On Sunday, August 11, 2018, white nationalists will gather in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. to mark the one-year anniversary of “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, NC. As anyone with an eye on the news knows, the rally in Charlottesville last year escalated into violence that led to the death of a young woman named Heather Heyer, who was run over by a car which drove into a crowd of people.
As I wrote last year: “the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA on August 11-12, 2017 was a shock to the conscience. In the hours and days after hundreds of protesters marched with Nazi and Confederate flags (some of them proudly and defiantly exhibiting Nazi salutes) and chanted anti-Semitic slogans in their ostensible and ultimately self-defeating attempt to express opposition to the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, millions took to social media to express outrage, disseminate memes, and record their solidarity with the noble cause of condemning racism and white nationalism.”
The “Unite the Right” rally was ostensibly motivated by opposition to the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But while one can conceive of good reasons to admire General Lee (as I argued here), it is time to put the “Lost Cause” to rest and remove all Confederate movements remaining on their perch in the United States. I advocate putting them in a museum or other institution as a way of preserving history. But there is no need to celebrate or honor people who fought for the causes of slavery and treason. The right side won. Confederates lost. If one is not too wedded to the curse of presentism, one can acknowledge that Confederate monuments were a late-19th-century means of reconciliation with the South to heal the wounds of war. But we’re no longer living in the time of Jim Crow. The Deep South way of life in 19th-century antebellum America was grounded in the evils of racism and slavery. The post-war South was grounded in violent opposition to Reconstruction and all substantive attempts to elevate the social status of black Americans. In short, the Confederate way of life, which Confederate monuments effectively legitimate, was grounded into the historical injustices of white supremacy.
It’s time for them to go, and perhaps there is no better time than now, as white nationalists gather in D.C. this weekend to mark the anniversary of last year’s violent rally. These are not legitimate voices. As I wrote last year: “[w]hat became clear about Charlottesville…was that the fanatical voices that show[ed] up at protests were, in this case, front and center and they were the worst of the worst. Richard Spencer was one of the scheduled headline speakers, and several white supremacist groups were in attendance, including the neo-Confederate secessionist group League of the South, white nationalist group Identity Evropa, and neo-Nazi group The Daily Stormer.
If one was initially inclined to give attendees the benefit of the doubt, not having closely examined the organizers of the event, and suggest that attendees were genuinely and primarily motivated by a concern about heritage, though misguided by the odd notion that white people are under siege, it was soon apparent that hatred and malice far outweighed any other motives for the rally. Nazi chants like ‘Jews will not replace us’ and ‘blood and soil’ were heard. One demonstrator remarked about Charlottesville: ‘This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal ni***rs’. In essence, this rally was well-attended by individuals espousing a worldview that many of us believed had been safely relegated to the past, one in which white supremacy ruled the roost morning, noon, and night. It was the kind of worldview which fed a Nazi regime which exterminated six million Jews, and a nineteenth-century culture of white supremacy which enslaved four million black Americans.”
With voices like these, who wants to bother with benefits of the doubt? These are not groups that deserve any kind of legitimacy. Unfortunately, Confederate monuments give them just that. Confederate monuments have their origin in the “Lost Cause”, which had its origin in an attempt to honor the Confederate way of life. But the Confederate way of life was fundamentally and grossly unjust, based on a worldview that the voices quoted above promote. Thankfully, that kind of society is no more. But we must give no hope to those who have any perverse wish for a return to an era when the injustices of white supremacy reigned supreme. Take the monuments down.
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