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Justice

Heritage or Hate—Taking Down White Supremacist Symbols

David Langness | Jun 9, 2017

PART 4 IN SERIES Removing Monuments to Racism and War

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Jun 9, 2017

PART 4 IN SERIES Removing Monuments to Racism and War

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Now it’s not just New Orleans—several other cities have begun to think about removing the old symbols of white supremacy and racism.

Just in the past two years, various local and state governments across America have removed, destroyed or renamed more than 60 publicly-funded depictions of the Confederacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center says this trend accelerated after the 2015 massacre by a white supremacist of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Several cities, counties and states that prominently flew the old Confederate battle flag—the “Stars and Bars”—have taken those flags down and put them in museums.

Thomas Jackson

Thomas Jackson

In May of 2017, just as one example of this trend, the City of Charlottesville, Virginia decided to remove a prominent statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General. The City Council there voted to put General Lee and his bronze horse up for sale to the highest bidder. They also decided to change the names of Lee and Jackson parks in the city, named for the General and another Confederate, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Controversy ensued. Public protests broke out, both for and against removing Lee’s statue. A group of residents sued, sending the ultimate decision to the courts. A so-called “alt-right” white supremacist group carried torches in their protest against the statue’s removal, purposely evoking images of past Ku Klux Klan rallies. The controversy became national and even international news, and one opinion piece in the New York Times editorial pages commented:

The white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va., this month over a plan to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, shows how this is likely to go. The marchers feigned civility. But a closer look shows that the protest drew on the toxic symbolism of the Third Reich in ways that few Americans would recognize.

By wielding torches in a protest staged by night, the demonstrators nodded to Nazi rallies held during the 1930s at Nuremberg, where the open flame was revered as a mystical means of purifying the Aryan spirit. They reinforced this toxic connection by chanting “blood and soil,” a Nazi-era slogan that connected German ethnic purity to cultivation of the land and, more broadly, to the notion that the “master race” was divinely entitled to confiscate the holdings of “lesser peoples,” even if it meant slaughtering them along the way.

The demonstrators at Charlottesville … had no real interest in the civic or aesthetic value of the monument they ostensibly came to defend. The essence of their argument was that any attempt to renounce Confederate ideology by moving this—or any—monument would be an assault on the so-called white race.

Nazism and the tradition of American white supremacy that is memorialized in monuments throughout the South are the fruit of the same poisonous tree. In this light, the Confederate flag can legitimately be seen as an alternate version of the Nazi emblem. – Brent Staples, How the Swastika Became a Confederate Flag, The New York Times, May 22, 2017.

The next night, after the alt-right, neo-Nazi demonstration, a much larger demonstration took place—this one against hatred and bigotry, with hopeful candles burning rather than hateful torches.

Those symbols of hatred, no matter what their origin, all represent the repugnant, hideous idea that entire groups of people, because of their ethnicity or their nationality or their skin color, are evil. Of course, once that decision occurs in any culture, the supposedly “evil” ones become easier to single out, target and slaughter. In just about every historical instance, those symbols of hate define the first steps on the path to terror, murder and genocide.

The Baha’i teachings clearly and pointedly say that no human being has the right to see any other human being as evil—especially not for any racially-based bias:

We have no right to look upon any of our fellow-mortals as evil.

Concerning the prejudice of race: it is an illusion, a superstition pure and simple! For God created us all of one race. There were no differences in the beginning, for we are all descendants of Adam. In the beginning, also, there were no limits and boundaries between the different lands; no part of the earth belonged more to one people than to another. In the sight of God there is no difference between the various races. Why should man invent such a prejudice? – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 148.

So yes, many cultures do have a heritage of hate. The whole Earth has been stained, throughout human history, with the blood of that inheritance. But that does not mean we must exalt or somehow glorify those who perpetrated such hatred, or prominently display their symbols for all to see.

So what’s the solution? If your city or town has a monument to hatred, violence or prejudice, what should you do about it? In the next essay in this series, we’ll explore a unique suggestion—originally made by the citizens of Charlottesville themselves—which may soon take hold in many places that have a history of hatred to face.

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Comments

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  • Sukumaran Sankaran Nair
    Jun 10, 2017
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    It's punishable in the army,if some thing goes slipped out or out of hand as a result of being ignorance .Not knowing or let things happen negligently cannot be accepted!
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Jun 9, 2017
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    The removing of this old symbol is simply a sign of detachment from the ancient spirit of racism. It is time to get rid of that and build a world with symbols of unity and our highest spiritual ideals.
  • Graham Burgess
    Jun 9, 2017
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    If we destroy any symbols of the past we disagree with because it is "the right thing to do" how can we protest the destruction of Baha'i grave sites and buildings because in the eyes of the Iranian government it is the right thing to do
  • Melanie Black
    Jun 9, 2017
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    In these times of division it is not surprising that there are so many conflicting opinions about these statues. One of the quotes in the above article that stood out to me was the one by Abdu'l-Baha who said: "We have no right to look upon any of our fellow mortals as evil." Right there is one of the most important things we need to remember. Fortunately in this United States we have the right to peaceful assembly and free speech. It can get a messy at times, but if people don't cross the line into law-breaking, it usually works ...out.
    Personally, I like that Confederate statues and symbols are coming down. I think putting them in museums where they can be shown and explained in their historical context would be a good idea.
    Read more...
  • Jun 9, 2017
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    Chris, I hear what you say in your posts and wish you could spend time really understanding what it is like to be a minority group in a country that has deep, racial attitudes of prejudice that for me is reflected in these glorified monuments of our violent, past. It was for me living in a country that institutionize racism, South Africa, that reflected the dark mirror of Amercia's racial divide most clearly. I was away almost 30 years before coming back to a country that lives in denial of the underlying sentiments and feelings that many white people have ...of the idea that they are superior due solely to skin color. It takes time for these ingrained attitudes to be understood by any of us but worth the effort.
    Read more...
    • Chris Cobb
      Jun 9, 2017
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      I don't disrespect the views of feelings of people who succeeded in having the monuments removed. But in these times of unnecessary racial division all this does is drive people further apart-so it accomplishes the exact opposite of unity, a Baha'i principle. I'm not a believer in the theory that subconscious racism among whites or minorities is a real problem. I personally racism exists on the fringes of American society. I actually disagree with the NSA that its America's number one social challenge.
    • Jonhannes Helonape
      Jun 9, 2017
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      So we can't acknowledge a racist past and work to heal racial divides without scrubbing the landscape of any historical reminders of anything related to that past? Sorry, but this is the kind of either/or thinking that drives people right into the arms of the alt-right. The more we say, "Agree with me on this issue of secondary importance or you're a racist," the more people push back and say, "Fine, I'll be a racist, then." And you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
  • Chris Cobb
    Jun 9, 2017
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    Labelling something racist has just become a cheap way of silencing debate and intimidating opponents in our political and cultural discourse. The Confederate monuments were harmless historical reminders of the area's past and part of the the culture and landscape of New Orleans-they were very attractive postbellum statutes. But calling opponents of their removal 'white supremacists' unless you're one of these people that believes American society is still inherently white supremacist-which I don't.
  • Jonhannes Helonape
    Jun 9, 2017
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    "There is a physical difference between the white and black races that will for ever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality.” -- Abraham Lincoln.
    Ready to take down the Lincoln Memorial?
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