Justice, Symbols, and Statues

I am a white, cisgender, female. Though I am a Baptist pastor, I have experienced minimal interruptions on my career path. I experience the benefits of white privilege daily. Do not misunderstand me, I have experienced true trauma in life, things that I turn to therapy and medication to handle, but my life is not harder because of the color of my skin.

Why would the Black Lives Matter movement impact my life? Why should I care?

No one is free until we are all free,”- Martin Luther King Jr.

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) is not only about Black lives; it is about humanity.

Equality, Equity, and Liberation: As some BLM protesting in smaller cities has subsided, it’s still very clear that we haven’t arrived at a place of equality, equity, or justice. Conversations are still being had about the value of the BLM movement and the requests protestors are making. This is not the end of our conversation about equality.

But what in the world is equality? Is equality what we want?

Though I consider myself to be a competent intellectual, I still struggle to convey the complex thoughts from my mind to another person. Because of this reality, I have a deep love of infographics. Below are three examples of artists using pictures to convey the complex concepts of equality, equity, and justice.

I love these different depictions of equality, equity, and justice, but the reality behind these words is a hard pill to swallow. With the conversation of equality, our world is not where it needs to be. It’s heavy to acknowledge the situation because that means change has to happen. Are we willing to change for the betterment of our world? Do we genuinely want to make the world a better place?

We have some heavy lifting to do to end racism, especially with each person expressing a distinct end goal from the next. Racism doesn’t end because I smile at every person at the grocery store. Nor does it end because I posted that Black Lives Matter on the internet.

The Inner Wrestling of Cathy Hay: True healing is messy work. We need to possess humility and teachability to experience change. That’s why I’m grateful for Cathy Hay’s reflection on the BLM movement. Her reflections are specific to her own work and story, which gives you a chance to consider how BLM will affect each person, even if they aren’t Black.

(It would be easy to get distracted at this moment because I’m mentioning a white British woman into the conversation about BLM, but hear me out. As a white woman navigating this topic, I needed to hear another white woman talk about her place in the conversation.)

Cathy Hay is the founder of Foundations Revealed and a YouTube personality. Her company helps inspire sewers to meet their wildest dreams & goals. She posts videos about mental health, perseverance, and doing your best. She loves history and regularly wears clothes from different centuries while living her everyday life (see pictures below). If you do any googling of Cathy Hay, you’ll learn quickly she has a project (her white whale), which she’s been dreaming of and working on recreating for a while, The Peacock Dress by The House of Worth.

Most recently, Cathy Hay released a video, linked below, about her journey with the Peacock Dress and she shares about her own wrestling with what BLM movement means in her small corner of the world as a historical dress recreator.

Peacock Dress 2: Unpacking a Dark History

I’m grateful for Cathy Hay’s video wrestling with what the BLM movement means for her specifically and concretely:

I’m grateful that she concluded, regardless of her practical steps for this project, the story of the Peacock Dress couldn’t be silenced. She had to share the grim history behind this beloved gown.

Should I stop this project that has been with me for forever? Or would that be erasing a significant perspective of history? Should I alter the project to make a statement about the problem with the history of this beautiful dress? Or is that only a token and not really solving anything? Should I have an Indian woman model the finished product in place of a British woman? Or is that once again just a token? — paraphrasing of the video

As we genuinely take time to reflect on how Black lives, and all people of color, matter, it’s important to not think about posting on social media or smiles at the grocery store. Change needs to happen deep down at the core. This leads to uncomfortable conversations about our interests, habits, history, and language.

Symbols & Racism: It is impossible to talk about systemic racism without acknowledging the repetitive conversation about the Confederate Battle flag.

Now I realize that the Confederate flag has a complex story and means different things to different people. Some will say that the flag is a reminder of people who stood up for States’ rights. Others will tell you it is a symbol of treason and racism. Still others will over simplify the flag and say it is a symbol of the Southern states.

Regardless of the interpretation, if I’m honest with you, I have to tell you it’s part of my heritage.

I have Cajun blood. My father’s name is Robert Lee. There is a Tigner Plantation in the south. My family history is a painful and complex one built off of favoritism and assumptions. I can know my history and love my family, but also recognize that I have racism and oppression in my family tree.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that there are Black Tigners in the south. This could be for multiple reasons: 1. some slaves chose to take on their master’s last name at liberation because they had no last name. 2. some masters raped their slaves to produce more slaves, and their children carried their last name while working in the fields.

These details are part of my heritage and some days I wish I could hide from it.

As my older brother and I talked about BLM, we both began to cry. He was born in the south and inherited a different association to the Confederate flag than I since I was born in the north.

For my brother, the flag symbolized our family’s history, and it was a reminder of our grandparents. Our grandmother gave him a battle flag because he asked for it. The flag reminded him he loved his family, the warm weather, and southern food. Though he loved his personal meaning of the flag, he decided that this symbol’s meaning had changed. In fact, my brother removed the flag and stickers of the flag from his stuff. He decided he loved the Black people he knew more than a symbol. His convictions moved me. I was so proud of my brother in that conversation and wanted to be strong like him.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth. The connotation behind the Battle Flag has changed. Those who cling to the flag because of southern pride are missing the point. They’re ignoring history and the broader interpretation of the symbol. The Battle Flag has been tainted, and it’s time to let it go.

