Following the horrific events in Charlottesville, Va., where one woman was killed during a white supremacist rally to save a statue of Robert E. Lee, cities across the country are moving swiftly to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces. Even citizen protesters in Durham, N.C., took matters into their own hands to remove a Confederate statute. It’s about time.
People across the ideological spectrum have supported the removal of Confederate monuments. Some have called for relocating them to museums; others are advocating for them being placed on private property; and then there are those who want companion statues to be erected celebrating abolitionists. Given the violence that Confederate symbols motivate their supporters to undertake, it’s not a difficult position to call for their removal.
And they should be removed. To be clear, symbols having meaning. There is a reason black citizens in the nation’s capital direct their Uber driver or cab to take them to “D.C. National” for their flights. It’s because they refuse to acknowledge the 40th president of the United States, who they feel did nothing to merit being memorialized. There is a reason that Harlem residents are fighting back against SoHa.
It’s why there is a Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra, Ghana, as well as a monument to him outside the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, even though the New York Times ran a story with Western thought leaders calling him a despot. The reason is that to the people in Ghana in particular but across the continent, Nkrumah is revered as a hero, a father of Africa and one of the foremost thinkers of Pan-Africanism despite what others outside the continent say. The people of the continent want Nkrumah to be remembered and, above that, revered.
What, then, is the goal of American citizens who want to keep statues and monuments to Confederate soldiers? Nations around the world have demonstrated that you don’t have to celebrate the worst of your country’s history in order to remember and teach it. Germany may be the best example of that.
What, then, are people celebrating? An often repeated refrain from Confederate sympathizers is that celebrating those soldiers and the Confederate States of America is “heritage, not hate.” Those folks are partially right. It is heritage, but what they either are uninformed of or are being intellectually dishonest about is that their heritage is rooted in hate. One simply can’t have one without the other. What these voices who are speaking so loudly and with violence are telling us is that they fancy their whiteness over their patriotism to the United States.
If that is their position, they further dramatize their hypocrisy when they tell Colin Kaepernick, Bree Newsome or any other activist, “America: love it or leave it.” As for local officials responsible to the citizens in their municipalities and states, it is imperative to remove Confederate statues. American citizens are mature enough to learn about some of the worst of the nation without celebrating it.
The recent events in Charlottesville have shown us that those monuments and statues are flash points of celebration for white supremacists and Nazi sympathizers. White supremacists and Confederate apologists have already declared their allegiance to whiteness over nation. Now we wait to see the stance of elected officials across the nation. Where does your allegiance lie? To the citizens you represent or symbols that stand only to preserve the perverse belief of white superiority?
Ray Baker is a journalist who hosts the Public Agenda Podcast. He is a television and radio commentator who has appeared on TV One, BET, WVON (Chicago), SiriusXM and China Global Television Network. You can follow him on Twitter.