Picture of the Labour campaign poster that listed positive adjectives under Jeremy Corbyn and negative adjectives and verbs under Theresa May.
If we destroy the past, how can we remember the guardrails that need to be set for humanity's future?
In Bristol, England, there is a statue of a man named Edward Colston. He was a very wealthy slave trader and merchant who used his profits to gain influence and power in England. In Bristol, specifically, there are schools, almshouses, streets, and a concert hall named after him. There is also a large statue commemorating him in the city centre. Many Bristolians want to take down his statue because they believe that no one who bought and sold humans should be honored. His statue has been vandalized numerous times and the arguments over its placement in the city continue.
The only reasonable argument in favor of keeping the statue rests on historical preservation. If Colston's statue is destroyed, the concert hall and other landmarks are renamed, how will anyone remember what Colston did or why he was such an awful person? If all the statues showing figures like Colston are dismembered and destroyed, will people forget where the money in their city came from (Transatlantic slave trade), or the crimes against humanity that so many in the city played a part of?
Some responses I received from Bristolians sounded like this: "People won't remember, and that is the problem. We need everyone to remember what our leaders did and how our city amassed so much wealth so that this trade can never happen again." I think remembering history is of the utmost importance. But I question whether a statue made to glorify rather than condemn the man like Edward Colston is the way to do it. His honored image sparks deeply rooted wounds in many people's hearts whose ancestors were exploited, raped, and killed by his "trade". Similar to many people of African descent in Bristol, African Americans feel this way about statues honoring Confederate figures such as Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville. In both cities and countries, there are allies who recognize the pain associated with these images and want to destroy them.
Laduable historians like Dr. James Cobb, B. Phinizy Spalding Professor of History Emeritus, and Dr. Edward L. Ayers- President Emeritus of the University of Richmond- have studied the American South and highlighted a fundamental fact about Confederate statues: all were built after the Civil War, with peaks in fundraising and constructing during the Jim Crow era, and often times, statues were erected at old slave auctions or whipping posts in the South. Dr. Cobb notes that the racial riot in Wilmington, N.C. in 1898, left over 24 black men and women dead; Alfred Moore Waddell- former congressman and aggressive proponent for building statues for the Confederate “Fallen Sons” of the Civil War- inspired this riot. He believed that the legacy of the South and Confederacy hinged upon the fact that Blacks were disenfranchised.
Dr. Ayers commented on modern white supremacy demonstrations rallied around Confederate statues in Charlottesville: “I think what these statues tell us is that people remember what they want to remember, and then they see what they want to see.” In 2017, many Americans see the Confederate statues as 3D endorsements of one of the worst industries known to mankind- slavery.
Someone asked me, "well would you destroy Auschwitz since it sparks such bad memories?", and the obvious answer is of course not. This comparison is where the discussion calls up prejudice and bias about what portrayal of history is important and why. Auschwitz does not honor Hitler, Nazi generals, doctors, or troops in any way. It presents the painful and dark history without glorifying those who inflicted the pain.
I wonder if neo-Nazi supporters would have the audacity to say that destroying a memorial to Heinrich Himmler is an assault to their "culture" and way of life. I wonder if they'd be impudent enough to say that in front of a Jewish person. Due to recent events, I know some would be careless and hateful enough to wish that Nazi rule was still in effect. I'm drawing the comparison between Nazis and Confederate supporters for many reasons: both lost their wars, both of the reasons for which they were fighting were immoral and inhumane (genocide and slavery, respectively), and both exemplified how the idea of white supremacy has been a small cloud of smoke, fumed into a catastrophic fire in places like Charlottesville taking the life of Heather Heyer, and inspiring terror attacks throughout the world.
So for those who are concerned about their Southern heritage being stripped of them when statues and memorials to Robert E. Lee and others are taken down, I say that they SHOULD be worried about a piece of their coveted history being lost. We all should be worried. We can and will not forget what generals like Lee and Stonewall inspired in the hearts and minds of the terrorists that beat Deandre Harris, killed Heather Heyer, and injured many more. We must remember and condemn crimes against humanity through public archives that document the actions of Confederate generals, and if I may, British slave traders, who played a fundamental part in displacing and killing millions of human beings.
Take down the glorified statues, and replace them with valuable historical pieces that put criminals in their place and show respect to those who were made victims. It is not smart for any government to endorse or allow a public memorial honoring war criminals to stand. It is no fun acknowledging the villainous role your ancestors or national public figures may have played in history. But, if you want peace, you must recognize and call out the atrocities that started wars.
Ayer, Edward L. “The shifting history of Confederate monuments.” PBS newshour. 14 August 2017. Pbs.org. Web. 08/31/2017
Cobb, James. “Confronting the future of New Orleans’ Confederate past.” TIME- History. 14 January , 2016. Time.com. Web. 08/31/2017
Hafner, Katherine. Vera, Amir. Murphy, Ryan. “Intentional or not, local Confederate monuments were built on slave sites”. The Virginian-Pilot. 18 August, 2017. PilotOnline.com. Web. 08/31/0217