I remember when that white supremacist sh-thead killed nine black people at bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015, and the state of South Carolina decided, days later, to remove the Confederate flag from the state buildings. As it was happening, I thought it was too little, too late. But the reaction from the African-American community in SC was so positive, it became a reminder (to me) of the power of symbolism in our everyday lives. Especially here in the South, where CB and I live (not together!), there are those kinds of Confederate symbols, statues and iconography everywhere.
Growing up around those symbols warps you. It warped me. “It’s just a dumb statue,” I would tell myself, “yes it’s awful, but doesn’t matter.” But those dumb statues matter to neo-Nazis and those statues matter to the marginalized people who pass them every day. So now I say: rip them all down. Burn the Treason Flag. Behead every Columbus statue. Dismantle every memorial to slave traders and traitors. Taylor Swift has gotten to that point too. She posted this on her social media on Friday:
As a Tennessean, it makes me sick that there are monuments standing in our state that celebrate racist historical figures who did evil things. Edward Carmack and Nathan Bedford Forrest were DESPICABLE figures in our state history and should be treated as such.
Edward Carmack’s statue was sitting in the state Capitol until it was torn down last week in the protests. The state of Tennessee has vowed to replace it. FYI, he was a white supremacist newspaper editor who published pro-lynching editorials and incited the arson of the office of Ida B. Wells (who actually deserves a hero’s statue for her pioneering work in journalism and civil rights). Replacing his statue is a waste of state funds and a waste of an opportunity to do the right thing.
Then we get to this monstrosity. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a brutal slave trader and the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who, during the Civil War, massacred dozens of black Union soldiers in Memphis. His statue is still standing and July 13th is ‘Nathan Bedford Forrest Day.’ Due to social pressure, the state is trying to overrule this, and Tennesseans might no longer have to stomach it. Fingers crossed.
Taking down statues isn’t going to fix centuries of systemic oppression, violence and hatred that black people have had to endure but it might bring us one small step closer to making ALL Tennesseans and visitors to our state feel safe – not just the white ones. We need to retroactively change the status of people who perpetuated hideous patterns of racism from ‘heroes’ to ‘villains.’ And villains don’t deserve statues.
I’m asking the Capitol Commission and the Tennessee Historical Commission to please consider the implications of how hurtful it would be to continue fighting for these monuments. When you fight to honor racists, you show black Tennesseans and all of their allies where you stand, and you continue this cycle of hurt. You can’t change history, but you can change this.
[From Taylor Swift’s Twitter]
When I find myself nodding in agreement with Taylor Swift on a regular basis, you know we’re through the looking glass. I have no problem with anything she said, nor do I have a problem with Taylor being the one to say it. This is an area where women like Taylor Swift succeed – she’s using her inherent Karen-ness (or her inherent Darth Susan-ness) for good deeds. She wants to speak to the manager of racism in Tennessee and she’s demanding that the manager of racist statues speak to her concerns immediately. This is called “using your privilege.” And Taylor knows the power of symbolism too. [Insert snake emoji]
Photos courtesy of Backgrid.
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