Richmond is in the process of purging itself from Confederate Statues, idols, iconography whatever you want to call them. Today in my neighborhood the Soldiers and Sailors monument depicting a non-specific private soldier from the Confederate Army came down from its 100-foot perch overlooking Libby Hill Park in Church Hill.
In typical petty ass me fashion, I went to the live feed of yet another statue removal viewing to watch the tears flow of Richmonders flow who are pissed the statuses are being removed. I was met with comments such as, “We sure live in terrible times letting these communists do this”, “Just sickening. Becoming a third world country”, “Then everything to do with black history also needs to come down and removed fair is fair” and my personal favorite and not relevant to the topic, “Do you believe in God?” But the one comment that stuck out to me the most was, “It’s just a statue.”
On both sides of the statue argument, “It’s just a statue” was a common jab to an opposing person’s argument for and against the removals. I myself in the heat of an argument debate would type in all caps “IT’S JUST A STATUE KAREN”, and would feel pretty proud of myself for putting her in her place.
But is not just a statue.
That narrative, that one little statement or dig at the other side needs is false. It’s not just a statue, it’s not just this 100-year-old hunk of metal. It’s the glorification of a time in US History that we all know was bad, but have never really delved into just how bad. It’s the glorification of men who were traitors to the United States. It’s the glorification of men who fought to perverse the right to keep humans as property. So they aren’t just statues. They are an ugly memory of a time in history we still have not fully come to terms with.
Imagine being black and having to pass a statue of men who led the charge to keep you as property. What would that make you feel like? What emotions would you feel? How do you come to terms with that? Hell, can you come to terms with that? Then imagine others holding those people in such high regard despite you telling them the pain it caused you. Imagine them telling you “It’s just a statue”, “Slavery was years ago”, “Get over it”.
And look, I see this from the other side. It has to be a hard pill to swallow to be faced with the realization that you’ve been taught a lie. Imagine learning of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as heroes, great statesmen, doing such great things for Virginia, and taking pride in that. And now you’re being slapped in the face with the fact the “great” things they did for the State of Virginia was to fight to keep people as property. They fought against the country you love so much. When you get down to the core of it, it has got to be an extremely jarring thing. This is a correction of history they don’t want to face. Now I don’t empathize or sympathize with them at all, but I can understand it.
We have to get out of the habit of labeling them just statues. They are symbols of hate. They are symbols of treason. They are symbols of a time in our nation’s history that had the South won, slavery could still potentially be going on right now. Think about that. I could still very well be a slave.
It hit me when Mayor Stoney ordered all the statues down on July 1 and on July 2, Stonewall Jackson came down. He talked to Reverend Al Sharpton days later about how these men were fighting to keep him as human property. And it was at that moment, I felt the gravity of what these statues really meant. It’s something I’ve really been thinking about as America is having her “Great Awakening” and reckoning herself with herself. What if I was a slave, like right now. It’s a thought that brings tears to my eyes.
By just calling them simply statues, it takes away the real meaning and power they have. It erases the history of what they stand for. It makes light of the pain that is still felt nearly 150 years later.
So let’s stop calling them statues. They are so much more than that.