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The Statues Must Come Down

History is a wracking pain in every society, but those who fail to confront it invite a vicious specter into the modern life of their nation.

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) in Charlottesville.

I was cheered by the news that protesters — echoing centuries of dramatic revolutionary imagery — tore down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina Monday night. To the chant of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!” the crowd fitted a cord around the statue, tugged mightily, and sent it tumbling to oblivion.

One down, perhaps as many as a thousand to go.

All over the world, tyrants’ statues toppling like so much felled timber is one of the great symbols of liberty; these are moments that mark the passing of an era.

Many on the right, of course, won’t see it that way however.

Let’s be unambiguous here: they support the Confederacy and its canonization in the public square because they are racist. Period. Their wheedling and cowardly self-justifications, however, should be picked apart nonetheless, as the occasionally useful idiot can still be found spouting them in a misguided attempt at “fairness.”

Tearing down the statues erases history!

No, it does not.

A statue of a historical figure, entity, or event, performs a didactic function, yes. It says “this person existed” or “this thing happened” to all passersby. But their chief purpose is a hortatory one. We build statues of victors, heroes, and role models, of people we want to not only remember, but celebrate. To have a statue erected of one’s self, or of one’s deeds, is not merely a neutral marking of one’s existence, but a literal towering honor.

Everyone understands this; this isn’t high-minded academic theory or “reading too much into things.” This is what statues are for. They do not merely mark a person or event, they honor them.

But let’s pursue the argument — so beloved of half-witted white men like Tucker Carlson — that this is all about ensuring the neutral remembrance of history:

“Which statues are next, the president asked today, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson?

It’s not a joke. Suddenly it’s a serious question… All of us live in his shadow. Unfortunately, however, Jefferson was also a slave-holder. That’s real. It’s a moral taint. We ought to remember it. But to the fanatics on the left it means that Jefferson must be purged from public memory forever. The demands are already coming that we do that.”

Carlson et. al. would surely not object, then, to statues of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or Saddam Hussein in every American park. How, after all, will our children remember these men’s evil deeds if they are not commemorated with supersized statues for pigeons to poop on in perpetuity? Surely this erasure is an injustice!

Of course, however, these people would never argue for that. Why? Because they understand what the visual language of a statue connotes, and they’re feigning ignorance to cover up the fact that they do not wish to merely remember the Confederacy, but celebrate it.

It’s the latter point, the celebration, that black Americans and, really, every person with a shred of decency objects to. We can have plenty of remembrance in textbooks, and if one loves the statues so much as works of art, they can be housed in museums which properly contextualize their painful and terroristic history.

Statues do not merely mark a person or event, they honor them.

Most of the statues were, after all, not built for remembrance, but as part of the waves of terror, purges, and mass murder that characterized the violent birth of Jim Crow in this country. The Durham statue, for instance, dates to 1924, nearly 60 years after the end of the Civil War.

If you’re so interested in honest and accurate retellings of our history, why not start there? (We’ll return to the question of history shortly, by the way.)

Liberals/Cucks/ANTIFA!!!1/Lefties/BLM want to tear down the statues because this history makes them uncomfortable!

Let’s talk about discomfort.

One of the more amusing takes I’ve seen from the young black women who’ve been on the front lines of the anti-neo-Confederate movement is that the statues are the ultimate “participation trophies.” After all, the South lost and lost badly.

What’s more, the statues represent a fantasy of history, one in which the “War Between the States” was about liberty and heritage, not slavery. (More on this in a moment). Statues — in addition to being artifacts of an age of terror — are a lie.

A nice, comforting lie for a certain segment of white Americans.

This lie is something they need to believe in, to be coddled by. Not content with their personal delusion however, they seek to impose it on the public with ubiquitous monuments — from statues to street names to university buildings — forcing us all to live in the pseudo-reality most pleasing and comfortable to them, where the “boys in grey” were heroes rather than men on par with everyone who served in Hitler’s armies.

We have to coddle you whilst indulging this vast infrastructure of fantasy, and we’re the sensitive ones?

But it’s about our heritage, not slavery!


The Confederacy was founded on the preservation of slavery. Not just the kind of slavery that had existed in many civilizations for centuries, but a racialized, mechanized, industrial chattel slavery that perpetrated atrocities and horrors on a scale hitherto unimaginable, which had been obtained in no other system of involuntary servitude on this Earth.

It was a rolling, long-scale atrocity that cut a scythe’s swathe through the very soul of the human race and devastated African civilization. The Confederacy was founded on the principle that this devastation was just and proper; it was not incidental to the Confederacy, it was the Confederacy — its ethos, mind, body, and soul. (Impoverished as it was).

