White folks who don’t like police brutality AND also don’t like tearing down statues: an earnest rebuttal.
Ground rules: If you are reading this then you know me, I know you, and we are friends (in the American sense of the word ❤ ). You must know that I do and will continue to respect you, and I am open to hearing rebuttals and disagreements, and I will not make assumptions about you, your values, or your history. If you want to engage, I will listen.
Lots of older white folks have opened up to me recently on their feelings on the statues. “Why do they have to tear down the statues?” “Doesn’t this symbolize a steep turning point towards violence?” “How will we remember the terrible things that have happened without the statues?”
These types of questions and feelings are, in my opinion, a way of saying “I feel threatened by this.” For whatever reason. Some may feel threatened because they think their way of life will be erased, because the history of their nation is under attack, or because this could be a stepping stone towards future violence. I hope to dispel those arguments and show that I am open to conversation on the matter.
(1) History is not remembered by monuments, it is memorialised by monuments. Statues are rewards for doing something good, for a community or for a country. Statues are also a signal to a township “this is what we, as a community, value.” Some may be particularly aesthetic or realistic, some abstract interpretations, but they are indisputably publicly available signals. By erecting statues that glorify and memorialize extremely painful moments in some folks collective histories, without their consent and often with conscientious and continuous objection, society continues to erase the voices of marginalized groups. Statues of slavers signal that we, as a country, have NOT grappled with the sins of our past, and choose to keep silent the voices that have called continuously to remove these monuments. If we had, surely we would take down these monuments to a shameful history in favour of more peaceful and optimistic beacons of the future?
(2) How much history have you learned by reading plaques on statues? How much of it painted the figure in a negative light? How much do you think the average person has learned from statues? We learn history from textbooks and school curriculum, not monuments. Monuments are the ultimate virtue-signal, and having statues of famous slavers and leaders of genocide indicates that we STILL think “well, the good outweighed the bad,” and forget the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who died at their hands.
(2b) Are we losing our collective history by re-framing the founding of the US with a racial lens? This I doubt very much. I think telling the true and fuller story of the founding of the US, with the warts of slavery and the continuous progression towards equal rights (towards which we still strive) does not cheapen the doctrine of hope and a promise of prosperity of the US. On the contrary, I think recognising our shared, flawed history and the struggle towards amending the system to be genuinely fair adds a level of self-awareness and maturity to the US that I have never felt or seen. I feel more patriotic now, seeing my fellow countrymen rise up NOT to destroy and remove everyone in power, but to review the status quo and question foundational principles in order to build something better, for everyone. It is undeniably true that BIPoC and Women’s voices (as well as poor white folks!) were actively excluded from our founding documents. I don’t think it tears down the idea of the American dream to recognise this fact and attempt to amend our doctrines to include more marginalised perspectives.
Western society IS a trajectory. I believe this movement and moment in history is a positive turn in which we begin to grapple with a painful past and move forward together.
(3) By tearing down these statues and “erasing history,” are we careening towards a violent revolution? In my opinion, no, absolutely not. Comparing the tearing down of statues to violent revolutions such as Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge, who tore down and killed mercilessly to pave way for a new future, likens BLM to these abhorrent groups. It almost seems to purposely turn a blind eye to the fact that BLM fights for equal rights, equal treatment, the right to exist, while Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot wanted to extinguish particular groups. BLM has NEVER called for violence against other humans, because it’s against the platform that we fight for: that all humans have a right to exist on an equal playing field.
Additionally, you will never see statues of Nazis or Khmer Rouge sitting out in town squares. Places of remembrance are large, extremely informative (museums or areas (killing fields, Auschwitz) that are explicitly for learning and mourning). They are somber and appropriately memorialise genocide, in that they indisputably profess a shared shame or helplessness at the hands of evil.
You may wonder “but why should I feel ashamed for something I didn’t do [, slavery]?” I will address White Guilt in a future post. But the short answer is: you shouldn’t.
(3b) While some may not appreciate the imagery of beheading statues of white men, I am not aware of any BLM representatives (or even any far-left activists?) who have EVER called for any level of violence against other humans. Perhaps controversial, but I would still call a protest in which statues are torn down “peaceful,” because no humans were harmed and really, no individuals were displaced. I will cover “peaceful protests vs. riots” in another post.