Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have sparked debate with a protest that resulted in the destruction of a Confederate statue on their campus. "Silent Sam," as the statue was called, was unveiled in 1913, with a dedication speech given by Julian Carr (the namesake of nearby Carrboro.) In that speech, Carr postulated that, "The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo-Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo-Saxon race in the South ... as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo-Saxon is to be found in the 13 southern states — praise God."
Not to be outdone by himself, Carr went on to brag that he "horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds," because she, "insulted and maligned a southern lady."
Details like this are relevant because there are people still asking what's so wrong with Confederate flags and monuments. A Chapel Hill local asked, "Why take him down? Who has it hurt?" People still cannot comprehend why monuments and flags commemorating a country that rebelled to preserve slavery and "the purest strain of the Anglo-Saxon" should be removed.
But as that narrative and debate over Confederate monuments is exhausted, the white nationalist, along with a few lazy conservatives, have turned to the law to maintain a clear separation from anything resembling racial equality or liberalism.
Immediately afterwards, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt referenced a 2015 law that protects historical monuments from being removed from any public property. Instead of making a public statement about the gross persistence of monuments to hate, she claimed her hands were tied and that students shouldn't break the law. Remember, after Charlottesville, it was president Trump who seemed incapable of acknowledging hate, saying there were "very fine people on both sides" after a woman was killed protesting the white supremacist march.
The debate regarding Confederate monuments and flags will never end so long as there are southerners more interested in rewriting history than admitting the Confederacy is intimately related to white supremacy. The true danger, though, is the normalization of white supremacy and nationalism in the Trump era. So it should follow, then, that Americans toppling monuments to oppression and hate will be increasingly forgivable as long as the the state and federal government coddles white nationalism.
Right after UNC, Trump tweeted a popular white nationalist talking point about land redistribution in post-Apartheid South Africa — a mirror of the battle minorities in this country have fought since emancipation.
So, I applaud the removal of Silent Sam. The monument fell at a time when the president has not only failed to recognize racism and historical oppression, instead encouraging it, pining for the return of Anglo-Saxon supremacy.
The students and protesters at UNC found themselves among the throngs of citizens exhausted by the persistence of institutional racism and civic leaders content to hide behind the letter of the law while the sinful remnants of an evil empire remind the minority and maligned they are not valuable because they are not white. Folt found herself on the side of history that condemned those Woolworths sit-ins. She stood, arm-in-arm, with those who would applaud the persecution of Rosa Parks. Everyone who condemns the UNC students for removing the statue joins her.
The era of Trump has not only threatened the fragility of the faith that honest folks had in a government that has repeatedly proven it is not worthy of our faith. His existence as leader of this country along with his hateful zealots, at the very least, reveals a temporary reality in which the United States is no longer a nation working toward equality for all. Instead, it is a harbor for white supremacy that no longer hides in the shadows, but proudly stands, heads held high, in the same way Silent Sam and other Confederate monuments and flags mock the oppressed who dared to believe the world was turning.
Wherever our leadership fails to remove laws that celebrate oppression and hate, it becomes the responsibility of the citizen to remove that leadership, and when that fails, to make the law irrelevant. Cheers to the UNC protestors.