I have never seen this many reactions to a post, as I we had on the issue on Racism, Statutes, and Monuments.
One of the best posts that I read recently was by Brian H. Spitzberg. I have known him for more that 40 years, when we were debaters at UT Arlington. He is Senate Distinguished Professor in the School of Communication at San Diego State University. His primary areas of research involve interpersonal communication skills, jealousy, conflict, coercion, violence, and stalking. This is one of his books:
The Dark Side of Relationship Pursuit: From Attraction to Obsession and Stalking (2nd Edition) by Routledge; 2 edition, 2014)
“Statues are not referents. But as symbols, they are literally raised to a stature of prominence for collective public adulation, when they do not represent the collective public. And worse, they represent (symbolize) dominance over substantial portions of that collective population. The symbol is not the thing it represents, but equivalent with this axiom of communication theory is that meaning is in people, not in the symbol itself. If large segments of the population’s values, indeed, existence, are no longer represented by those statues, publicly funded statements of honorific aspiration and honor, then those people are going to seek to effect change in a societal system long demonstrated as racist in its representation of their civic presence. Your example of Hitler is instructive. Can you point to a public statue of Hitler anywhere in the world? If erected, would you be surprised, much less object, to it being torn down? Hitler wanted to eliminate a race. Many of the persons represented by these statues wanted to enslave a race. You are on the wrong side of history on this one, as are the statues. I personally tend to object to publicly funded statues of historical persons in general, as they are often flawed in ways that send very mixed messages. It bothers me, for example, that MLK engaged in plagiarism in his dissertation, a behavior I fail students for as unethical behavior. I respect Einstein immensely, but he was an adulterer and a rather bad family member. In general, we should honor values and ideals rather than people. But there are much better personages and much worse, and it is time that many of our worse sources of public adulation undergo a reevaluation. And as with so many things in public life, had the violence not initiated the downfall of these statues, the legislative process of such downfall that is now being seriously debated across the country, probably would not have occurred. I am not a fan of civil disobedience in general, but historically speaking it has often been the primary engine of much of the social justice reforms that have happened in our country.“
What a response I have received about my posts in the last two days! Without question, we have never had this many submissions. I think it is well worth reading the diversity of viewpoints that are addressed here. I want to thank every person who added to their comments. Later, we can talk about what all this means. Please read on…..
- I have no particular love or hate for statues, but please take actual history into account. Those commanders were not themselves “traitors” – their state legislatures voted to withdraw from the US, and those commanders remained loyal to their states as ever. Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address included the famous – but perhaps misunderstood – quote: With charity for all & malice toward none. Lincoln effectively indicated that the states & their leaders would resume their adherence to the US, and the US will accept them again as fellow Americans. Like the divorce lawyers say: As if it never happened.
- I think you have to account for both the statue and the setting. A statue in a museum represents history, it can have more context and other information. A statue on the Courthouse lawn is an honor. We don’t put statues of thieves and murderers in front of the Courthouse to remind people not to be criminals.
- Unfortunately, I think you are correct. This issue has been on my back burner for a long time and I have reached one very simple conclusion: Until someone really wants to understand institutional or systemic racism, is willing to embrace wherever the evidence points and is willing to actively pursue the issue, they will never change. All one has to do to allow racism to thrive is do nothing, absolutely nothing, as it’s already baked into the system.
- Hasn’t changed my mind about racism, but has upped my awareness of things (images, symbols, language, etc) that I thought were innocuous but have been used to oppress and even persecute people of color. And that’s worth something to me.
- I am one person who did have an epiphany- and I have decided to educate myself further to help stop the systematic racism so prevalent today.
- Any group that claims to be different due to skin color is racist.
- Thank you for your thoughts. While I don’t dispute your view, I would like to tell you that I have personally fielded all sorts of texts, emails, phone calls from white people who have changed their views on anti-Black racism given recent events. People who I knew to be those “silent moderates” that King bashes in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail; others who held legitimately racist views and now realize where they have been wrong. One of my dear friends and colleagues actually finally got his racist dad to understand where he has been wrong for 60 years. There’s real movement – something’s afoot, and I’m cautiously optimistic.
