First, the obvious caveats: I am white and, to be blunt about it, wealthy.
Second, the less obvious caveats: I have always lived in the Midwest, primarily in cities, and have never lived in the South except for a few months' internship at a chemical plant in small-town Kentucky.
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Confederate flags flying as part of, or next to, state and municipal government flags are awful. A flag is what you decide to fly to represent yourself right now; you make a decision every morning to haul it up the pole in first light. If it's a reflection only of your heritage, then it's a reflection of the parts of your heritage that you feel are banner examples. Thus: Flying a Confederate flag or an image of one is an implicit endorsement of, or expression of fondness for, the Confederacy. Full stop. They don't belong in the government display of any U. S. State.
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I had a different opinion about Confederate monuments and memorials. A monument and a memorial are placed by the people of one time to represent themselves to the people of the future. My opinion was that it would be better to leave them in place.
Not because I disagreed with the desire to root out the ideology of enslavement and dehumanization that put the monument there, and for which the memorialized combatants fought and died; the desire to take them down from a place of figurative and literal elevation.
I thought that it would be a kind of whitewashing that would someday allow the descendants of the monument-builders to pretend that it didn't really happen. To pretend that the ordinary white Americans who lived and shopped and worked in the communities around those monuments were not participants in the ideology of enslavement, did not really support politicians who openly advocated white supremacy, were just following orders, were themselves victims of oppression (economic, gender) and all the rest of the tired old excuses that never go away.
No, the monuments were proof that the people with the power to make monuments---and the docents love to tell the story, when the monuments have been built not just by the grand benefactors of the day but with children's pennies and young housewives' pin-money---that the people who built the monuments wanted us to know this about them: they mourned the slave system, along with the men who died to protect it.
I thought it was better that we had that proof, where it could stand out in the open and in the center of the town, shat upon by pigeons and washed by the rain, so we couldn't deny it now or in the future.
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But this wish was supported by a certain failure of imagination: the idea that people of all sorts would mainly, and increasingly, see in them what I see, monuments to shame, complicity in the promotion of a truly disgusting set of ideas, and participation in an untold list of violations against the dignity of human beings and of family life.
I didn't really expect them to become once again popular rallying points for people --- violently or without laying a finger on anyone --- who are openly carrying the flags of America's defeated and nearly universally reviled enemies.
Failure of imagination. Yes, I'll raise my hand: I am a fool for not anticipating this. I know about systematic racism. I know about overt racism and that it still happens even though I am insulated from it. I've got my own sins and to the extent that I know them I am ashamed. I have been silent when I should have spoken, when to afflict the comfortable would have meant to afflict myself too. I have been a coward.
Failure of imagination.
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If this is going to be a thing, now and in the future --- and it seems that we have no kind of guarantee that it will not;
If Confederate monuments and the graves of fallen soldiers are to be a rallying point for swastika flags and chants of "Blut und Boden";
If anti-Black and anti-Jew and anti-immigrant cheers are to rise from crowds, encircling the bronze hooves of poor effigied horses bearing graven images of white supremacy on their backs;
then tear them all up, and shove them every one--the more beautifully executed and artistic, the more damning, because white people really did pour their creativity, their resources, and their capacity for beauty into memorials to crushing faces with boots--shove them all into the museums, where people with sense can make rules about maximum occupancy, noise levels, and weapons.
I thought we needed to have it all out in the open, where we would all be forced to reckon with our past. It turns out that we are not wise enough or kind enough as a people to handle it. We must, it seems, put them under armed glass after all.