January 11, 2021

The Ugly Past 

One of the bones of contention our country has been dealing with in recent years is what to do with statues erected to glorify our racist past (and present). Civil War “heroes” are depicted everywhere, and the question is complicated. Do we tear down the ugly reminders of our worst experience of division (which never ended, by the way)? Do we leave them up as a remembrance? Do we take the names of rebels and traitors off of our public buildings and streets? The right answer isn’t always clear. 

I heard an interview the other day with a historian from Germany. She said that the legacy of the Nazis is everywhere in her country. The grand buildings and statues that were erected to glorify that hateful regime were left to remind the German people (and the rest of us) of just how bad things can get if we aren’t vigilant. A constant reminder of how an ideology of hate can insinuate itself into a nation that is struggling with change and loss. Never again, these remnants of evil remind them – never again. 

The difference, of course, is that many Americans do not believe that the South was wrong. Many Americans say that the Civil War was about State’s Rights, not slavery. Right. Remember the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (most likely coined by philosopher George Santayana)? Denial of facts never produces anything but bitterness and ignorance. For example, the Confederate Flag that so many people revere as part of “southern culture” was actually produced for the South’s insurrection. The iconic symbol existed on many southern flags, but this particular design – called “The Battle Flag” – was created to lead the rebels against their government. It is not part of the long and great tradition of the South – it is a byproduct of racial hatred. 

About 2 years ago I heard another historian interviewed on this subject, and I believe that his answer was the best one: statues that were erected during and after Reconstruction to strike fear in former slaves and their descendants should be torn down, while those built just following the war should be left up. Why? The ones right after the war, like we can see in Gettysburg, were built to try to heal the country, while the ones built 30-50 years later were built to warn black folks what would happen to them at any moment. The South would rise again. I would add another caveat – leave them all up, but have historians – real scholars, not racist apologists – write explanations about each person and what they all did in their attempts to enslave an entire race and overthrow their government. A little Truth and Reconciliation could go a long way right now. 

There are still Nazis in Germany, and there are still lots of racists in America. Hate remains whether you cleanse your country of those reminders or you don’t. The difference is this: Americans, in general, refuse to admit that the greatest stain on our country – our unrepentant Original Sin – is the hate we have expressed towards people of African descent, Native Americans, Japanese descent, and Latinos – in other words, how White Supremacy continues to be at our core. We saw it on display last Wednesday, and we will see it again and again. The only way to change it is to teach our children the facts about who we have been. Whether we have the backbone to do that remains to be seen. If we don’t, we will go the way of all empires who refuse to repent. 

Prayer – Heal us, Holy God, of the racism that permeates our country and our souls. Lift us out of our most base thoughts and actions and lead us to be better. We can do this together. Amen. 

Today’s image is chilling – it is a sticker you can buy for $6.95 from ProSportStickers.com. Just a reminder… 

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