How do we deal with the dark parts of our history?
It’s not an easy question to answer.
At one extreme, we embrace the darkness, honoring and promoting it.
At the other extreme, we reject it in its entirety, removing all traces of its existence.
Both approaches seem wrong. Very wrong.
Surely there’s some kind of middle ground, that remembers without venerating, yet criticizes within context.
This isn’t an approach that is neutral. This is an approach with nuance, one that tries to grapple with the complicated nature of the world.
We are neither all good nor all bad.
Maybe at this point, you’ve jumped the gun and guessed that I’m going to be talking about Confederate Statues. The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that around 718 Confederate statues and monuments remain in the United States. They are not exclusively in the South, though they are mostly found there. Some statues of General Lee could be found in places such as Baltimore, Maryland, and streets are named after him and Stonewall Jackson in New York City.
So, it’s an issue that spans many parts of the country.
What remains to be decided is how we deal with.
And, for once, I think the solution is simple.
I like democracy, and I like conferring as much power as I can to local jurisdictions. The communities should decide what should be done with the statues.
No city should be forced to keep a statue the majority doesn’t want around, for whatever reason.
Likewise, no city should be forced to remove a statue that the majority wants to remain in place, for whatever reason.
I’m both pleased and disheartened that city councils are the ones making these kinds of decision. I’m pleased that the decision is being made locally, but with an asterisk.
The status of Confederate statues is only an issue that has blown up in the past two years or so. Consequently, many elected officials didn’t campaign on a particular stance on the matter. Nobody knew they needed one.
This is a topic that matters to people, and many elected officials, who are supposed to represent their constituents, have little what they think. Their mandate on the subject is very weak. If they just go with what they think is right, they’re not representing their constituency very well.
It concerns me, then, to see that Baltimore removed its Confederate statues overnight, the day after the council voted on the matter. If you have nothing to hide, do it in the daytime.
It’s even more concerning that it was done in apparent opposition to the local constituency. 95.55% of people who responded to a poll run by the Baltimore Sun said that the city should not “remove two Confederate statues [or] add contextual details to two others.” That’s pretty significant, though the sample size is admittedly small, at just 1349 people.
But, even if we suggest that the poll is as much as 30% off the mark, then we still have almost a supermajority of residents against the removals.
We have similar issues near my hometown.
Dallas, Texas has a statue of General Lee. In August of 2017, the Mayor, Mike Rawlins, created the “Mayor’s Task Force on Confederate Monuments.” This isn’t as good as polling the populace, as the task force was handpicked by one person, but at least the city is trying to get some feedback on what should be done, recognizing the weakness of their mandate on the matter.
The task force’s recommendations can be found here. The task force considered many Confederate symbols other than the statues, including art at Fair Park, but for the sake of space, I’m only going to talk about the General Lee statue.
Here is its recommendation:
“1a. (Task Force Recommendation #1) That the City of Dallas seek to place the
statue of Robert E. Lee and the base of the sculpture on long-term loan or by
donation to a museum, educational institution, or educational site located within
North Texas so that it may be preserved and used for educational purposes
through display within the full historical context of the Civil War, Reconstruction,
‘Lost Cause’ mythology, and the ‘Jim Crow’ era. If the City is unsuccessful in its
efforts and the statues remain in storage after three years, the City Council should
revisit this issue.”
This seems like a reasonable recommendation. It’s accommodating to many different parties, and it potentially fits within my view that if a community no longer wants the statue, it has full license to get rid of it.
But, before we pass judgment on the plan, let’s take a look at what the residents of Dallas think.
Here’s a poll run by the Dallas Morning News:
What should Dallas do with its remaining Confederate memorial?
- Leave the memorial as-is, no signs, nothing. 61.4% (4,132 votes)
- Leave the memorial in place and add signs to explain historical context. 31.8% (2,139 votes)
- Remove the memorial that is in front of the convention center as planned, despite the cost and possibility of damage. 3.6% (245 votes)
- Topple the memorial like a Saddam Hussein statue. 3.1% (209 votes)
Total Votes: 6,725
93.25% of those who responded to the poll object to the removal of the statue at all. And, this poll is six times as large as the one held in Baltimore but displays shockingly similar numbers. Is it possible that we’re uncovering what most people in America think about this topic?
If so, why are we allowing a small number of people to make this decision, especially if they are making it in opposition to the vast majority of citizens?
That’s not democracy.
That’s a couple of elites running roughshod over the people who elected them. That’s wrong.
I get the feeling that I can’t take the particular stance I’m taking without getting accused of being a white nationalist. It’s a label that you can’t escape if you can’t head it off.
But, here’s my stance: I don’t care if the statue stays up or goes down. I care if politicians don’t listen to those they represent.