I’m horrified at the events in Charlottesville. Two weeks ago, I had been asked by the Quakers what to do about the planned protest. My solution had been to ignore the protest, stay away from it, not give it any press. I wonder at the bravery of those who did go. In the end, they got press, not just from others, but also from me. So, what to do about the monuments to a war that many would rather not remember, what to do with the fact that honoring these monuments perpetuates a discomfort in some that is oppressive to them. I once thought taking the monuments down was the solution. After visiting the Native American cultural centers however, I realize that in many ways, that is what happened to them. Their symbols and culture were removed from our society and put in museums. Some of these museums have survived, yet others have closed. So, I am much more ambivalent today about removing the past from the present. I now think, (and am open to debate), that qualification is necessary. Use the monuments as an opportunity for reflection about what they mean. Something like:
“Many years ago, much of the wealth of this country was founded on the unpaid labor of forced immigrants whose families were mostly destroyed in the process. Slavery as an institution formally ended as a consequence of the end of the Civil War. This country sacrificed 620,000 men to resolve the question of how much a human being could be exploited by another for profit. The burden of this exploitation was unequally and almost without exception borne by persons of color. This burden is felt to this day by many people as we strive towards a post-racial society. Some people may be reminded by this monument of the pain and intimidation of the suffering; yet others of the shame at being associated with the side that lost the war and the moral line that they failed to uphold by their position on slavery. We seek to remember the pain, and acknowledge the suffering and work yet to be done.”
Maybe we need different structures – but would they evoke the same feelings, and are these feelings central (necessary) to our history? Or should the public space be used to evoke feelings that we can get along? Can we trust people to make the distinction between taking down a statue that looks like a person, and taking down a person? Do we fight idols? Was Trump really so wrong in making the Sabbath (the day the event happened) a day for peace, and nonengagement in the fight? For waiting until Monday to condemn?