Today on Facebook, a friend of my uncle’s asked him, in all (apparent) seriousness:
“So what, a statue comes down, that person was a racist, they don’t deserve to be memorialized. But what next? A town is named after the same guy, do we change the name? Does it matter?
“Jefferson owned slaves, do we tear down the memorial? Rename the capital of Missouri? Void the Declaration of Independence?
“It sounds absurd I know but isn’t it the same thing? And if it’s different, what makes it that way?”
I’ve heard this before. The “Well, but where does it stop?” slippery-slope argument, which is a bullshit argument if ever I heard one. So I asked him if he had any friends who were Jews. He allowed as how he did. I should note that I give credit for the analogy I used to Kayla M. Cooley (you can find her original comment with this analogy here).
I said: “Let’s assume your Jewish friend Jacob’s daughter, Ruth, has to go to Himmler High School, which is located on Third Reich Boulevard, every single day. She was also a student at Eichmann Elementary and Mengele Middle School. And her house is located on Hess Avenue.
“There’s also a big, big statue of Hitler over on Main Street, and another statue of Goebbels in the park up the street from her home.
“Should we rename the streets and take down the statues? Remember, the Nazis lost the war, right?”
His response was that of course those things should come down, but where do we stop? At what point will it be enough?
I asked him to consider this: Ruth is every black kid who has to go to Robert E. Lee High School or live on Stonewall Jackson Boulevard. She’s every black kid who’s had to look at a statue of a Confederate general or plantation owner as they walk down that street to school. And their parents. And grandparents. And great-grandparents. That’s how far back this shit goes.
So at minimum, you rename the streets and take down the statues honoring people who wanted to harm or kill our citizens. If you have to, put the statues in a museum, and label them appropriately in several languages to underscore the shamefulness and horror of what they did to Americans.
But at no time do you make the lame-ass excuse of the slippery slope or “where does it end?” It ends when you’re not honoring people who enslaved other people and fought a war to preserve that system. It ends when those people’s memories are shamed, not revered. It ends when the black kid is walking down Malcolm X Boulevard past a statue of Reverend King.
He asked then why statues of slave owners who founded the country (i.e. Jefferson and Washington) are “okay,” but slave owners who tried to leave the country (i.e. Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson) are not “okay.”
My response: It’s a fine hair to split, but are statues of Jefferson and Washington being used to create situations where blacks are reminded that they should be slaves in the eyes of the statue-makers? No. So that’s not a valid line of argument.
The statues that are being taken down were erected in two time periods: during Jim Crow, and during the Civil Rights movement. No statues of Washington or Jefferson went up during those time periods.
Someone else in the thread then said “Yeah, well, what about California? Why isn’t it renaming Santa Ana?”
Cute whataboutism, and nice attempt to derail. And sure, derailing or not, that’s a good point, but it’s not the main one right now. Sure, I’d like to see every statue to the Spanish who hamstrung their Native slaves torn down and put in a museum. I’d love to see Columbus Day removed from the calendar for good.
But this fight is the more important one right now. Right now, the flashpoint is not Cristobal de Colon or the Spanish missionaries. We’ll get to them eventually.
Right now the flashpoint is white people who wish that they could still own black people and who want to maintain monuments that were designed to intimidate and frighten black citizens.
As to “where does it stop?” Well, how about when blacks don’t have to worry about getting shot during a traffic stop, because the guy who pulled them over was raised in an environment that regretted the harm done by the traitors who fought on the Confederate side? How about when the United States takes the same route as Germany has, and requires all schoolchildren to visit former plantation sites, lynching trees, slave market sites and other such historical horrors, to drill it into their heads that “this is who we were, and it is not who we want to be, and you must call out and shame anyone who tries to make it something to be proud of.”
That’s when it stops. When it actually, you know, stops.