The events and loss of life in Charlottesville, VA on August 12th were shocking and tragic. The ideas and actions of white supremacists have increasingly been present in public life over the last year, but the display in Virginia was astonishing. The increased activity and visibility of these groups is sad and disheartening but should be seen as an opportunity to confront controversial issues as a society.
We, all who are against racial hatred, must stand against the virulent ideas of white supremacy, be they concrete or abstract. The abstract ideas which people choose to believe are not something that can be regulated or legislated, however, we can cut away their concrete visualization.
Now more than ever it is clear that the Confederate flag and historical figures are symbols for those who propose the supremacy of “white European culture.” We, as a country, need to decide if this is what we want to honor. Do we want to revere the leaders of a rebellion (which, despite some protestation, was primarily over slavery) which led to the bloodiest war in American history? Can we tell the difference between George Washington, whose positive influence is being felt by every American, and Robert E. Lee? Confederate leaders were traitors to the Union and divided this country over 150 years ago. Today we cannot allow them to divide and stand as symbols for those who wish to perpetuate the evil of racial superiority.
The removal of Confederate effigies is certainly not going to solve the problem of white supremacy and racial tension in this country. The 13th amendment did not do this either, but it was a moral imperative and concrete first step in correcting this nation’s egregious sins. In the removal of Confederate landmarks, our society can take the next step in acknowledging the brokenness of the past and preparing for the reconciliation of the future. It is not the only step on this journey, but it is one we need to undertake without delay.
Keenan Mintz is a second-year doctoral student in chemistry.
Featured photo courtesy Flickr user Stacie DaPonte.