- This article demonstrates correct thought & correct expression. The author not only outlines her ideas clearly, but she also tries to show how evidence supports her view that it is our hearts that must change – that toppling statues & vandalizing property does not propel us to that goal. The title indicates she is “Black,” and she uses the words “us” & “we” in that certain context, as if to confirm, but her ethnicity & origin are much less important to me than the fact that she is a brilliant human being I’d love to get to know better. Many complain about text, but it is the great equalizer: Anyone, regardless of origin, background, ethnicity, parentage, wealth, gender, etc., etc., has the opportunity to use text to inform, explain, persuade, whatever. The question remains whether we can fight the real racism, or if we’re going to perpetuate it by creating symbols to attack.
- The more important question is not how events, rallies and protests have changed others but how have they changed you. They’ve changed me and how I view racism and how I need to respond.
- Only God can change a man’s heart. The root of the problem is that we have as a society that has put God aside. Until this changes we face many problems.
- According to Article Three, if the United States Constitution, treason is defined only as a citizen levying war against the United States or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. I contend that the Confederates committed treason and, although spending my entire life in Texas as a white, genteel woman, I can still reason their guilt and do not think there should be statutes of them commemorating them in places of honor. I thank you for responding reasonably and hope everyone will realize the import of their decisions and actions.
- People that support the defacing of monuments are barbarians and no better than the Nazis and Communists that burned books. Those of you that support this will look back and find yourself cowards that accepted the madness of the crowd. You that claim a grievance against the past should look at yourself as being unable to resolve your internalized issues. Some of you expect figures of the past to be judged by the standards of today, that is madness.
- Guess how many statues of Hitler stand in Germany…Exactly. 0. He is studied in history books and museums as a reminder of what a grievous mistake was made in the past so as to not repeat those in the future.
- We like to do the opposite here… glorify them all and learn nothing
- Let’s not compare all Confederate statues to Hitler. Seriously, that’s like comparing a baby chick to a condor.
- We don’t have statues of Hitler, but we DO have statues of Vladimir Lenin in the U.S. Look it up, why aren’t we tearing them down?
- I drove drove past the Lenin statue on Monday. No one has bothered with it.
- Private property doesn’t stop anyone around here. If they want it down it would be down but to many think this is the right path. They even march on May Day…a Communist holiday.
- Forget the past repeat the past oh the madness oh the sadness forget the gladness. One of my original songs.
- Private/Public property doesn’t matter to cancel culture. If something is offensive it should come down, right? Lenin is responsible for exponentially more deaths and slavery than the civil war. It should come down, right?
- Lenin clearly doesn’t belong on private property! I support the communists’ efforts to liberate his statue from the chains of private ownership.
- Karl, I agree with you that Hitler is not to be honored…where have you seen a statue of Hitler in America? That’s the point we don’t honor killers, we don’t honor hatred, we don’t honor people that have enslaved humans. That’s why the statues have to go…yesterday.
- I totally agree and the fact that Hitler and his regime were defeated put some closure around a dark time that could be viewed with some distance. Racism has had no such closure, thus no way to achieve the same perspective.
- We also done have a statue of Bin Laden in the US. So why would we want any statues that fought against the United States. Burn them down, or remove them. And don’t give me that “erasing history” stuff, until you can explain how removing statues can magically make history disappear.
- When does all this hate stop? It stops when black/brown Americans are treated equally as white Americans.
- Nothing wrong with equality at all. I pray for that. That’s all that is required here… nothing more, but in now way should any of us (black, white and brown) should accept anything less.
- Well said, Karl. I am afraid this will backfire come November.
- Damn good question, and I don’t have an answer. I guess the white male forgot his history and balls!!!!!!
- In my opinion, if the statues don’t honor all Americans and American history, then it needs to go. Are you saying white males history of enslaving black people and brown people was okay?!!!!!!
- The white American never “enslaved” anyone. The black tribes in Africa enslaved other tribes, they sold them to the Arab traders( like Obama’s great grandfather) who sold them to ship owners on the coast of Africa, killing any they could not sale. By the time they were bought by by Americans, both North and South, they had already been bought and sold several times. Now, I believe that slavery was wrong then and now, since Arabs are still buying and selling them, but very, very few Confederate troops owned or even wanted a slave since they were very expensive to buy and maintain. The Southern troops fought to keep Northern troops from destroying their homes and families. The South didn’t start the war by invading the North, instead they fought against the North invasion. What the Southern man has done today is to forget he is a man and is being “invaded “ by haters of any person , black or white , who is not a loser like them. They are trying to destroy our history and make Ii cowards like them.
