Historic Symbols Causing Violence
Throughout American history, many triumphant and tragic events have occured. As a way of remembrance some choose to save artifacts, or even make art to commemorate history. These famous monuments and symbols have become much more relevant in recent times, due to the fact that some of these things should not be celebrated. Many people are now seeing statues and flags as a sign of racism and discrimination. In many cases, these symbols are even at the center of many of the violent acts we have seen in recent years. Theses symbols are not the reason for this violence, but definitely give people a push in the wrong direction.
In 2017 riots erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over the efforts to get an infamous statue of Robert E. Lee removed. Progressive groups protested around the statue, but the situation quickly turned when white supremacists arrived on the scene to oppose the protestors and fight for the statue to remain standing. White supremacists claim that the statue has deep roots and and should remain for the historic factor it was once built for. Richard Spencer, the man leading the group of white supremacists sees the statue as a sign of his heritage. In an article written about the protests, David Morris describes this as, “Spencer, at least, clearly regards the Lee statue less as a symbol of Southern heritage than as a convenient proxy for an explicitly racist agenda.”(2017) Many people would agree with this point, that these symbols are just excuses for people to be racist and violent towards others. The violent actions of the protestors in Charlottesville injured 28 people, and killed one.
The Confederate flag originated when it was flown by the southern troops of Robert E. Lee during the civil war. After the war, it was used as a symbol of southern heritage by veterans of the war, and in many parades. The flag would also be used in many instances long after the civil war to commemorate the many battles fought. Now, the flag stands for a much different meaning in many people’s eyes; the flag is seen as a racist symbol used to discriminate against African Americans. In the Charlottesville riots, heavy use of the Confederate flag by white nationalists instilled violence in the people, even ending fatally for one woman. The discrimination and underrepresentation of African Americans during the civil war, lives on in the modern world and is used as a racist tactic by white supremacist. This is a perfect example of how a small symbol that represents heritage to one, can cause violence and instill rage in another.
At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, there is an infamous statue known as “Silent Sam”. The statue displays a confederate soldier and stands in the college’s campus to this day. In August of 2018 a protest was held because a group of people wanted the statue removed. This was a protest that quickly turned when a group of white nationalists arrived and enticed the protestors. The police were called to the scene and 7 people were arrested, along with many injuries do to the actions of the protestors and opposers. Something as simple as a statue was able to cause such destruction in the lives of many within hours. This statue was created as a way to preserve a historic figure and ended up turning into a symbol for hate and destruction; causing violence and chaos.
Chumani Maxwele was a student at the University of Cape Town when he sparked one of the first fights to have a statue removed. The statue was of Cecil Rhodes, a colonial politician and know white supremacist. Maxwele dumped a bucket of feces on the statue grabbing global attention and sparking a protest and movement on the campus to have the statue removed. He is quotes saying, “There is no collective history here. Where are our ancestors?” (Maxwele, 2015) This was the first of many statues to come down in an ongoing fight for representation of history. The main issue with these pieces of history is that they are only representing one thing, the white man. This can make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcoming to the celebration of this kind of history. That uncomfortable feeling people get, can be the one that causes violent outbreaks between divided groups of people.
The preservation of history represented in the United States today is very one sided. It in many cases showcases white men who were racist and discriminatory people. There are few famous statues or symbols for people of color or women in history; this is unfair and needs to change. If there were an even amount of monuments built for all types, and generations of history, we could avoid the violent protesting and the destruction of these symbols. Instead we could learn from them and use them in positive ways in the modern world.