Confederate monument removals: The Great Distractor

It has been impossible to avoid the news on the contentious debate surrounding the removal of confederate memorial statues. Citizens have been asked to organize and mobilize until these statues, and the discriminatory and bigoted views they represent, are removed. I believe that these actions, while desperately needed, stop short of calling out the larger and more systemic need for change in our communities. As a result, we must create a deeper and much more wide-reaching change than the mere removal of a statue or monument.

We could focus not on viewing confederate memorials as divisive monuments, but instead use them as reminders to apply ourselves as minority citizens. These statues should be used as symbolic motivators to create the change we know we so desperately need to see in our community.

When we hear of confederate heroes and stories of southern heritage, we cannot become enveloped in anger. Instead, we must reflect inward and ask how we are making ourselves and our community better. 

Frederick Douglass once said that “learning will forever unfit an individual to be a slave.” As trite and clichéd as it may sound, knowledge is power. If ignorance constrains us, then knowledge is what allows us to break free from our shackles, both physically and metaphorically. That freedom is a naked threat to those who wish to preserve the status quo and maintain power balances as they currently exist in America. This threat, this fear of an educated minority within this nation, has been at the heart of these recent events. 

The removal of memorials toward America’s darkest secrets will not change the underfunded school systems; the lack of livable-wage jobs; the rampant addiction crisis; the dearth of food outlets and healthy choices in our communities; and record levels of violence and PTSD concerns that reverberate throughout our neighborhoods.

It is not wrong to react with feelings of sadness and frustration, or to be upset upon viewing these contentious monuments. It is true the symbols that we allow in our communities play a great role in defining the values that our families, neighbors and countrymen hold dear, and it is right to react in strong and emotional ways to seeing philosophies of hate on open display. We must understand that the real way to bring these statues down is to bring ourselves up.

Let us not be sidetracked. Our battle remains the same as it was last week, as it was last year, as it has been since this nation’s inception. We must strive to improve ourselves, for no one else will.