- Are you kidding me… really! Slavery in the United States was the legal institution of human enslavement (we did not choose to be owned or enslaved) primarily of native Africans and African Americans, that existed in the United States of America from the beginning of the nation until passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. Slavery had been practiced and was legal in all thirteen colonies at the time those colonies formed the United States. Under the law, a black enslaved person was treated as property and could be bought, sold, or given away. Slavery lasted in about half of U.S. states until 1865. As an economic system, slavery was largely replaced by sharecropping and convict leasing. you may want to just reread a few history books on this topic and then talk to some historians. Also, I’d like to ask you if blacks were enslaved would you trade places with a black person back in 1800’s would you trade places with a black person today? If you think it’s so fair why not spend a week or two being black. I have a feeling you might change your thoughts on black Americans and the history of enslavement of black people and the oppression of black people after living a few days in our shoes.
- You missed the whole point. In your post you stated Southern whites “enslaved “ Black people, they did not. Other blacks and Arabs did that. Why aren’t you mad at them?? I grew up in Tennessee, many of my friends were black and some of their grandparents were former slaves, and yes, I talked them. Do you have any “firsthand “ knowledge? Even if you are black, neither you or your parents do. When Lincoln “freed “ the slaves. In reality he didn’t free anyone, the riots over “freeing “ them did not take place in the South, but in the North, where in parts of New York, blacks were hung on every street light. There were black Confederate military units of free blacks and many others just joined ”unofficially“ Southern units., there was not any large uprising of slaves in the South even without any white men , but stayed on the farms and produced the food for the Confederate Army. Many never left the farms and even returned after the Union Army forced them to leave. Many Confederates who went to war with their masters, returned the soldier to his home to be buried. Did you know all this??? There are many Black men in the Sons of Confederate Veterans that are fighting to protect the statues to the memory of the Confederate Veterans. These statues are NOT TO SLAVERY OR EVEN THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENTS, but to brave men who fought to protect their homes.
- I would never walk in the shoes of a BLM or a KKK or any hate group. However I have many Black friends who are strong Americans that I have great respect for and would certainly walk in their shoes.
- Misunderstanding statues shows no study of history; destroying these statues publicly shows no respect for property, public or private. The vandalism has gotten out of control.
- Mexico accepts their history good and bad …crying babies don’t exist for removals of the past.
- They erect statues of Vladimir Lenin around the world.
- I don’t see these conquering heroic statutes of Confederates as being history. The majority of them were put up in the Jim Crow era as a means of subjugation. They are not history. Those traitorous commanders were neither heroes or victorious. If they were to put up a statute that accurately depicted history then maybe a half-starved, rag-torn, defeated Confederate soldier dragging his way home would be appropriate and an aid in remembering history accurately. Just saying.
- Then, we might consider taking down statues of the Northern Generals who were slave owners.
- My opinion is though loyal to their individual state, they were disloyal to the United States. Although I tease about having a Texas passport, my real passport says I am a citizen of the United States and, if some of those commanders had been US commanders and we know they were, they had taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. What happened to their oath and would we tolerate commanders in our services who began to serve at the pleasure of a state that had gone to war with us? I am aware of Lincoln’s kind heart, I am just not sure I agree with it. Again, is it really history being portrayed if it is not portrayed accurately? I would like to have a real account of history. It angers me that until a month ago, I had never heard of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Massacre. What about that history? Why was that hidden?
- Obviously, we can see that these issues are more complicated than most people wish to acknowledge. None of it is as simple as is portrayed by those who throw rhetoric around. The truth deserves real, in-depth consideration of all aspects of these issues, and should likely lead to reasonable compromises so we can all move on, in accord, as fellow Americans.
We have yet another crisis in America. We watch illegal destruction of private and public property, including national monuments. Watching others stand around while destroying property in appalling. The question about is real: “Who gives someone the right to decide that one statute will stand, while another does not.” The argument seems to focus on what statutes symbolically stand for, instead of what are actually are. We have learned that It is a very old mistake – the symbol is not the referent. When people confuse this premise, we will continue we have many problems.
You cannot change history. It is in the past. We now see a reversed problem. Many think that a statute or monument honors or the person or event. That is incorrect. I don’t honor Hitler. I sure don’t. He was evil. He was a first-class jerk. I have nothing good to say about him. But, trying to pretend that he never existed solves nothing.
Here is another look from a Black author.
