I grew up a white girl in an overwhelmingly white state. I learned the same revisionist history of the Civil War that many of my contemporaries learned: that it wasn't about slavery but rather about states' rights.
As an adult, I've lived the last 20 years in the south: Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina. I've seen the Confederate monuments and the flags all over, and I never gave it a second thought.
And then 2 years ago, a white racist walked into a church and shot 9 black people in their Bible study, in the hopes of inciting a race war. He wasn't hoping black people would strike back, he was hoping white people would somehow rise up and follow his example.
Like I often did, I watched Jon Stewart, and he gave a monologue about it. This is that monologue. Somewhere around 3 and a half minutes, he talks about Confederate monuments.
That was the first time, really the first time that it struck me how overwhelming that must feel as a black citizen every day.
Before that, frankly, I didn't much care about them either way. But when he pointed out that experience to me, it suddenly started making sense.
The primary argument against removing Confederate memorials is that it erases history. No. It doesn't. We don't build memorials or statues to learn history. We build them to celebrate and honor. We should absolutely be learning about these men, but also learning about their legacy.
They fought to defend slavery.
They declared war on the United States of America.
They lost that war.
Please don't get me wrong, I have no interest in debating the causes of the Civil War. I was taught the "Lost Cause" history, too. And I believed it for a while that it was all about states' rights. Then I actually read the articles of secession (each states formal declaration as the cause for their secession from the union). It's a long read and a bit challenging, but well worth it. So I have no interest in that debate any longer.
Look, I get it. This is an emotionally charged issue for a lot of people. Especially for people who grew up with their confederate flag bumper stickers and t-shirts who are being told they shouldn't have them any more. Again, when you're used to being in a position of power or privilege (even if you're not aware that you're there), having it challenged feels like an assault. I understand that. But asking people to take down racist imagery isn't erasing history, it's about empathy.
It's about taking one minute and trying to recognize how it might feel to be a person of color in this country, with your own history erased, your own history nullified. How it might feel to be told by white people "the war was 400 years ago, it's time to get over it" one day and "don't take down that Robert E. Lee statue, you're erasing history!" the next.
Trust me, taking down these statues isn't going to erase history. That history is woven in to every aspect of our daily life, even if we don't recognize it.
It isn't going to solve racism.
It isn't going to heal the racial divides or stop Neo Nazis or even make all white people suddenly understand.
But in a small way, it's an acknowledgement of our own history: that those men fought for an evil we fought to abolish as a nation, and do not deserve a place of celebration or honor.
Every journey has to start somewhere. Removing these statues is a start.