Whether certain monuments should stay up has been a question made for years. In the last month especially, activists have persistently pushed for the removal of monuments depicting racist historical figures. Focusing mainly on confederate monuments, but also attacking those of George Washington among many other figures, these individuals feel that discarding any symbols of racism and anti-Blackness is an important step in the fight towards racial justice. However, backlash has appeared in the form of government officials refusing to take these monuments down and putting in place extra measures to protect them from protestors. They feel that monuments represent a past period of the U.S. and taking any down would be a disservice to the history of the country. Although prominent government members argue that monuments are an important part of history and should be valued, those that are racist should be removed because they contradict the purpose of a monument and serve as a painful reminder of the past to those affected.
Education Matters More Than A Statue
While monuments do portray people that were important at one point, this does not mean that those people must continue receiving praise. President Trump disagrees with this sentiment, and many Americans agree with him. In his opinion, the U.S. has a “great history” that people should feel proud of; monuments help keep this history alive, and without them, it might get forgotten. The same source also quotes him saying “if you don’t understand your history you will go back to it again.” This makes no sense at all. The sole reason for why people remember the Civil War is not because monuments of generals exist. This piece of history lives on because academic institutions teach it, passing this knowledge on to students. If someone removed a monument of Robert E. Lee, the memory of him would not evaporate. His story lives on through textbooks and lectures, neither of which require a statue glorifying him. That piece of stone would not teach anyone what the Confederacy was, what it stood for, or how it affected the lives of millions of people. So, while a monument may depict someone that was revered, this does not mean that it carries the memory of that person. Education is what teaches individuals history, and it can be presented in a way that informs people contextually, given past and present circumstances.
The Purpose Of A Monument
According to Merriam-Webster, a monument is “a lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great.” In other words, the purpose of one is to celebrate and honor the person depicted because society believes that they are accomplished. Neither racism nor White supremacy is “notable or great,” so why keep up monuments of individuals that upheld these ideas? By doing so, this implies that the entire current population of the U.S. agrees with these ideas and looks upon them favorably, which is clearly not the case. In a period where racial justice is the goal, symbols commemorating racism and White supremacy do not belong—they never did, and they especially do not now. If a monument is truly supposed to serve as a lasting example of someone great, then racist monuments must be removed.
A Constant Reminder Of A Painful Past
Every time Black folks lay eyes on a racist monument, they face the harsh truth that they were discriminated against in the U.S. and that this practice has not vanished completely. Confederate statues, for example, serve as a reminder that slavery is not looked down upon. If it was, then the thousands of statues glorifying Confederate members would not exist. There would be no need for these statues if the American people truly felt embarrassed about past events. The U.S. glorifies its past. It acknowledges slavery but describes it in such a way that makes it seem like it was a necessary step to achieve today’s success, meanwhile failing to address the detrimental effects it has had on Black folks’ lives in the country. If this did not seem bizarre enough, the routes that other countries have taken to address their problematic pasts make the U.S. seem even worse. According to the same source, other countries have reflected upon their legacies and created visiting sites to acknowledge past events without celebrating them. Notice how Germany does not have any monuments dedicated to Hitler. Instead, it has Holocaust memorials and monuments made at the homes of Jewish families that were abducted. By failing to regard its past events in a manner similar to this one, the U.S. displays comfort with its past. This cannot continue at the expense of Black folks’ discomfort. Removal of racist monuments is a step in the right direction to overcome painful reminders.
Racist monuments have no place in the U.S. as they uphold anti-Black and White supremacist ideas, going against the purpose of a monument and reminding Black folks of the difficult history of the country. They must come down. Protest and petition local and state governments to bring about this necessary change. For those confused as to what would happen to monuments after removal, the New York Times has a few solutions. Once taken down, monuments can be put in state archives or in museums; the second option actually presents exciting possibilities. Instead of sitting proudly in public view with no context, monuments placed in museums have the opportunity to be displayed in a setting where it can be explained why they were erected and later taken down. This process ensures that history will not be lost, while avoiding sending the wrong message: that racist figures are glorified. It would also help in maintaining the purpose of a monument and in educating people responsibly. Change must occur so that racial justice can be achieved. Black Lives Matter and ensuring that actions follow words is extremely important right now.