Sophia A. Nelson is the award-winning author of three non-fiction books and a “Corporate Diversity Champion” (2012) award winner for her work in corporate diversity strategies and training for the Fortune 100. She has worked in the Congress, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and at one of the nation’s largest law firms in public/government Affairs. Nelson is a frequent guest on NBC News and MSNBC, as well as many other networks, and she has written for various outlets including Essence, Huffington Post, theGrio, Politico, Politico Magazine, CNN.com and Ebony. She is the author of the book, “E Pluribus One: Reclaiming our Founders Vision for a United America” Center Street (2017)
Don’t Take Down Confederate Monuments. Here’s Why.
“A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and corrects them.”—President George W. Bush, Opening of the NMAAHC, September 24, 2016
A great Nation does not hide its history. Let that sink in for a moment.
Truer words were never spoken than those offered at the grand opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture last September, by the man who signed the legislation authorizing the Museum, George W. Bush.
We think of the words Never Forget and we instantly remember 9-11 or the Holocaust. We connect because we remember. We look. We learn. We discover. And hopefully, with a little faith, self-discovery and humility we grow into better, more loving human beings.
We do not learn when we run from our wrongs. We learn when we face them.
This is why I, as a black woman, who is a direct lineal descendant of African slaves in my maternal family tree (my grandmother “Viney” was brought to America in the hull of a slave ship in the early 1800s, around 1803 we believe from Africa and was sold to the Henry plantation in Georgia), am opposed to the removal of Confederate statues in the south whether it be here in Richmond, Virginia or deeper south in Alabama.
Although I agree with the powerful words and sentiments expressed by Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans last week about why he thinks Confederate statutes and symbols should come down, I do not think it reflects the great first amendment freedoms America was founded upon
Let me be clear: I felt very differently about the Confederate flag because it was a waving symbol of hate, rebellion and division flying over modern day state capitols throughout the south. However, I am not opposed to people wearing the confederate flag on their hats or flying it in their yards. That’s called “free expression” and in America it is sacrosanct.
Just as we cannot tell people not to buy Nazi paraphernalia or collect it in their homes (no matter how abhorrent we may find it), we likewise cannot tell people they are not allowed to honor family members who fought for the confederacy or that their forbears could not raise monuments to southern heroes like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson—both of whom were decorated and beloved West Point graduates and union officers before the south seceded from the union in rebellion.
In July 2015 when former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, now UN Ambassador Haley, ordered confederate flags down after the horrific shootings of nine black church members in the historic AME church in downtown Charleston, she was 100% correct.
The symbol was used by Dylan Roof to stoke his murderous rage one night after a Bible study where he killed nine God-fearing black church members. After that incident, the public sentiment shifted and the flag had to come down. More powerfully, South Carolinians taught us all a profound lesson of love, compassion and reconciliation as tens of thousands of them marched together on the famed Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge.
But here is my point: In America, we pride ourselves on free thought. Free expression. Freedom to worship as we believe. Freedom to speak our minds without terrorizing or harassing others (hate speech is not free speech as defined by the US Supreme Court). Freedom to associate with groups and have ideas that may differ from each other, even if they are the “wrong” ideas
At the end of the day, I don’t want statutes of Robert E. Lee to come down.
I attended Washington & Lee University in Lexington Virginia as a first-year law student. It was an experience I will never forget. We had racial threats made against us as the largest black class of law students in the schools storied history, (which I wrote about in a 1998 Washington Post article entitled, “A Black Law Students First Trials”). But our white classmates were as outraged as us, and the Dean reacted swiftly and firmly to handle the perpetrators. We endured.
I don’t fear 150-year-old statues of old dead white men. What I fear is the hatred we see in real time in 2017 on social media and in our political rhetoric.
The people who hated having black classmates at their school didn’t hate us because there were statues of Robert E. Lee or George Washington (our nation’s first President and a slave owner) on campus. It wasn’t because of a Gen. Stonewall Jackson monument VMI or downtown.
They didn’t like having black classmates because they had racist hearts. They honored racial prejudice. They harbored cultural bias. That, my friends, is what we must work toward eradicating.
And we won’t do it by hiding from our racist, slave owning, segregated past. If we start taking statues down, well, we better go for old Thomas Jefferson (master of a slave who was his mistress and mother of at least four of his children). And let’s not forget President Trump’s favorite president, Old Hickory—Andrew Jackson. Another slave-holding Indian-killing president of our nation. Get my point?
We do not learn when we run from our wrongs. We learn when we face them.
Keep the statues where they are so that people can explain history to their kids. Keep them so that we can have a constructive dialogue at places like Montpelier (the home of President James Madison, who is considered the father of the Constitution).
