Thoughts on Confederate Statues from a Southern White Male
Growing up in the South, I was told (and unfortunately believed) a number of things about the Confederacy. Of course, I heard the common Southern sentiment that the Civil War was about states’ rights and definitely not slavery, but I was also told that the Confederate generals were upstanding and honorable men, while the Union generals consisted of morally corrupt misfits. I was told that many Southern slaveowners treated their slaves well (aside from the whole “forcing them to be slaves” part, I guess). I even heard that the Northern, non-slave-holding states were just as racist and oppressive as the South (maybe even more so).
The fact that none of this was true didn’t matter. This wasn’t about truth, but rather about instilling and propagating a racist ideology. It’s important to note that this mentality was not limited to extremist groups such as the KKK. This way of thinking permeated the community I grew up in, and I knew no one in the KKK. My teachers, friends, and even some relatives believed this. It was “normal.”
This same revisionist and racist mindset is what fueled the erecting of Confederate memorials throughout the South. The vast majority of them were built between 1895 and World War I, a time of violent persecution of black people as well as the systemic and government-sanctioned oppression of Jim Crow laws. Some statues were put up during the civil rights movement. Their message was clear: the South belongs to whites.
In light of today’s controversy over these Confederate memorials, I keep hearing people say that their removal is an attempt to erase history. This misses the point entirely. The memorials themselves were an attempt to erase history. If these monuments were about history, we would see statues of slaves being whipped by their owners, black families being torn apart as they were sold to different places, and plantation owners with their black slave mistresses and children. If this was about history and not white supremacy, we’d see a statue of an innocent black man hanging from a tree and a group of happy white people posing for a picture with his lifeless body. This isn’t about history. This is about whitewashing history.
I also hear others say that tearing down a statue has no impact on racism. On one hand, I agree that dismantling a statue of a Confederate soldier won’t do much to directly combat the racist undercurrent that still runs deep throughout our nation. But, these statues are symbolic of a mindset that has been tearing at the fabric of America for generations, and bringing them down is at least symbolic of us collectively rejecting that mindset. When we remove a Confederate memorial from a public site, we are saying that it is time to remove the veiled hate that put it there in the first place. I think the time is well overdue.