The Why of Tearing Down the Statues

I have half an hour before my Zoom exercise class begins. I was vacuuming when I came up with some thoughts to jot down before I lose them.

On a 4th of July Zoom call the other day, the conversation turned to the protests in the streets and the tearing down of statues across the country:  Christopher Columbus, Robert E. Lee, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and here in California, the priest who settled the missions – Junipero Serra, along with Francis Scott Key (writer of the Star Spangled Banner) and Ulysses S. Grant, a Union Army general and president.

A woman in her 70’s on the call said these words:  “They are tearing down MY history.”

Here’s the thing. The white woman who said this (I am also white) is buying into the white supremacy thing that is pointed out in the book I am reading called White Fragility, which states that white people won’t discuss race because it is taboo, and because of the belief that only bad people are racists.

Therefore, if we do not think we are bad, we cannot be racist.

We live in a country where monuments have been erected to slave owners, white men who have had children with slaves, and confederate army generals (the Confederate Army fought to keep slavery intact).

It’s 2020. The Civil War ended 155 years ago. The North won. Slavery ended. So why do we still have monuments to these people in public places?

George Washington was a slave owner. One guy on Facebook said, “But he gave his slaves better lives than they would’ve had in Africa.”

That is a racist statement. The white guy has decided that it is better to be captured and brought to the USA to live in captivity and to work twelve or more hours a day than to live out your life in your home country as a free person.

I don’t know the guy. He’s a friend of a friend, and I have a rule about not getting into fights with strangers. It never ends well. If I were invested in a friendship with this guy, I might’ve pointed out to him that his comment was from a white privilege point of view.

I scrolled past.

The same thing with the Zoom meeting. Here is a group of half Republicans and half Democrats having a nice gathering on the 4th of July. Did I really want to point out to the woman that her history is one of white supremacy? And that if she could look at it from a black person’s point of view, then she might see how a statue of a slave owner in a public place could be offensive?

But she hasn’t examined her bias, which is true of many white Americans. She needs to read White Fragility, but I am sure she won’t. The people who need to read it the most won’t be willing to learn and grow from the book. They are satisfied with their white supremacy position in our country. I am not saying she is an overt white supremacist. I am saying that she has the benefit of being white and sees no need to change the status quo.

My maiden name is Middleton. There are black people in the U.S with the last name of Middleton. I can deduce from that that somewhere in my ancestry, I am related to slave owners. No African man or woman immigrated here with Middleton as their surnames.

Last names were given to slaves by their owners. If you are a Smith or a Jones, you can argue that it was other Smiths and Joneses who were slave owners. It would hard to prove either way.

My knowledge of ancestors only goes back a few generations. I don’t have to own up to my ancestors being slave owners, but they probably were. The USA was built by slaves: the South, Washington D.C., even the White House.

It’s time for every white American to stop and think that if they had been born black, they might be in the streets, too. Okay, if you want to think you’d just be protesting and not defacing monuments, I’ll give that to you.

It’s a start, at least.


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