Montpelier has a series called The Mere Distinction of Colour, a provocative new exhibition examining the institution of slavery and its legacy. Mount Vernon has done something similar with its new slave exhibit as of last year. Monticello announced earlier this year a new wing about Sally Hemings and of course, the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (which was the victim of yet another hateful racial act yesterday) is the place that every American family should go and take their kids, and their grandkids. And teach them, so that they do not repeat our mistakes.
America is different because we value freedom. Freedom of thought. Of Speech. Of Heritage. Of celebration.
I don’t fear 150-year-old statues of old dead white men. What I fear is the hatred we are seeing in real time in 2017 on social media, on our college campuses, in our workplaces and in our political rhetoric (i.e.: Kathy Griffin).
America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it, work at it, and trust that it ultimately works for us all.
I received a number of posts last night about racism. I appreciate everyone who took the time to read and respond to the question that I posed. Interestingly, using other words, most of the comments seem be consistent with the premise – “People already know what they think, and what they believe is right and wrong. While they may listen a bit, they will mostly confirm and reinforce what they already think – but they are not going to change their minds.”
If you did not see the original post, here is the link:
See some of these comments:
Sorry it has brought you sadness. I am one of those not open to changing my mind. With children of color who have faced racism, I am not going to stand for it no matter the form it takes now.
Unfortunately I think you are correct. This issue has been on my back burner for a long time and I have reached one very simple conclusion: Until someone really wants to understand institutional or systemic racism, is willing to embrace wherever the evidence points and is willing to actively pursue the issue, they will never change. All one has to do to allow racism to thrive is do nothing, absolutely nothing, as it’s already baked into the system.
Hasn’t changed my mind about racism, but has upped my awareness of things (images, symbols, language, etc) that I thought were innocuous but have been used to oppress and even persecute people of color. And that’s worth something to me.
I am one person who did have an epiphany – and I have decided to educate myself further to help stop the systematic racism so prevalent today.
Any group that claims to be different due to skin color is racist.
Thank you for your thoughts. While I don’t dispute your view, I would like to tell you that I have personally fielded all sorts of texts, emails, phone calls from white people who have changed their views on anti-Black racism given recent events. People who I knew to be those “silent moderates” that King bashes in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail; others who held legitimately racist views and now realize where they have been wrong. One of my dear friends and colleagues actually finally got his racist dad to understand where he has been wrong for 60 years. There’s real movement – something’s afoot, and I’m cautiously optimistic.
Well said, Karl
The more important question is not how events, rallies and protests have changed others but how have they changed you. They’ve changed me and how I view racism and how I need to respond.
Only God can change a man’s heart. The root of the problem is that we have as a society that has put God aside. Until this changes we face many problems.
It’s led to me knowing about a lot of statues I never knew existed before. Then I found out I was supposed to be upset about them being destroyed. I’m trying to care but it ain’t like they were old yella, you know, something I actually knew about before yesterday,
It’s led to me better understanding where a ton of people stand.
In my mind, the question now becomes, “what would have be different for you to change own mind about racism?” If you don’t know, we will not see progress, no matter how people will tell stories, listen presentations, read books, watch films, participate in protests, save statues, or anything else.
I have thought a lot about the crisis we are having with racism. In fact, the next few books to present at the First Friday Book Synopsis will focus on this. I wish I felt differently about this topic has that concerned many lives. In my view, this is futile. I just don’t think that too many people are going to change their mind about this topic. Way before these current events occurred, people already know what they think, and what they believe is right and wrong. While they may listen a bit, they will mostly confirm and reinforce what they already think – but they are not going to change their minds. They can do lip service without making any changes in their own minds. To them, this is just old news. They already know what they think, and what they believe, and what they stand for. They can pretend, and they can speak out of two sides of their mouth. They can access books, papers, films, and they can protest, march in different kinds demonstrations, follow or break rules, or even prevent or commit crimes, but none of that changes people’s minds. About 18 months ago, I went to a presentation by Randy Mayeux about the history of racism. The speech was well-presented, and the audience was grateful. They were polite. When I left, I had the feeling that the morning had no impact on anyone. “Ho Hum.” They already knew what they thought. We have studied attitude change for years. If we had the data, we still do not know if the respondents were honest, Even when people can be angry – they not even know what they are angry about. Ask someone if the recent events have honestly really changed his or her mind about racism. I don’t think that too many people are going to wake up after having an epiphany.