Virginia Tech has recently established a committee to review, and potentially replace the names of buildings named after people associated with the Confederacy, and it got me thinking.
What do I think as a left-leaning, mixed-race person, who has experienced prejudice? What do I think of the movement of the year: to rename buildings and take down monuments that honor Confederate figures who fought a bloody war to prevent people like me from ever living in the state I call home?
None of this is worth the trouble. Yet.
Look what happened in Charlottesville. The violence that descended upon a normally peaceful town had many of my UVA friends nervous about returning to school. And while the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park was proposed to erase the memories of a time when slavery dominated the region, it really served to give white supremacy a day in the spotlight.
I don’t have to Google a poll online to tell you that most Americans oppose racism, Nazis and the KKK. But the statue issue is a completely different story. In one poll, the margin was 62 percent for keeping them to 27 percent for removing, with 11 percent responding that they weren’t sure.
That’s a lot of America agreeing with the KKK. And the more activists press this issue, the greater weight the KKK has in the mainstream political narrative. The idea of the KKK becoming normalized in modern society frightens me to no end.
But I don’t pretend to be ignorant of how controversial this issue is or of the murky historical context behind it. The statues were put up in the early 20th century to intimidate African Americans in the South and inspire Confederate pride. And while the Confederate names on our campus buildings don’t fall under the same category, we can all sympathize with those who feel uncomfortable studying in places commemorating those who fought against their freedom.
So, Justin, people will ask, how is this different from any other civil rights movement? The March on Washington wasn’t popular in its time either. It’s nearly impossible to make real change without real struggle. If you’re advocating for all of us to stay home and eat sheet cake (looking at you, Tina Fey), then you’re part of the problem too.
To those people, I say this:
There is no question that these statues and buildings are racist. But it’s subtle racism. It’s a cloud that hangs over us. We know it’s there and it’s hard to get away from. It can cause us stress and discomfort. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t limit anyone in society. Just because a high school is named after Robert E. Lee, as one is in my hometown, doesn’t mean we can’t have racial equality. Changing a name or taking a statue down doesn’t ensure that we can, either.
Think of police brutality, voter discrimination, the pay gap, etc. There is nothing subtle there. If statues and building names are a cloud over us, these issues are 10-foot concrete walls with no footholds that keep us from progressing as a society.
This just isn’t important enough to weather such a storm. But one of these days, we’ll all look at each other and say, “Yeah, take those down, they don’t belong in America.” And I hope to be around to see it happen. Though as it stands, we have a lot of work to do to get there.