Every day, since Heather Heyer lost her life at the hands of white supremacists, and our president abdicated his moral authority by not thoroughly condemning them, America and its politicians seem to have grown a conscience (or a pair).
Since the carnage of Charlottesville, Va., politicians, especially those who once sought to drill down on the “heritage, not hate” trope, have finally decided to listen to black people, women, Native people, gay people and those who check all those boxes when they say those statues are offensive at best and, at worst, an affront to their humanity.
Whether this political fortitude has been paid for in blood capital (as it usually is—remember how the governor of South Carolina only removed the Confederate flag from its Statehouse grounds after nine people died?) is beside the point. We are a reactionary country. It has always been this way.
Every day, there is new news: Virginia is renaming its Robert E. Lee highway; the University of Texas, Duke and scores of other institutions have announced this week plans to remove what many deem symbols of hate.
And this goes beyond the Confederacy. In Baltimore, a monument to genocidal explorer Christopher Columbus was just shattered with a sledgehammer; the so-called vandals smashed the base of the 225-year-old obelisk, leaving signs reading, “Racism: Tear it down” and “The future is racial and economic justice.”
Over the weekend, in New York City’s Central Park, black women rallied to remove a statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, the so-called father of gynecology and a South Carolinian who conducted gynecological experiments on enslaved women—without anesthesia. The women who rallied in front of the Sims statue, created in 1892, say they want it replaced by three of the black women on whom he conducted his painful experiments: Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy.
As colleges and universities rename halls and buildings honoring slave owners (see Calhoun College at Yale or Hawkins Hall at Georgetown), the white men who have oppressed, down-pressed, enslaved and destroyed lives are finally coming to a very public reckoning.
And I am all for it, while it occurs to me that with this seeming wave of a million and one about-faces, the very thing that white men fear is coming to pass. This is the “thing” that allegedly drove them to form the Tea Party after Barack Obama’s presidency; or to commit suicide in greater numbers than ever before; or to jump up against Mexicans and Muslims; or to back the frothing, foaming anger that drove Donald Trump into the presidency.
It, of course, is the primal, existential fear of erasure—just as their ancestors literally and figuratively erased so many others throughout history.
This pushback is not new. The whole notion of identity studies came about because many in the 1960s and ’70s fought against the notion of an academia built around “dead white men.”
But today, and on the heels of Charlottesville, this reckoning is happening at light speed. Frankly, white boys are going to have to move aside for the others who have not been elevated but who played just as significant a role in the formation of this country and its culture.
The Nathan Green/Jack Daniels saga is but one example. The push by Barack Obama to include African Americans in the U.S. Capitol is another.
But as we have this reckoning, we remain in a very precarious place. Because as the election of Donald Trump shows, white power and privilege are not going quietly. Both will fiercely hold on to their place with anger, tears and hand-wringing, and yes, many are willing to use violence to maintain it.
I’m not being shrill when I say this country is in the battle of its life. The irony for me is that the white men who have discriminated against others and benefited the most from white supremacy are now crying that they are being discriminated against. Also ironic: The thing that they are fighting so hard against (erasure) is now happening to them because of said fight.
My advice to them? Buck up like the rest of us and learn how to live in a world where you’re not the only game in town. Or, like my favorite refrigerator magnet says, let go or be dragged—into the real world, where we should honor the best, not the whitest.