The recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks, have ignited protests around the globe calling to end police brutality and systemic racism. With these protests have come petitions and demands to remove Confederate and colonial-era statues.
The reality is that these statues are hurtful and hateful. When Confederate and colonial-era statues are displayed in public squares or in front of government buildings, they effectively celebrate racism and slavery. We must not forget: the Confederacy fought to preserve and protect slavery and white supremacy. It is, perhaps, the most shameful thing about the USA. Colonialism is a similar story. The exploitation of Africans at the hands of European colonizers is one of the darkest parts of European history.
Now many agalmatophiles – those with statue kinks – are arguing that these statues are simply part of our history and removing them would be erasing history. I beg to differ. Statues and monuments don’t just display history, they go a step further. They celebrate it. Museums and history books are the guardians of the world’s history and they are not going anywhere. In fact, these racist statues need to be taken down and moved into museums where they can be kept in an environment that educates but doesn’t celebrate.
You can remember shameful and sad parts of history without needing a statue. 9/11 is a huge American tragedy and Americans vow each September 11th, to #neverforget, and we shall not. However, we don’t have any statues of Osama bin-Laden in the United States and no one is concerned about that part of our history being “erased”. Just as there is no place for a statue of Osama bin-Laden in the USA, there is no place for one of Robert E. Lee.
The Confederate flag should not fly, just as the Nazi flag should not. It is extremely important to understand the symbolism behind it. Just as hurtful as it would be to members of the Jewish community to see someone waving the Nazi flag, the Confederate flag causes so much pain to so many African-Americans. If you wouldn’t raise the Nazi flag on your flag pole why would you fly the Confederate flag? They are equally bad.
“But where does it end?”, I have often heard people complain. “Today you are taking down Confederate statues, but then tomorrow you will be renaming Washington D.C. and redesigning the one dollar bill.” This last one seems to be an especially popular argument.
Do you want to know what I say to all of you? Sure, let’s do it. I have no problem renaming Washington D.C. Do you want to know why?
Black people were enslaved in the United States of America before it even was the United States of America. The USA then existed as a country for 89 years before the 13th Amendment “ended” slavery. But anyone with a basic knowledge of US history knows that it didn’t really end slavery. It would still be another 100 years before African-Americans were even given the right to vote with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Still today, in 2020, black people all around the world have to say Black Lives Matter. Black people have been oppressed in North America for 400 years, so if renaming the nation’s capital does anything to help end the systemic racism that plagues the United States, I am all for it.
Enough about the USA for now. Let’s switch our attention to Belgium and all those Leopold II statues. Spoiler alert: they also need to go.
Belgian residents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo make up 0.6% of the entire Belgian population (~ 70,000). Under the reign of Leopold II more than 10 million Congolese died and their blood is on Leopold II’s hands. In fact, it was when describing the conditions of Leopold II’s Congo Free State, that the term “crimes against humanity” was coined.
Many people want to make the case that Leopold II was more than just a leader who was responsible for the most atrocious of human rights abuses, and I get that. But he was still responsible for the most atrocious of human rights abuses and that is reason enough to never celebrate that man with a statue. Ever.
I admit that there are many things that I don’t understand. I fail to understand why some people are more concerned about preserving the statues of colonizers than they are about getting justice for victims of police brutality. I fail to understand why some people are more troubled by the theoretical criminalization of the Confederate flag than they are by the very real criminalization of black skin in the USA.
Still, there is one thing I do understand, and that is that those who fought to keep people enslaved and those who oppressed and exploited Africans do not deserve to be celebrated. Their statues need to be removed immediately, so we can turn our attention to achieving the necessary structural change to finally end systemic racism.
— Miles Herszenhorn