By D. Allan Kerr
There was a time, not so long ago, I might have been one of those people rallying in defense of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
Not during the parade of ignorant cretins spewing hate that Saturday, but at the candlelight vigil the previous evening.
I was born in Kentucky, and spent the first decade of my life in Confederate country before the family moved up to New Hampshire. My brother and I had heavy Southern accents when we moved here, and our mother’s entire family is rooted in Kentucky and Virginia.
We took pride in our Southern heritage; if anything, living so far north in Yankee country likely enhanced our appreciation. We grew up fascinated by the Civil War and of course favored the Confederate generals like Lee, Jackson and Stuart.
When I was old enough to drive a car, I planted a Confederate flag on it.
None of this was intended to advocate or promote slavery. I was advertising my Southern roots, just as people of Irish descent might display shamrocks.
And while I am of course aware of the shameful legacy of slavery, there is much I cherish about the South – just as folks in other parts of America love our country even as they acknowledge it is built on the bones of Native Americans.
But here’s the punchline – none of this justifies the hate-mongering and violent stupidity of white supremacists seizing on the issue of removing Confederate statues to promote hate.
So yeah, once upon a time, if I was living in the area and there was talk of removing a statue of Robert E. Lee and I heard about a rally to protest its removal, I might have strolled down to Emancipation Park that Friday.
But upon arrival, hearing the marchers chant slogans like “Jews will not replace us” and “White lives matter” probably would have clued me in about the true purpose of the rally. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like the Nazi flags and helmets and swastikas and salutes came out until the following day.
These were not historians or scholars or civic-minded citizens – these were mentally-challenged thugs. They’re perverting an issue of concern to serious, thoughtful people and twisting it into something ugly and un-American.
The Failing President of the United States doesn’t give two shakes about history unless it’s something he can manipulate to his personal advantage. And as he’s shown time after time, he has no understanding of even its most basic elements.
So when he says those taking down Confederate statues “are trying to take away our history and our heritage,” he’s not only trying to justify the violence perpetrated by his followers, he’s exploiting it for political gain. It’s one of the most despicable acts I’ve seen attempted by a Commander in Chief.
He can tell his supporters it’s the media’s fault for misrepresenting his flip-flopping comments about the Charlottesville attacks. But guess what, dumbass? People can watch your comments and judge for themselves what’s coming out of your mouth.
Regarding the issue of these statues, however, I personally would have to consider my own basic and not very original life philosophy – people should be free to do what they want as long as it doesn’t harm others.
Because I don’t have black skin or ancestors who were imported from Africa in chains, I’m embarrassed to say I only recently stopped to consider what kind of message these statues send to many of our fellow citizens.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu eloquently laid this out earlier in the year in one of the best speeches I’ve ever seen, on any subject.
Landrieu, part of a legendary political dynasty in Louisiana, asked residents to imagine an African-American parent explaining the significance of these Confederate statues to a fifth-grade daughter.
“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” Landrieu asked. “Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential?”
As conflicted as I might be regarding this issue, it’s hard to argue on behalf of symbols which spit in the face of fellow Americans.
Folks tend to dismiss the notion that such revisionist efforts could be expanded to slave-owning Founding Fathers like Washington and Jefferson, but really think about it. These were not gods – they were flawed, very human men.
Jefferson in particular wrote some of the most brilliant condemnations of slavery in history, yet owned not three or four slaves, but hundreds. He essentially raped Sally Hemings throughout her adult life.
There’s going to come a time when serious debate is devoted to reconsidering memorials to these men. And likewise, as the LGBT community becomes more integrated into mainstream America over time, there will be a reevaluation of Ronald Reagan’s presidency for his mishandling of the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s.
How far do we want to go on this?
But I digress. The point is, these are subjects for thoughtful, articulated debate on both sides by proud and well-intended people.
And they have nothing to do with Nazi-loving, Jew-hating racists looking for an excuse to wreak destruction and mayhem in our streets. Any efforts to tie it all together should be painfully transparent to anyone paying attention.
D. Allan Kerr likes to point out that Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were also born in Kentucky – but he now considers himself a New Englander.
(August 23, 2017)