The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked a new debate. Are statues of Confederate Monuments ethical?
by Thejo Akkoor
The death of George Floyd and the rise of the BLM movement has sparked many questions about equality in this nation. One such question is over the racial symbols in our country today. Do confederate monuments deserve to be preserved if the grounds they are built on are morally wrong? This is something many continue to ask themselves as the long-fought debate over Confederate Monuments continues.
These monuments were built to preserve the Confederate States of America, or the Confederacy. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Confederacy is a government consisting of 11 southern states. These states seceded from the USA(The Union) in 1860 because they weren’t willing to give up slavery. They remained a separate entity during the Civil War until their defeat in 1865. Confederate monuments were built to idolize the leaders of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
There have been roughly 700 monuments built throughout the US, and with rising protests, city officials have begun to take down these racist symbols. History.com and the New York Times respectively state that at least 138 monuments have been taken down since 2015, and more than 52% of Americans favor taking these monuments down since the death of George Floyd. But the battle is still far from over.
And that is where the trilemma lies. Some agree that Confederate Monuments do have a racist history, but claim that it must not be forgotten. Others believe that Confederate Monuments revere and stand for white supremacy, insisting they must be taken down. And, the rest choose to assume the neutral stance.
Support For Monuments
Countless times, President Trump has stood up for confederate symbols across the US, claiming that our culture is being ‘ripped apart’. He has even sidestepped the government to make sure that military bases and other monuments remain intact. Is this valid, and do these monuments really have value? Well, these words continue to be echoed by many individuals throughout the country.
The New York Times has interviewed people across the political spectrum on this issue. Rod Dreher, an American Conservative, supports Confederate Monuments, claiming that Robert E. Lee did fight for the wrong side and deserved to lose, but he was a leader of the south and a much more complex man than the public believes him to be. This idea that the men in Confederate Monuments represent leaders of the south and not slavery is popular among some Confederate monument supporters. These supporters believe that the monuments represent our nation’s history—good or bad—and removal can risk erasing this history altogether.
Others support the stance that the monuments should remain standing in order to educate the public about the racist grounds upon which they were built. Lawrence Kuznar of the Washington Post claims that “when racists revere these monuments, those of us who oppose racism should double our efforts to use these monuments as tools for education”. By keeping these monuments standing, people can be constantly reminded and educated on examples they shouldn’t follow, which can help to ensure that history won’t be repeated.
Black woman, Sophia A. Nelson, firmly opposes the removal of Confederate Monuments as well. What would a black woman want with the statues of men who enslaved her predecessors? Well, she also believes in the idea of using these statues to educate children on what should not be repeated. By removing the statues, a part of history is being hidden.
What’s the point of preserving history if the ground that it’s built on is morally wrong? This is what the opposition chooses to believe about Confederate Monuments. From the Confederate Monument Case Study done by UT Austin, Ilya Somin of George Mason University says that no one should erase the Confederacy from history—we just shouldn’t be honoring them with 20-foot statues.
Confederate monuments have repeatedly been seen as a symbol of white supremacy and racial inequality. From an ethical stance, if someone feels threatened or attacked by a monument, it should be removed. Gersh Kuntzman from the New York Daily Times says, “Ever wonder why there are no statues of Adolf Hitler in Berlin?” This is an interesting claim as the Confederacy can be compared to Nazi Germany; both are known for suppressing a group of people. Kuntzman points out that monuments are never just about history, but also about what the people believe about the monuments’ history. In this case, the people building the monuments believed in its racist ties.
Additionally, many of these monuments weren’t even built until the 1930s, the time of Segregation in the south. This suggests that they weren’t so focused on revering the heroes that had died long before. One can assume that the white people who built these monuments did so to intimidate segregated black communities.
In a CNN article, the great-great-grandsons of Lee, Davis, and Jackson were asked to shed their thoughts on this problem. All of them agreed that it wasn’t fair for these statues to be displayed in the public eye as they are offensive to a large portion of individuals. Jackson’s descendants took it as far as saying that they were ashamed of the monument and the ideals he stood for.
The Neutral Stance
On one hand, you have a history that needs to be preserved to serve as an example for future generations to make the right decisions, but on the other hand, you are maintaining the racist ideas of these oppressive men quite literally in stone. There seems to be an even split down the middle between those who support Confederate Monuments and those who are dead set against them. However, there is a third point of view that takes both viewpoints into consideration.
The neutral stance in this situation is to remove confederate monuments specifically from the public eye. They can be placed in museums to educate those who want to learn about their racist backgrounds. This way, they will still exist and can be shown to people to educate them, while being closed off from the public who may feel threatened by what they stand for.
One thing that we can agree on is that we must learn from history. But, which method accomplishes that goal in the most efficient way? By being educated and aware of all sides of this issue, you have the power to decide for yourself.