This is not my gloss on history, it is how the Confederacy’s founding fathers saw themselves. In 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens gave a speech that has now become infamous:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly [this] idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

This speech is now known as the Cornerstone Speech because of Stephens’ clearly articulated argument that slavery was not only the foundation of the Confederacy, but the very bedrock upon which those foundations were poured. He added that “African slavery” was “the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” The immediate cause. Stephens spoke with a clarity that will forever bedevil the dissembling apologism of today’s craven racists.

The pathetic euphemisms for this — that the war was fought for “economic reasons” or to secure “states rights” — ignore the fact that the state right being fought for was the “right” to continue chattel slavery, and the “economic issue” par excellence was that slavery was essential to the South’s economy.

We have to coddle you whilst indulging this vast infrastructure of fantasy, and we’re the sensitive ones?

Chattel slavery, and the virulent, murderous racism that underlay it, were not incidental to the Confederacy but — as its vice president was at pains to point out — its very foundation.

But Robert E. Lee, surely…


He wasn’t a noble man who did the wrong thing for the right reasons, he joined the Confederacy because he too believed in slavery. He was a monster who not only took pleasure in heaping torture upon the slaves he owned, but during the war itself captured free black citizens in Pennsylvania and bonded them in slavery to himself and his comrades.

Well Washington And Jefferson owned slaves, what about their statues, huh?

Both Trump and his most devoted media sycophants made this argument this past week, not realizing what a can of worms they were opening up, namely about the way Americans learn and regard their history. If you’re asking us to have a more open and honest conversation about our Founding Fathers that doesn’t center white feelings and their preferred fictions, whilst also opening the door to changing how we memorialize the founding of this country, I’m all for it. We can talk about the statues of Christopher Columbus while we’re at it.

Certainly Ta-Nehisi Coates’ magisterial case for reparations articulates that honest and courageous history that has so long been hidden from us. If your argument is that we need more of the same kind of dialogues and questioning, then I’m right there with you.

We return to where we began now. Most of the arguments I’ve rebutted here are made in bad faith — normally. Their foremost exponents are cowardly racists who want to give a respectable gloss to “I like the Confederacy and slavery wasn’t such a bad thing.”

History is a wracking pain in every society; no civilization is without sin. But those who fail to confront it with integrity and courage are inviting a vicious specter into the modern life of their nation. See how the ghost of Japan’s imperial history continues to haunt its politics, undergirding the militant nationalism of its current prime minister, Shinzo Abe. See how it has lead to a cottage industry of racist and misogynist academics who pretend that the Rape of Nanking or the Imperial Japanese Army’s use of sex slaves never happened.

These sicknesses never remain confined to the fringe of society, but seep like an acid into every aspect of life, corroding the foundations of liberal democracy. Had Japan followed the German example and ruthlessly scrubbed all celebration of fascism from its public realm, replacing it with properly sombre, contextualized memorials that centered the victims of atrocities, things might well be different.

The United States faces a similarly metastasizing cancer. There may be as many as a thousand monuments to the soldiers who fought to defend slavery, but precious few to honour the struggles, suffering, and courageous rebellion of those who had been held in bondage. Unlike in Germany, where there are numerous and vast memorials to the Holocaust, where schoolchildren are taught early in no uncertain terms about Nazi atrocities and their irredeemability, in the U.S. we — but most especially whites — are taught to dissemble and equivocate.

History is a wracking pain in every society, but those who fail to confront it invite a vicious specter into the modern life of their nation.

This is the continually reopened wound through which our present morbidity has gained purchase. It doesn’t have to be this way, of course.

Consider this striking Barbadian monument, the Bussa Emancipation Statue by the late Karl Broodhagen, which depicts a black man breaking the chains of his bondage, so named for a man who led a slave rebellion on the islands in 1816. It’s stunning for its size as well as its depiction of agency; no white man breaks his chains for him, instead it depicts his seizure of freedom and his insistence on his own humanity.

Such statues, by rights, should dot the American South, and there should be federal memorials as well looming large in Washington, D.C. (a decades old proposal to that effect has never been taken up).

After all, is there not this overriding concern about erasing history? What is it about the towering image of a black man or woman breaking her chains that so threatens the “heritage not hate” crowd?

I think we all know the answer.

But come what may, the bandage must be ripped off now, even if it takes more extrajudicial action like we saw in Durham to do it. There is no playing nice with this historical cancer, no tiptoeing incrementalism for something a century and a half overdue. To continue to take half measures, baby steps, and make middling compromises is merely to grant license to the ugliest elements of our society. And as we saw in Charlottesville, this is something we can ill afford.

The statues must come down.