The Conservative Internet has launched a hypothetical campaign against American history on behalf of the “alt-left”. So, let’s go there…
I read it first in an opinion piece written by Medium.com user Austin Frank:
“If the logic behind pulling down the Confederate statues is that Confederates Were Racists, then it won’t be long until the left starts demanding we pull down statues of Andrew Jackson (he’s already getting booted off of the $20 bill). Pull down the statues, rename the schools and streets and parks: Expunge every last vestige of Racism from our society.”
Mr. Frank published that on August 15th, 2017. I commend him for beating so many of his colleagues to the proverbial, journalistic punch.
Then, miraculously, as if beckoned by some covert rally-the-Conservatives Morse signal, our President echoed the very same Austinian line of logic during a subsequent news conference. In response to a reporter who asked whether he equates the alt-left with Neo-Nazis, President Trump reportedly said,
“… I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. …So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
Indeed, President Trump. Let’s ask ourselves.
What much of the Liberal community is trying to convey to the Conservative sphere is that the relics of our society began with our collective thought lives. This has been creatively called a “war on the private mind” and even an “obsession” with the offensive by some of our Conservative counterparts, but it’s is really just an acknowledgment of what makes us uniquely human. We humans, unlike other primates, consciously imbue our tangible world with complex, transcendent meaning.
For hundreds of years, Americans have collectively thought the thought “Various people are inherently inferior because of the color of their skin”. And like most of our thoughts, it could not be contained. We created our American world with it mind — splashed it all about us with tragic ignorance.
We spoke with that thought in mind, dated and married with that thought in mind, educated and raised our children with that thought in mind. Then we wove communities, planned cities and built edifices with that thought in mind. We’ve created and built for so long while thinking thoughts of superiority that we are now submerged in a sea of incalculable symbols affirming and reaffirming that wretched, aforementioned thought.
“Schools and streets and parks,” as Mr. Frank wrote.
Mother Jones contributors AJ Vicens and Becca Andrews shared the subtle changes that happened by way of renaming schools.
“Last year, the Nathan B. Forrest High School in Jacksonville, Florida, became Westside High School. Forrest was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. And Aycock Hall at Duke University, named for former North Carolina Gov. Charles Aycock, an avowed white supremacist, became East Residence Hall. This move prompted East Carolina University eight months later to rename its own Aycock Hall as Heritage Hall.”
Earlier this year, Jonathan Kendall from the Miami New Times turned our attention to Liberia, Florida’s revision of street names that once celebrated Black culture:
“However, sometime before 1940, the names of Savannah Street, along with Macon and Louisville Streets, disappeared. Worse, the last names of Confederate generals — Forrest, Lee, and Hood — were placed on street signs in Liberia. Atlanta Street, which cut through the heart of the black community, was renamed Forrest, after the first leader of the Ku Klux Klan, a man many historians say committed crimes against humanity.”
And in 2013, Tim Ghianni from Huffington Post’s Black Voices recorded Nashville, Tennessee’s public reckoning with several of its park names:
Nathan Bedford Forrest Park — named for a Confederate general who was a slaveholder before the war and afterward was the first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard — now is Health Sciences Park, so named because it is located in the busy hospital and healthcare core of the city. Forrest is buried at the park.
Jefferson Davis Park, named for the president of the Confederate states, now is Mississippi River Park. Confederate Park disappeared and returned as Memphis Park.
Liberals are aware that when schools, streets, parks, and monuments are named and erected in honor of people who celebrated the systematic oppression of targeted groups of people, doing so sends a message to the people who bore the brunt of assigned inferiority in this country. It sends a message of affirmation — affirmation of both the virtues and the oppressive flaws of people who consciously thought thoughts and enacted actions of oppression.
Perhaps Liberals are proposing that we throw the baby out with the water, so to speak.
Ultimately, this is about aspiring toward a higher ethic — a more sophisticated, utilitarian and beneficent way of relating within our society. Once, it was permissible to embalm in concrete and in metal signage the vestiges of American racism. Once, we didn’t know better. Once, we didn’t know about the psychological toll experienced by people of color when they are surrounded by the incessant visual reminder of their assigned inferiority.
But now we ask for better. And that will require cultural sacrifice and pruning.
Yes, alt-right. We are asking you to give up the celebration and affirmation of the incorrigible flaw that is racism. Yes, alt-right. We are asking that you prune away the infectious relics, the school names, street names, park names and monuments which affirm the oppressive history of (the social construct of) Whiteness and loom over people of color daily.
And yes, alt-right. If we are to “…expunge every last vestige of Racism from our society,” as I believe any self-respecting collective of ethnically diverse, empathically relational, and transcendently aware beings should…
…then maybe the cultural relics of George Washington’s life are next.