Dialogue needed to resolve strife over monuments


Hezekiah Brown

Friday, August 18, 2017

As I watched the unfortunate situation unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend, it gave me some hope that racism and bigotry could probably be seriously addressed in a positive manner, reflecting my take on the old adage that out of a bad situation, something good can come.

The Charlottesville violence, leaving one woman dead and 19 injured, marks the bloodiest fight over the campaign across the South to remove Confederate monuments. The neo-Nazis and white supremacists, white nationalists, alt-right and KKK demonstrated the real meaning of racism, hatred and prejudice. The rally they held brought out the worst in some individuals and illustrated how much teaching, training and dialogue is needed by people of different cultures, races and ethnic groups.

Consider all of the physical and emotional violence over the Robert E. Lee monument, which has been in place since 1924 and was probably unnoticed by the general public. So was the rally really over the monument, or was it politically motivated for some other reason?

All evidence shows that racism and bigotry are alive and well in the good ole USA, and that there are no specific plans to seriously address the issues that have plagued our country for years. There’s been little emphasis placed on any substantial method to deal with the root of the problem. To solve a problem, one must first define the problem. If you define the wrong problem, you will obviously come up with the wrong solution.

It must be noted that there are at least 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces across the United States. A large number of these monuments were erected in the early 20th century; decades after the Civil War, during a period of heightened racial tension. The monuments and memorials have become increasingly controversial due to the differing interpretation of their meaning and importance. Some historians have found that Confederate monuments were not built primarily as historical markers, but were instead intended to glorify and commemorate the Confederacy.

Art historians Cynthia Mills and Pamela Simpson, in their critical volume “Moments of the Lost Cause,” acknowledge that the South lost the war, and since history and facts confirm that the South did lose the Civil War, the monuments were erected to preserve some sense of victory. 

Should we be creating another Civil War over a war that was clearly won by the Union Army?  For some, arguments to maintain the monuments are a smoke screen to re-start the Civil War in the 21st century and jump-start a new era of Jim Crow. But others have never acknowledged that the South lost the war and continue to fight by resisting removal of monuments and through the court system.

We need a better, peaceful resolution to this problem without any more bloodshed.

President Donald Trump believes that the only way to solve the issues of race and prejudice is to continue to create jobs. I believe that creating jobs is one of the many factors in dealing with racism, but it is not the panacea for addressing the critical issue of racism. He should be reminded that there is a great deal of racism alive and well where individuals are gainfully employed — even in the White House.

One way to address the issues of racism and discrimination is for large and small corporations, religious institutions, community organizations and others to teach their employees how to deal with others who don’t look or think like them.

Government must certainly play a role, but you cannot legislate attitudes. Attempts to legislate attitudes emanated from the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery; the 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection under the law; and the 15th Amendment that forbids discrimination in access to voting. In addition, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1966, the Fair Housing Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965 and numerous other presidential executive orders were designed to protect persons from discrimination.

In essence, all of the above legislation was passed in good faith. However, the one thing that was missing was how to change the attitudes of individuals. And nothing was done to ensure the public’s acceptance of the passed laws. Therefore, African Americans are still facing many of the same issues that were supposed to be legislated out of existence years ago — which proves that you cannot legislate attitudes.

To change attitudes and the image of conflicting human differences, individuals must be able to receive the same type of teaching and training together and have dialogue with each other.

Hezekiah Brown is a resident of Elizabeth City.