Somehow, no matter how many years have passed since the Confederate States of America took the “L” in the Civil War, we are still talking about whether or not it’s cool to fly Confederate battle flags (it’s not) or if it’s okay to take down Confederate monuments (it is). Our country has a very obvious devotion to valuing ignorance over decency as we continue to allow this conversation to happen rather than stating outright that Confederate icons = the promotion of racism and historic revisionism.
This is, unfortunately, not a big surprise to many of us in the United States, as we see the survival of Confederate-era beliefs and systems in our laws and social interactions. But when the conversation is dominated by the “freedom of speech” debate, and then further convoluted with other disjointed strains of pro-Confederate backlash, it’s hard to get to that systemic-level of discourse.
So I’ll hit this topic at the most basic level of discussion: the protest chants. When pro-Confederate icon protesters aren’t having their spotlight taken by their Nazi and white supremacist counterparts (even if it’s hard to tell the difference between them), there are a few basic points that they’re trying to make. I’ve seen this first hand in New Orleans, standing nearly face-to-face with pro-Confederate monument protests (again, seemingly one-and-the-same with the white supremacists) after it was announced all of the Confederate monuments would be coming down. We’ve seen more and more of these chants and beliefs popping up as more and more cities are making the right decision to remove flags and monuments from public spaces, so here’s what I have to say to those beliefs:
1. “You’re Erasing History!”
Every time the topic of removing Confederate monuments comes up, one claim that typically comes out over the others is the idea that removing a statue somehow erases or at least attempts to cover up our nation’s history. These monuments, in their eyes, are meant to remind the nation of where the Southern United States come from, not promote racism or remind anyone that the Southern United States was once synonymous with preserving slavery.
Here’s the issue with this logic: no one is asking to erase the history of our country. If anything, anti-Confederate monument protesters are wanting to unveil the history that those monuments keep from surfacing. The main goal of removing these terrible Confederate monuments is to ensure that we are not publicly praising a person who not only directly supported the enslavement of Black people and subordination of other people of color, but who also were directly fighting against our country. In Germany, you don’t see statues of Hitler as reminders of the terrible history of the Third Reich, and you don’t see Nazi flags being proudly flown; you see monuments dedicated to honoring those who were killed by those Nazis during the Holocaust. Why should we treat these terrible people like Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis any differently?
2.“It’s About Freedom of Speech!”
It seems like conservative folks really like to call on the U.S. Constitution when they protest, whether it’s the “right to bear arms” or “freedom of religion,” and so on. In this case, the First Amendment right of freedom of speech is what pro-Confederate icon protesters like to invoke when talking about why they try to defend their problematic positions. Flying the Confederate battle flag is their right as Americans! Or so they say.
There’s so much irony in this position that it hurts. First of all, the idea that flying the Confederate flag should be protected under freedom of speech is ridiculous, considering the Confederate flag represents a group of people who directly opposed that very idea. But secondly, the speech that comes along with toting around the Confederate flag is speech that isn’t covered in the Constitution, because that speech is directly related to the subjugation of marginalized groups in this country. Whether you agree with it or not, the Confederate flag represents the legacy of slavery and racism in our country, something that should never be waved around with pride.
3. “Save the Art!”
One of the sadly funniest things I saw while protesting the Confederate monuments in New Orleans was a small amount of people who had a totally different position on the matter. They weren’t mad that we wanted to take down these terrible monuments because they were Confederate leaders or icons; they were (allegedly) angry because they wanted to save the art! One woman’s sign read “Don’t take down the statue! Rename it ‘Man on Horse’” in reference to the Beauregard statue at New Orleans’ City Park. There was even a sky-writing plane flying around while we marched writing out the message “SAVE NOLA ART” (although by the time they got to “ART” it just looked like “LA ART,” so take that for what it’s worth).
As much as I would like to smash and destroy every single iteration of Confederate icons, that is not what is planned for most of the Confederate monuments across the United States. Most of them will be housed elsewhere, in private, such as in a museum, so the idea that for some reason our cities are just up and destroying “art” is an especially baffling one. While I’m sure there’s a small amount of people who are worried about the “art,” it’s pretty obvious that it’s all just a ploy to make those who are against Confederate monuments out to be anti-art (which is really…something). Now if we can just get around to smashing and destroying all of the Confederate museums…
4. “Liberal Snowflakes are Ruining our Heritage!”
I’ve had far too many conversations than I wish I’d had about how Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag are simply a part of Southern heritage, and how I wouldn’t understand being from California. These monuments and the flag represent the history of the South, and the pride that comes along with being a Southerner. The last thing Southerners want is for some dang liberal hippie snowflakes to tell them how to live their lives! Those snowflakes just don’t understand what it means to have pride in your heritage.
Let’s be real here. Saying the Confederate battle flag or the monuments represent nothing but heritage is doing two things: a) it is denying all of the history that is associated with the flag and monuments in terms of promoting slavery, racism, and genocide, and b) it is associating what it means to be a Southerner with that terrible legacy. If you are fine with either overlooking or even embracing that terrible past that’s associated with the Confederate flag and monuments, then fine, but I will choose to not respect you. What you’re doing when you fly that flag or fight to save those monuments is literally treason against our country. You cannot praise Robert E. Lee and wave your Confederate flag around and also claim to be a good American.
But even with the nationalist b.s. aside, if you want to be treated with respect, you need to stop fighting for these false idols and a piece of fabric and start realizing that your “heritage” is based in racism and body terrorism. I’m willing to extend my hand out to the people who are willing to help eradicate Confederate icons from our country and see how “Southern pride” doesn’t need a flag with a racist legacy to be its symbol. It’s time you stop denying the fact that these monuments and that flag represent some of the worst parts of our country’s history, and it has no place existing in our future.
[Featured Image: Three brown-skin individuals sit beside a down statue. Flickr.com/RodneyDunning.]