Due to recent events, all of America is suddenly talking about the possibility of removing the Confederate monuments that infest our countryside. Great. Here is a guide to how to talk about this issue like an absolute simpering little coward, courtesy of the Washington Post.
It is important to note that the basic idea, “We should really get rid of all these public statues and monuments honoring awful racist slaveholders who fought a war in order to hold black people as slaves and tried to literally secede from the nation in which we now stand” is not a new one. “Maybe don’t pay official public fealty to the Confederacy in a thinly veiled paean to the days of explicit white supremacy” is not a novel position. It was not just invented this week, after Charlottesville. It is, in fact, a thought that millions and millions of non-racist people in the South have had over the past century as they strolled through the streets of their little racist-ass towns. Hey, maybe we could take down this monument, to racism, one day? Fingers crossed!
The position that Confederate monuments should come down takes about as much moral courage as the position that an NFL team should not be named “Redskins.” Not much, in other words. It is a fairly basic conclusion that you should land on if you do not think that racism is a value to be publicly worshiped. It is one of the many, many things that America would have done decades ago if America was not a land where taking even the most modest step forward is hard because of the historic racist quicksand that everything is built upon.
Needless to say, the fact that this position is morally obvious does not mean that it was adopted long ago by the mainstream commentariat. The mainstream commentariat does not make its calculations based on theoretical morality; it operates based upon what positions sit at the exact midpoint of current conventional wisdom. Now that (a century too late) the idea of removing Confederate monuments has finally achieved at least borderline conventional wisdom status, we are all in for a treat: We can watch those in the media who possess no real set of ethics other than “always stay precisely within the bounds of DC cocktail party acceptability” disgrace themselves with their mewling equivocations!
Here is a legitimate position to hold on this issue: “We should remove the Confederate monuments.” Here is another legitimate (although wrong) position: “We should not remove the Confederate monuments.” These are examples of positions that could legitimately be stated in the form of a newspaper editorial. And here, from today’s Washington Post, is an example of what happens when you become so deeply absorbed into the existing establishment that you completely lose your ability to hold any meaningful views whatsoever and become fundamentally morally bankrupt and useless.
Wow. Full and fair? Bold.
Americans face a challenge that might be called the mass curation of our public spaces, in light of contemporary sensibilities, yes, but just as important, in service of what has always been the truth. There may be many ways for local communities to address that challenge; though removing offensive statues may be the most straightforward, in some cases communities may prefer to add historical context and explanation. What is not acceptable anymore is the status quo. Far from ripping the country apart, a full and fair reckoning with Confederate monuments could, if guided by thoughtful leaders, bring people together, on the basis of more equitable and hence more sustainable consensus about the past.
The Washington Post is finally taking a strong stand in favor of... ah... doing whatever a community wants, as long as it not the status quo, although of course we shall defer to thoughtful leaders, such as the Southern elected officials who put these monuments up in the first place.
What powerful words can they give us to help us navigate the rocky shoals of historic remembrance in a nation with a bloody past?
In any case, the involvement of our historical forebears in slavery ought not to be shied away from, even as we study their achievements and appropriately honor them.
Do not fear the armed Nazi hordes. Go forth bravely with this as your clarion call: We must study the issue! Fairly! And perhaps take appropriate steps! If everyone agrees to do so!
Behind every Confederate monument stands an army of weasels who cannot be bothered to care until it becomes socially popular to do so.