state to not question the legitimacy of their feelings in regards to the values that the country holds today or the values that the people in it should strive for. In addition, I imagine that for black people, seeing the statue would be similar to a woman seeing a statue of a man who is known for leading a war against women at a time when women are still living in a sexist world. As a woman, if I was to see such statue, I would undoubtly be filled with anger due to the tone that such statue might make out of the oppression that women are facing. Hence, I can imagine that for black people, the statue also gives a nonchalent tone to slavery and its stature gives the feeling that one has the right and the option to see a correctness in such thing that should be realized as an absolute wrong. The statue stands as statement that says: “someone’s trash is another man’s treasure”—as if slavery is a piece of furniture that people can express their own unique opinions on in regards to how good or bad it is. I also can imagine that for black people, the statue may send a message that puts slavery secondary to the men who excelled in performance while supporting it as it says, “let us put slavery to the side of a minute, wasn’t this guy great?!” or it may send a message that is as dismissive and blatant as, “And what?! What you gonna do about it?!” I also imagine that the statue sends to black people the message that it was not slavery and it is not the racism that stands to be corrected; but it is the men who supported it that should stand as correct.
I can also imagine, as I am trying to walk in black people’s shoes, that such statue would be a symbol of an acceptable lack-of-power-to-act-or-react and a symbol of a general lack of respect towards them. For if one was to put a statue of a man who has committed crimes against women seated in a heroic fashion, I would not be able to escape the feeling of men asserting their power to disrespect women by commemorating the views that such man holds to be negligible in terms of what they mean to women but to be seen as a “man of strength” who simply showed that strength in an event that is questionable. Hence, I can imagine that for black people, the statue makes slavery and racism secondary to the people who practiced/practices it where it sends the message that people can still show their best attribute through that which harms others as if being a killer can be a great way of showing your ability to clean up a mess if the person who committed the killing was able to remove all the blood stains from the carpet in a beautiful thorough manner—therefore, “let us forget about the murder that took place and focus on the great job the killer has done in cleaning the crime scene. Matter of fact, let us put his face on the new line of cleaning products that the victim’s family will walk by whenever they are in the store.” Right? So, Robert Lee is supposed to be a person who we should look at from a tactical war strategic perspective and not from the perspective of the slavery that he has supported—“forget about the slavery…can you believe how great he is in his war strategies?!”
As a woman, I can also imagine that black people may feel a sense of self-dismissal since they may feel angry when walking by the statue but smile at the white people as they walk by them as it becomes their job to separate and know the difference between the two. And no, I am not saying that black people should assume that all white people are just as Robert Lee, but it is the statue that sends the message that black people are free to walk past it, get as angry as they like, put that to the side, and then wave and say hi and hello. Hence, I can imagine that if such similar statue was to exist for sexism, women would feel very insulted if a man comes up to them to ask them for their phone number as they are walking past it–such statue okays the feeling of self-disrespect. Not only that, but if that statue was of a man who has committed crimes against women, then I would feel that the statue is raising its own argument against me as it is raising an argument in support of men who are against me. And although, there would be no doubt in my mind that the ignorance of these men is not to be mistaken for truth and righteousness, seeing the statue would make me feel that even truth and righteousness itself is powerless to help me. Furthermore, I also understand the idea of looking at the positives in others—yet, it needs to be mentioned that Robert Lee was also given that chance when it comes to black people and he chose to look at the positives in slavery and to view these positives with greater respect than the positives that black people had. Hence, in relation to the reasons why the monument should remain as I am certain that many positive agruments exists for why it should remain, I say that such positivity in regarding a person more than the issue is something that Robert Lee would have agreed to dismiss. Therefore, Robert Lee had his chance to display a positive attitude in placing people above the status quo and he chose the status quo… So if racism is the status quo today, then Robert Lee is already being honored and no statue is necessary to recognize the values he held since he himself has put that status quo above people and it would be right to put it above him as well…and if racism is not the status quo today, then we have already dishonored the beliefs that he hold and no statue is necessary to display a person who we do not care to honor. And due to the fact that we do not display a statue of a person whose beliefs we do not honor, then the statue becomes a statement of the beliefs honored and the beliefs to be honored despite the loss that was suffered. In that, that statue speaks about a loss not being a defeat when it comes to how black people should be treated. And from a confederate perspective, a loss is circumstantial but a win is a moral force that can defeat it.
Statues and monuments are usually displayed of people who are a role model of hope and a role model of conquering obstacles in life. They are usually displayed in celebration of new foundations and in celebration of new beginnings. They are also displayed in recognizing the difference that one person is able to make in this world. In addition, statues that are made of kings and leaders are usually displayed in order to place them as being part of the people when they are not around and in order to create a sense of ownership to the laws that the people live by. History itself may legitimize the display of statues and monuments in relation to a sight that is meant to reenact the event in history—in such places, it would be understandable to place the statue of Robert Lee. In essence, however, a monument and a statue is meant to be a sculpture of a person who has sculpted our lives in such manner that makes us revere our own selves more as a society in whole. To leave your mark in this world does earn you a land mark in it…but to leave actual marks and injuries on the bodies of people may only land you as part of the problem that the people still face today.
Human history has never ran low on the amount of harm it has caused, however. And if one was to look at all the historical sights in the world, mostly built by slaves against themselves, the monument of Robert Lee stands with a few differences that commemorate the indifference that history has treated black people with—and such monument is a display of the background for other monuments and historical sights as it brings that issue in full display: the use of slaves in history that is recognized as majestic with a backdrop that forgets about the people who were abused for those buildings and monuments to be built. And as the Pyramids in Egypt stand with such height that makes one wonder about the human capacity to achieve great things, all while putting black people to the “side for a minute or two”, the statue of Robert Lee is more blatant in displaying this indifference directly. And whereas other historical sights have displayed the greatness of slaves to be secondary to that which they forced them to achieve, the statue of Robert Lee precisely displays that dynamic in a personified form: A man’s greatness in putting slaves as secondary and a man’s greatness being shown through an issue that deems those slaves as secondary to the skill it takes to force them to do as one asks. Indeed, Robert Lee was greatly skilled in trying to keep black people enslaved. And indeed, the Pharaohs were greatly skilled in how they made slaves build the pyramids. And indeed, the statue of Robert Lee says: this man was skilled in trying to keep black people enslaved. Although the Pyramids say: These were the achievements of the Pharaohs of Egypt from ancient times—forget about the slaves for a minute! And this “forget about the slaves for a minute” is exactly what the statue of Robert Lee says in a more direct manner. For a man to display his achievement through slavery of others is indeed a part of many of the historical places we admire around the world.
And so the question becomes: How did slavery help the world in establishing and building many of its great statues, monuments, and historical sights? And does the statue of Robert Lee stand as a symbol of the dismissal towards black people’s effort in relation to the stature that many cultures boast about as being the work of their own people? And finally: Do the many slave-built historical sights in our world condone slavery since others take personal and cultural credit for the quality of work and the majestic grand statements that such work makes?