On Wednesday morning of June 10, the statue of a confederate leader named Jefferson Davis stood tall in Richmond, VA as it had been for the past 113 years. But that night, the bronze figure lay face front on the ground at the hands of Black Lives Matter protesters who tore it down.
Davis’ statue is one of many racist monuments across the world that have either been vandalized, pulled down, or beheaded by demonstrators, but this controversy isn’t new. Since the American civil war, activists have urged their governments to change the names or reconsider figures that commemorate controversial individuals from history.
We saw this in 2015 when a John Calhoun statue was demanded to be taken down, following the Charleston, SC mass murder that was intended to provoke a race war by a white supremacist. More than 100 statues were removed after the attack, but many more still stand throughout the world today.
In countries like England, the discourse around statues and symbols runs even further back as a country notorious for imperialism and colonialism. Activists have called for the removal of statues like Edward Colston who was a slave trader, Cecil Rhodes who was a white supremacist in apartheid, and many more.
Most recently, this age-old conversation of monument preservation has been reignited following the unjust death of George Floyd. And although we’ve heard this debate time and time again, the difference now is that Floyd protesters who fight for Black lives have taken the issue within their own hands, and are tearing down statues without the permission from governments that have failed them.
“I finally feel like people are hearing that we’re really serious about this,” international relations scholar Alyssa Bailey told me. “We’re standing together and finally saying that this is unacceptable.”
She isn’t wrong. Since recent Black Lives Matter protests, NASCAR banned confederate flags from any of their events and HBO Max removed the classic American movie “Gone With the Wind” due to its racist themes. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has even called for statues of confederate soldiers to be removed from the U.S. capitol.
The debate prevails, though, as some oppose getting rid of statues, claiming that it alters history.
Wanton vandalism & thuggery. The perpetrators need to be held accountable & brought to justice. Historical statues should not be removed; we cannot change our past. Far better to learn the lessons from our history. First our statues, then comedy shows; what next? https://t.co/ZamiWp4SDx
— Andrea Jenkyns MP #StayAlertSaveLives (@andreajenkyns) June 9, 2020
Political science and government scholar, Summer Boyd disagrees. She told me that people are fully capable of understanding history without commemorating offensive figures.
“You don’t see statues in Germany that worship Hitler,” Boyd said. “Everyone understands the history of what happened in Nazi Germany yet they don’t need statues of him.”
Boyd is from Charleston, SC, and said that she constantly has to look at statues, establishments, and streets that are named after racists. She told me the disrespect that these figures represent runs much deeper than just an old slab of stone.
“Black people, especially in this town, have such trauma, and to be reminded of it all the time is a major issue,” she told me.
Not to mention, these figures say a lot about what the government is willing to allow and protect. It raises the question of how far we as a country have actually come if we’re still honoring slavery supporters who lost a war.
Communications, law, economics, and government scholar Fatmata Kamara told me that these types of people are not anyone to admire and that societies should be embarrassed about their legacy instead.
“Statues should be made for someone who’s had a great impact or someone that we should look up to,” she said. “We all know what these people symbolize so by giving them statues it’s honestly not the full story.”
Kamara said that even if some of these figures did have some sort of impact during their lives, the implications of promoting slavery and racism that many of them supported are more important to recognize.
“It’s a slap in the face,” she said. “What credit can I give to these statues other than them killing Black people?”
Although it is important to reflect on history and understand the implications of it, we can’t gloss over the ugly parts. For example, the celebrated Christopher Columbus was responsible for the enslavement, genocide, and mutilation of Native Americans. He also spread deadly diseases, was denounced from certain countries, among many other crimes during his life, but many of us only remember him as a hero who paved the way for the United States of America.
We have to look at these statues with the same eyes of these affected communities. We have to separate ourselves from the symbols that this country has been indoctrinated to worship, like the American flag and the national anthem. When we put such weight on symbols and stone that represent oppression for certain communities, we bat an eye at the evils they’ve historically endured.
Consider how disrespectful it is to have an 80-foot statue of a slave-owner in a town where the descendants of slaves are forced to look upon and pass by daily. Consider how disrespectful it is for Native Americans to live next to the face of the very man who murdered their ancestors.
So whether or not protesters take these racist figures down or governments call to have them removed themselves, it’s time. It’s been time.
Enough is enough.