RETELLING YESTERDAY’S STORIES TODAY
None of my heroes are saints – in either the literal or figurative sense. Indeed, given human nature, most earthly heroes are, like the rest of us, complex and flawed human beings.
That simple fact is an underappreciated nuance in today’s roiling debate over statuary, the Confederate flag, and how we choose to recognize and remember those who made important contributions to develop our nation.
The first part is easy: all statues, flags, names and other “tributes” to the Confederacy should come down immediately. The traitorous, losing side of the Civil War does not deserve such honors. In many cases, their creation was itself a racist reaction to newfound and hard-fought progress for Black Americans in the early part of the 20th Century (long after the cause itself had been defeated). As such, these symbols were intended to provoke, and still do.
More problematic are our nation’s Founders. Tribute to those forebearers is scattered far and wide across America – monuments, statues, schools, libraries, streets, towns, entire states even.
Let me be very clear: I do not condone or approve IN ANY WAY of Thomas Jefferson’s ownership of slaves, or his fathering of at least one child with a woman he legally owned. Nor do I condone Abraham Lincoln’s campaign against Native Americans. At the same time, both were instrumental in advancing the great experiment of America. The grand memorials that bear their names on the National Mall exist not to honor a lost and disreputable cause, but to celebrate their gigantic contributions to our nation.
As a country, we periodically seek to rewrite history. We agonize and argue over that past as a method of purging ourselves of our present-day wrongs. In essence, we are punishing our ancestors for our evolving views — instead of the current-day actors who really are the ones truly standing in way of progress.
Black lives do matter A LOT, and we should concentrate on changing everything that gets in the way of achieving that goal.
Indeed, in his own limited way Jefferson himself knew that Black lives matter when he said, ‘all men are created equal.’ Of course, a problem was that the norm of that day did not really include Black men (or any women) in that phrase. Remember, the Constitution says in print that a Black person counts as only 3/5ths of a white life.
Despite that, Jefferson in his own limited way, which is distorted and insufficient today, sought to advance the lives of many, if not all, the people he encountered in his life.
The Jefferson Memorial may seem out of place to some, or strike others as a justification of what appears today to be clearly wrong. Nevertheless, Jefferson played a major role in the history of America, which is as indisputable as his human failings.
I take the case of Jefferson to spell out this difficult distinction because he was, despite all, otherwise such an exceptional person.
Eventually, all the Confederate statues will fall; and the Confederate flag will fall further into disrepute until it, too, vanishes. In the meantime, it’s worth keeping in mind that Robert E. Lee hasn’t been our enemy for 150 years; and his mansion still harmlessly looks down on DC?
Focusing on historic wrongs should NOT provide any excuse to ignore what is really needed to MAKE BLACK LIVES MATTER TODAY!!!