I want you to imagine that you and your family work on a farm together. Now, you didn’t want to work there, but you don’t have a choice. You were born there. Your parents were also born there. Everyone you know works there too. You aren’t paid, and you aren’t allowed to leave. You are treated as though you are less than human, less than an animal. To the people who run the farm, you are but a tool they use to work their fields. You are whipped when you get out of line, and you are beaten until you are dead. Now, imagine that decades later, a monument is erected in honor of your murderer. These Confederate monuments are not a piece of valuable history. These men don’t deserve to be honored with a statue of them or their houses to be treated like museums. These men were murderers. They were racists and all-around terrible people.
A common argument for the static placement of these monuments could be that they are merely historical and not indicative of a particular school of thought. But I ask: Is this the correct way to teach our children about our gruesome past, by showing them shining, smiling statues of malicious characters? What good does it do? They remain on huge plantations or at the center of Southern towns while no one takes the time to engage with its presence and the implications of it nor do people promote a form of rhetoric that is unique, an indicative of the tired and washed out history we learned in 9th grade U.S. history. It is also worth mentioning that not everyone’s end goal is to destroy these statues, they just should not be standing in public for admiration purposes. We should move them to museums and provide context for them there, thereby mobilizing a path towards honest education and conversions.
Additionally, we should not finish discussions about Civil War-era monuments without mentioning the plot of land that many of them remain on—plantations. Somehow we are at a point in time where plantations continue to be used as wedding locations and for other events. And while it should not take a twenty page peer reviewed article to explain why this is wrong, it is necessary to invest some time in underscoring what it means to interact with these lands in such a way. Many of those who choose to wed their spouse on a plantation often see parallels to the southern belle trope, while of course evading its historical nuances. And that is the problem right there, we are at a place where we can just ignore things, where some of us can lead lives truly believing that the past is the past. Newsflash, history may be distant but it’s impacts on our society are fervent and ever so present. Slavery and our deep wounds of racism are the reason why people have biases, it is the reason why we have mass incarceration, it is the reason why we see the opioid and crack epidemic differently, it is the reason why we are still fighting for protections under the law and from the law. While on the surface a plantation may mirror some movie like pin on Pinterest, the land carries the blood, sweat, and tears of those who actually built this country, those who were suppressed til the point where humanity was a vacant hope. It’s not a fun destination, if anything it’s a place to learn and to never glamorize.
It does not take plenty of energy to think about the overtones of your actions—we urge you to think.