History is a set of lies agreed upon. -Napoleon Boneparte
On August 12, 2017, a group of white supremacists descended on the town of Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, former Confederate general, from a park. Counter-protesters, protesting the presence of the Neo-Nazis, KKK, and White Nationalist groups turned out in full force. By the end of the day, a 32-year-old woman named Heather Hyer was dead at the hands of a Neo-Nazi. A young man named DeAndre Harris was beaten bloody by a group of supremacists in a parking garage next door to the police station. Two police officers, Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Blake, and Pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen died in a helicopter crash related to the protests. There is certainly much to discuss. How, in 2017, are we talking about the presence of Nazis in the United States?
That’s not what they’re talking about though. Turn on any news media outlet right now, within 10 minutes I promise you will see a conservative pundit tell you that the removal of monuments to white supremacy and treason is erasing our history. The logic here essentially is that if we don’t have statues of men who fought for the South’s right to enslave, abuse, and rape black people, we’ll forget it happened and do it again. That seems like pretty sketchy analysis to me.
The reason those statues still stand has nothing to do with a respect for history, it is to remind black people that they were once slaves and to remind white people that they used to be masters. Period. They are there to intimidate black people and empower white people. The man the Charlottesville statue is honoring, Robert E. Lee was a general sought after by the Union and given the opportunity lead them into battle, he chose to follow Virginia into the Confederacy to fight for the continued enslavement of black people. Not only did he fight for continued oppression, rape, abuse, and murder of a large portion of the population, he decided to commit treason to do so. Is this an honorable man? A man who when faced with a choice between fighting for oppression or liberty, chooses oppression.
History is not being erased by removing monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, or Jefferson Davis. History is found in the stories of these times, not the monuments built. These monuments stand as an affront to everything we as Americans should hold dear, liberty, justice, and equality. Our national shame in the continued chattel slavery of black people will never be forgotten, no matter how many monuments designed to lift up the men who fought for the right to oppress are taken down. It’s part of our national identity and should be something we think about every day. Not just when we see a statue.