A lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great
Middle English via French from Latin monumentum, from monere ‘remind.’
Let’s get a few things straight – firstly, textbooks preserve history while monuments celebrate it. And what we choose to celebrate – to be reminded of – about our history speaks volumes about our values as a country in the present day. Secondly, nobody is trying to erase Confederate history, we’re just choosing not to celebrate it anymore. Because how do you look a young child of color in the eyes and tell them that a Confederate statue represents them, represents our values, and represents who they should celebrate above all historical figures? Thirdly, the demonstration designed to espouse fear, inspire hated, and inflict harm upon black and brown bodies in Charlottesville, VA was racist. Anyone who supported those actions is a racist. And if you are not in direct opposition of the vile intentions of the participants then you too might be a racist.
Now, I don’t frequently toss around the word ‘racist’, as it often slams shut any open doorways for dialogue before anything of substance has been exchanged. However, in this case I employ the word strategically and intentionally, because there are frankly no other ways in which parading around with torches in white hoods can be expressed. Everything about the demonstration in Charlottesville was an explicit display of racism on a scale I have yet to see in my lifetime. Now rather than indoctrinate you with a redundant, simple argument about why I believe there is no place for such blatant racism in our country, I’d rather talk about the bigger, more consequential picture that many of us may not be seeing.
Similarly to our Commander in Chief I was on vacation when these events took place, and when I heard of their occurrence all of my plans for a blissful week were swiftly derailed. No matter how hard I tried to ignore the flames in Charlottesville, the smoke from the fallout still reached across the Pacific and filled my lungs. Consequently as I sit here writing on my flight home, my chest is still tight with grief. For the remainder of my trip, rather than relaxing on the beach, I was in an unceasing state of self and societal reflection. This was not because the events surprised me – they were merely the physical manifestation of the intangible rhetoric that has been glorified since January 20th – there was something heavier weighing on my soul and I wasn’t sure what it was.
Instead of turning to social media to find answers – or to spew racist bullshit – I dove into some of my favorite literature in an attempt to uncover what was occupying my mind so fiercely. And it was once I revisited Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I was able to step back and see the bigger picture, to which I previously alluded, with slightly heightened clarity. The tragedy was neither the white supremacists nor the blatant racism, it was the haunting realization, after all of the events had transpired, that black and brown bodies are still breakable – more breakable, and therefore less valuable than, statues.
“In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body – it is heritage” (Coates 103).
To those of you who claim that Confederate monuments are the physical preservation of Southern heritage, please read that quote again. Once you have done that, read it once more for clarity. And if after reading it those three times you are still an advocate for the preservation of that particular heritage I will reiterate in the most palatable terms I possibly can – you are a racist. I do not know how else to put it. The Confederacy defended two things: slavery and states’ rights (i.e. the right of a state to preserve the system of slavery under the guise of economic policy etc.), both of which led to the possession, exploitation, and destruction of black and brown bodies. This is your heritage. And if you’d like to glorify – to be constantly reminded of – that heritage then that is your prerogative, just don’t piss down my back and tell me its rain.
“…all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body” (Coates 10).
Black bodies know violence.
Black skin knows the burn of a coarse rope along the nape of a breathless neck, feet stretching slowly back toward the soil.
Black spines know bending against their will, only to be rewarded with skin searing leather.
Black hands know raising, well versed in the art of surrender, only to have bullets slip between the tips of their fingers like rays of a hot plantation sun.
Black blood knows concrete, a body transformed into a red and grey mural, detailed by one thousand shards of windshield glass. The streets of Charlottesville had never seen black bodies glimmer that spectacularly in the daylight. Is this what was meant by ‘black is beautiful’?
These evils all land, with great violence, upon the body.
“Our history was inferior because we were inferior, which is to say our bodies were inferior” (Coates 44).
– on why our heroes don’t have monuments.
“Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free” (Coates 70).
We were chattel in this country longer than we have been “citizens”. We were in chains in this country longer than we have been in handcuffs. We were their niggers in this country longer than we have been their niggas. We were the statuesque silhouettes that draped southern trees longer than we have been monuments.
It is no wonder our bodies are still so breakable.
“Our teachers urged us toward the example of freedom marchers, Freedom Riders, and Freedom Summers, and it seemed that the month could not pass without a series of films dedicated to the glories of being beaten on camera” (Coates 32).
This is perhaps the greatest contributor to the fragile condition of black and brown bodies – we have been socialized to romanticize and therefore legitimize black suffering. In grade school we saw black bodies blasted against walls by fire hoses, and brown bodies beaten by police or white bystanders, and we were taught to marvel at their bravery. Nowadays we are indoctrinated with images of bullets ripping through black flesh by those same police and white bystanders, and we are taught to forget their names as soon as they disappear from our newsfeeds. Do not let the frequency at which you are exposed to the robbery of black flesh allow you to become numb to the implications. Each time a person of color is stripped of the right to live freely within their own body, within their own mind, it makes your own more breakable.
“Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves” (Coates 151).