Confederate Monuments and White Supremacy (or, I, Too, Am a Southerner)

Confederate Statue, Williamson County Courthouse, Georgetown, TX, photo by Billy Hathorn

Many of you have likely seen the photo of the tiki-torch-bearing hater who has become the latest face of overt white supremacy and racism. The photo shows the angry face of 20-year-old Peter Cvjetanovic, who defended his actions by explaining that he “cares for all people” and “I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E. Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”

Cvjetanovic drove all the way from Reno, Nevada, not to debate, not even to protest, but to intimidate a community of people who had decided after much debate and deliberation to do what they thought was best for their community. As the de facto leader of the alt-right Richard Spencer retweeted the evening of this display of hatred: “The fear we instill in them only fuels our victory tomorrow.”

What is it that they want to “instill fear” about? Are they really that passionate about states’ rights?

Let’s talk about states’ rights for a bit.

People who defend these monuments to Confederate “heroes” do so under the guise that these men were patriots standing up for states’ rights. They’ll tell you time and time again that the Civil War was not about the defense of slavery or racist ideology. But the receipts are right there in the Declarations of the Causes of Secession passed by multiple states, including my beloved Texas who was: “received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.”

The state’s right that Texas and these other slave-holding states with which Texas felt a “strengthened association” was THE RIGHT FOR WHITE PEOPLE TO CONTINUE TO HOLD AFRICAN-DESCENDED SLAVES.

But let’s pretend for just a moment that their states’ rights sans slavery defense is sincere. These people traveled from states hither and thither and descended en masse on a state and town to try to bully that community into doing what THEY wanted — thereby attempting to override that community’s rights and deliberated decision to do what works best for them.

Hypocrisy much?

Confederate statue, Clarksville, TX, photo by John Nova Lomax

Ask yourself why a claim to whiteness = legitimate claim to U.S. heritage?

Recently, I’ve been able to trace my family tree through both DNA evidence and historical records on the white side back to 1775, where a family member was born in North Carolina, and on the black side to the 1820s, with records state that their parents were born in Alabama, which likely makes them Americans born the 1700s as well.

Note that as a black American in the United States, my racial background is both white and black. My heritage encompasses both. Most black Americans who were descended from enslaved people are about 20% white.

In other words, my heritage, our heritage, is deeply, generationally, ethnically entwined with the birth of this country. Some of us, like me, are descendants of people who were born in this country BEFORE 1776. This is not unusual as most black Americans are descended from enslaved people and their white owners. Yet when someone who looks like me says that these statues are offensive, that they symbolize the subjugation of human beings and American citizens like me, that they symbolize an evil ideology that does not represent the best in this culture and should not be celebrated, we are not listened to, we are argued with, we are ridiculed, we are dismissed, we are accused of trying to “hide history,” we are intimidated, and we are threatened with our lives.

Folks, I am a living monument to this country’s history, as well as to its future. Yet it is people who look like me, it is our voices and it is our history that these people want to continue to hide and destroy. And by these people, I mean some of you too — who sympathize with and even teach this disinformation.

I don’t know when Cvjetanovic’s family emigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe, but it is likely that he, like his president, is a descendant of immigrants who came far later than both my black and white ancestors. Cvjetanovic also claims no ties to the South. So tell me why it is that he felt that it was his right and duty to descend upon a city in another state with a group of white supremacists from outside the state to intimidate those people into doing something against what they’d decided was best for them?

Why is it that he feels so strongly that Robert E. Lee is “a great example” of “people who fought for and defended their homeland”? (Because I sure as hell don’t feel that way, and I even have a grandfather named after Robert E. Lee.)

It is because of his proximity to Whiteness and its White supremacist ideology — not U.S. culture, history, heritage (of which he has minimal claim) — but an ideology that tells him (and other white people) that he has more right to claim and demand that the history, culture and heritage of the United States — and its future — reflect primarily people who look like him.

This is why these statues have no place in public parks meant for all Americans, paid for by our tax dollars, built upon land that holds the bones and blood of all our ancestors. Their names do not belong on our schools that educate all of our children — native, immigrant, slave-descended.

These statues belong in museums. Museums reminiscent of Holocaust museums, that explain the history of the South as well as the United States’ original sin. Museums that tell the story of our current struggle with what to do with them — and what that struggle means for how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t. Museums that give this country and its citizens tools to help us overcome that sin — because this country still has a long way to go.