To Overturn Trump, We Need to Overturn White Supremacy
“For that to happen, some monuments — and the historical myths they supported — are going to have to come down.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that a nationwide protest over police brutality would, for some, become a reason to take action against Confederate statues and other controversial monuments. But it has. In just the last week, protesters have knocked down Confederate statues in Richmond, Va., Nashville and Montgomery, Ala, as well as monuments to Christopher Columbus in Boston and St. Paul, Minn.
This is because the George Floyd protests are not just about police violence. They’re about structural racism and the persistence of white supremacy; about the unresolved and unaddressed disadvantages of the past, as well as the bigotry that has come to dominate far too much of American politics in the age of Trump. Born of grief and anger, they’re an attempt to turn the country off the path to ruin. And part of this is necessarily a struggle over our symbols and our public space.
Another way to put this observation is that police brutality, the proximate cause of these protests, is simply an acute instance of the many ways in which the lives of black Americans (and other groups) are degraded and devalued. And while the most consequential form this degradation takes are material — the Covid-19 crisis, for example, has revealed to many Americans the extent to which black lives are still shaped by a deep racial inequality that leaves them disproportionately vulnerable to illness and premature death — there are also many symbolic statements of black worth, or the lack thereof, out there for all to see.
Confederate statues like the ones in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, or the smaller monuments that mark courthouses and town squares across the South, are visible reminders of a time when white society was nearly united in its subjugation of blacks. Erected decades after the end of the Civil War — as the white South began to codify segregation and disenfranchisement into Jim Crow — these statues set in stone the triumph over Reconstruction and the effort to make the South, and the nation, a democracy. And they marked the spaces in which they stood as essentially white territory.“