Last week I wrote a piece on racism that received quite a discussion. Since then I have watched several countries try to reconcile their present from the past. It was suggested that I had the benefit of hindsight, and that is true except for the fact that what is wrong now, was wrong in the past. Because public opinion was different, didn’t make it any less wrong.
Governments, society and even the churches knew what they were doing. With slavery for example. Putting people in chains and working them to death was wrong. Separating people by the color of their skin or religion was wrong. These things were done in the name of power and greed. Knowing that, we must reconcile it.
If the past is as some want, erased, the full extent of the truth will never be known. Great controversy surrounds the Confederate flag. The one most often depicted was actually Lee’s Northern Virginia battle flag. Taking it down is not about a loss of heritage it is recognizing it as the flag of oppression and hate like the swastika.
Now the question of statues and street names. They were not presented during the Civil War. They were instituted after as part of the Jim Crow race laws. These symbols of Confederate Hero’s were the symbols of oppression in the south. They were designed to keep racism alive. Why should they be offensive to all Americans? Those who led the Confederacy were traitors, in a criminal conspiracy to over- throw the duly elected government of the United States. They are honoring men who by virtue of civil war, murdered thousands of Union Soldiers.
These statues should not be destroyed however. They should be assembled in a suitable museum of the Roque Gallery with a history note of their misdeeds. There is a difference between presenting the truth and disfiguring history.
We have the cede side of history now staring us in the face. I have come to understand one of my fathers sayings. “Evil then is evil now.” We have for example a world wide educational scholarship of excellence named after a corrupt, racist. I speak of Cecil Rhodes. He was a co-founder of De Beers diamond Co. He was a politician in South Africa and believed white English people were superior.
There are any number of statues of Christopher Columbus, why? Most people either don’t know or totally ignore the fact that Columbus was less than a stellar individual. He enslaved what he considered to be inferior peoples and contributed greatly to the eventual cultural genocide of America’s Native Peoples. These are not my words they are histories words of judgment.
In Canada we have enough racists to fill a rogue gallery of our own. Statues, street names, institutional plaques honoring those who served our country with less honor than we would like to acknowledge.
Saving the best to last, what about the founding fathers of the American Republic? What about their statues and name plaques? Most of them were slave owners. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others helped draft the articles of freedom and independence while keeping people in chains.
So what happens to these monuments to slavery and racism?
See we can’t move on by just papering over the past. At the same time we can’t just re-write history. The other lever of absolving the misdeeds of yesterday doesn’t work either. That being using recognition by logic to solve an emotional reaction to reprehensible deeds.
No it is time to recognize it as a society and collectively own the guilt of how we got here. If we do that, we can finally all move on. Why is it so many just want to put it out of mind. Many do that in their own lives. My father once said. “No matter where you run to, the first person you meet on arrival is yourself. Always just fess up to your shortcomings, it’s easier.”
The truth is the symptoms have become the disease itself in that a form of paralysis is being cast off. We are dissatisfied, scared, and insecure in the middle of a pandemic. The truth can bring out strange things in people.
So, the emotional discussion, street demonstrations will burn themselves out. Then what? We dare not ignore the past for the next wave of anger might well consume our society and the future will explore the ruins of a civilization that could have survived.