The Editor’s Note in last week’s Perspectives lacked a certain “dogged persistence” into “prying out” how these monuments have always been and still remain symbols of white supremacy. It isn’t simply a historical case of “It was.” The racism and oppression that these monuments symbolize is an “It is.”
The people who are calling for the removal of these monuments are doing so not because they are, as Fitzgerald states, “inflamed by wrath … or revenge at our inability to go backward.” They are doing so in order to move us forward.
I was offended by Fitzgerald’s comparison that “we don’t destroy the evidence at crime scenes” or “burn the house down when we discover termites.”
In order for these monuments to serve as “evidence at crime scenes,” they would have had to have been erected with that intention. Plaques would present a summary of the crime, and the figures would be in proper criminal context – not, for example, confidently poised on a horse. We don’t see any evidence of the “crime scene” in these monuments because they are intended to be heroes: symbols of a false, one-sided narrative.
Unlike building sites or ruins where installations can teach context to visitors, a monument or flag carries an unbelievable amount of symbolic power. In their size and stature, and in their placement in prominent buildings, chapels or areas of prestige in a city, their impact is immediate. We are literally forced to “look up” to them.
Dylann Roof stood with these symbols prior to his brutal murdering specifically because of their symbolic power. Symbols connect individuals to entire belief systems, and that is their danger. Imagine how difficult it must be for a child to grow up around these monuments and not feel that what they symbolize is not embraced by those in power.
No one is asking to burn the house down. Asking that the termite nest be removed is how the house gets saved. I ask what this Editor’s Note really argues on behalf of: the termites or Our House?
Sister Bay, Wisconsin