The aftermath and ongoing circumstances of the murder of George Floyd have given each of us reasons to give focused thought to the current state of our nation. Regardless of outlook, all have been forced to take a position on where we are and where we are going as a nation. Welcomed, yet unexpected, citizens of nations throughout the world, inspired by visuals of the brutal murder of George Floyd, have also chosen this time to address the evils of abuse and oppression that impact them.
I am pleased to see the masses gathered in cities across the world expressing, with their words and bodies, unwillingness to accept injustice for themselves and for their social/cultural neighbors. They are addressing every source of oppression — from insult to injury — as a target for change, and this change, seemingly, begins with the elimination of symbols of oppression.
This is a good place to start. Few will deny the impact of symbolism on our social constructs and interaction. The symbols of our favorite teams, organizations, and schools are a source of inspiration and pride. The Pentagon is symbolic of our military strength, Mt. Rushmore edifies inspirational leadership, and the Lincoln Memorial symbolizes the successful rebuff of a traitorous uprising based upon a brutal system of human servitude and oppression.
Recently, I have awakened to the news that symbols of oppression are being rejected worldwide. According to a Wikipedia entry: “As part of the worldwide George Floyd protests, members of the Black Lives Matter movement have also removed or defaced statues of other historical figures that were responsible for large-scale suffering of Black people. In Bristol, UK, protesters toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston, who played a prominent role in the Bristol slave trade, while BLM protesters in Ghent, Belgium, vandalized a statue of King Leopold II, who caused the death of tens of millions of Congolese.”
Later, I learned that NASCAR had banned the display of the Confederate flag at its events. The Marine Corps and Navy have also banned the display of the Confederate flag on their respective installations and ships. Local political leaders are planning and removing Confederate monuments while Congress has resolved to remove statues of Confederate leaders from the Capitol’s Statuary Hall and to rename military installations which honor Confederate leaders.
These actions eliminate symbols that are deeply offensive to many Americans. To African Americans, the Confederate flag and other symbols embody the hatred and brutality of slavery and discrimination in post-Civil War America. To patriotic Americans, symbols of the Confederacy represent the edification of a traitorous and defeated enemy which, despite proximity, advocated the dissolution of the U.S.
Some argue that these symbols are cultural icons that only represent Southern Heritage. I contend that symbols of the Confederacy represent an allegiance to and support for repression of African Americans and anyone non-white. Statues identified for removal are recent additions to the cultural landscape. As an example, Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, has a bust in the Tennessee Capitol which was placed in 1978. Rather than heritage, his bust symbolizes allegiance to the principles of white superiority. No other nation allows or endorses the edification of those who attempted the violent overthrow of their established government. Even post-WWII Germany has outlawed the use of symbols or propaganda that promote Nazism. Shouldn’t we expect as much?
Dr. Carter G. Woodson said, “The oppressor has always indoctrinated the weak with his interpretation of the crimes of the strong.” The objective of this indoctrination has always been maintaining the cultural, social and economic racial disparities of the “Old South.” It is time that we bring down the symbols which provide emotional support to those who endorse those crimes.