Blacks built America’s infrastructure and economy. Nothing will change that fact. Leave them statues alone. They are evidence of how the “victors” intended history to be written. I don’t want to forget that, and I don’t want my child to either. Reproach their significance. The real battleground is our children’s schools. They need to know that the face of horror, which is generally associated with blackness, actually exists in our forefathers. The Amy’s and John’s of America need their perceptions challenged and inspired. Consider Alain Resnais’ beautiful film Night And Fog (1956). In it, the ruins of the Auschwitz and Majdanek death camps embody untold suffering. Like our statues, they are history’s cautionary echo.
Ghosts haunt those confederate figures and they’re full of parables. For all I know it wouldn’t surprise me if black people actually built them. Just like the bodies of antiquity sculptures, black people might’ve even modeled for the making of them.
I didn’t go to a school named after a black historical hero. I was raised in a state that had the biggest Native revolt in American history. My mother used to tell me that Indians helped blacks escape slavery, but I wasn’t sure if I believed her. The Indians were made of escaped slaves and natives. They were called The Seminoles. I learned about them way later in life on my own, not at school, which was located in a county named after the tribe. I wish I‘d learned about the confederate statue that’s perched up in downtown Orlando at Lake Eola. While I was taking pictures of it, my daughter was playing with the ducks several feet away.
“There probably going to tear this one down too,” a white man said to me.
“I hope not,” I said.
Walking around Tokyo, it’s common to see Japanese nationalist and Nazis driving black Hummers, waving huge Japanese flags, loudly preaching racist rhetoric. You can hear them coming from blocks away. From our apartment, we hear them around our neighborhood. Here, there are no laws against hate speech. Just like in America, Japanese kids are indoctrinated with historical fantasies, as opposed to wrestling with atrocities that their leaders would prefer to be omitted. It gets complicated and confusing when you’re the only black kid in class and your teacher tells you one thing, but your parents tell you another.
I don’t want my child to be like me and run away from what I should’ve faced because I was deeply ashamed. Took me a while to understand that black history isn’t debilitating, it’s fortifying. I’m still rediscovering a lot more as I’m teaching my daughter. Sitting in the pain is part of the process. It’s real and it won’t subside until black history becomes American history, until it’s actively taught in our schools, year round, fuck the February bulshit.
Getting rid of those statues prolongs the confronting of what’s been actually standing in front of us the whole time. History may be repeated, but not ignored. America is a scholar of violence and deceit. Read Willie Lynch’s letter, he knew blood has memory. Ask Africa, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, South America, The Philippines. Laos, Pakistan, Iraq….
When Berry first ran for president, I met a Texan kid in a San Francisco bar. He grew up on a farm and he knew how to hunt, fish, and make moonshine. Over hearing him drunkenly talk about “niggers,” we ended up standing next to each other, waiting for the bathroom. Our eyes locked, “All great empires fall,” he said. I’ve never been proud to be an American, but I’m proud to have survived despite being one.