But that doesn’t mean we forget our history.

Monuments & BLM: America’s history is tarnished. Fact.

We could leave our nation like silver in a drawer, continuing to tarnish over time, or we could take the time to examine it fully, polish and it to reveal the truth without hiding the dark details. There is no sense in denying our nation’s history, but there is a right way to acknowledge it.

We erected monuments, but they didn’t depict history correctly. These monuments glorified aspects of individuals but didn’t share the full story. Some monuments were event erected in honor of slaves but depicts them more like loyal dogs than human beings.

I appreciate the perspective of the historian, Cheyney McKnight, who uses YouTube and Instagram to share video & photo essays to talk about the problems of erasing the Black perspective in the history of America. I particularly like her post about monuments. We can share about history without glorifying the people of the past.

I am not opposed to monuments that tell our history or acknowledge significant ASPECTS of an individual, most times a simple sentence added to a monument would change the entire feeling.

I am opposed to monuments that lie about history, are incomplete in telling the story, or at the very least paint the picture with rose-colored glasses.

Below are a few infographics depicting stats about the erection of Confederate monuments. The graphics draw some conclusions of their own based on the data they displayed. It is clear they want you to conclude most of these monuments do not have pure intentions.

These graphics display a correlation between the erection of Civil War monuments and racial tensions happening at that moment in history. Things were changing, a way of life was shifting, and some (not all) American citizens wanted to preserve their own perspective of American history.

Much like Cathy Hay’s struggle with the history behind the historical dresses she loves so much, monuments have their own struggle. Statues, that glorify white land owners oppressing another group of people, should not be valued more than the actual history.

At the Foundation of the United States, Black Americans were not considered full humans (See info about the 3/5ths compromise). At our founding, Black Americans were property, not people. They didn’t even represent a whole person based on OUR CONSTITUTION!

Yes, our Founding Fathers broke us free from a tyrannical government…. but they established a new government based on the same cultural biases as the previous (the value of women and people of color being just two of those biases).

I can be grateful for the Declaration of Independence and recognize that we as a country need to continue growing from that initial document.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”― Maya Angelou

I would love to tell you I believe that America is past the “3/5ths compromise” mentality towards people of color, but I would be lying. I won’t get into the details of how the 3/5ths compromise is still a reality today, instead I will encourage you to watch the documentary 13th (https://www.netflix.com/title/80091741).

America knows better. It’s time we do better.

Sure, we can remember our history, key figures, and symbols like the Gettysburg Address, General Lee, or the Battle Flag of the Confederacy, but statues and flags are not worth more than a person’s dignity. It’s time we consider replacing the lies with honest portrayals of history.

As a pacifist, I do not condone the destruction of property. I also don’t condone the extrajudicial killing of humans (never mind the fact that I’m against capital punishment… but we’ll save that for another time). Monuments are not worth more than a human life.

When we care more about a statue or a symbol than a person in front of us, we’ve lost our humanity.

These Americans have been speaking out for centuries about justice. But are we listening to their cry? Their voices are getting louder. Are we listening? As you examine these photos, consider not just ‘the history’ being defaced, but also the emotion presented in defacing monuments. Can you read between the lines? What are the words between the actions here?

We are humans too. We are Americans too.

The Bill of Rights is for us too. The American Dream is for us too.

The Cry for Change: I don’t want to be a passive member of history. I want to be part of the team that pushes and pulls America to be better than we were. We cannot only remember the ‘glory days’ because the ‘glory days’ were not glorious for all Americans.

On average, a White American’s heritage is tied to the dark side of American history. White families are tied to settlers, slavers, or exploiters; that is unless their family immigrated to the US post Civil War. Native Americans lived here first. We lied to them. We stole their land and resources. We abused them. We killed them with the diseases we brought and brutality we served.

Black Americans, like Native Americans, have also had a story of struggle. Humans were stolen from their native lands, put on ships with little to no sanitation or nourishment, and sold like cattle at an auction to be treated like cattle.

By the way, ‘Black’ typically, though not always, means their family has been here many generations and can’t trace their line back to a specific country much like most white Americans can’t. They can’t trace back their family tree because we burned it down.

It’s time Black Americans’ voices are heard. It’s time America brings to light our dark history and acknowledges we need to change.

Cathy Hay, BLM & Me: I am one person and cannot solve all the nation’s problems on my own. This is where I turn to the wisdom of Cathy Hay. I may not solve the world’s problems, but I can make steps to change my little sphere of influence.

  • I can know my own history and learn to do better.
  • I can educate myself on the experiences of people of color.
  • I can amplify the voices of people of color.
  • I can stand up and speak up when I see racism in action.
  • I can speak to my local government about laws that covertly target people of color and expect a change.
  • I can raise expectations on the hiring, training, and discipline of law enforcement.
  • I can raise expectations on local government to not expect law enforcement to be mental health professionals.
  • I can raise expectations on education teaching the accurate history of America.

America has a chance to be great. Our next actions will speak volumes about the quality of our nation. Who do we want to be?

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