Anger, Southern White Pride, and Confederate Statues

by Jimmy Lu

Symbols have the power to reflect meanings. Given context, people can get to a closer to the meaning of a symbol. Among the symbols in America, Confederate statues have been controversial, not only because they people who supported slavery and white supremacy, but also because they are in public places.


“Confederate Defenders of Charleston Statue” at Charleston, SC, courtesy of NYDailyNews. The statue presents the Confederate soldiers as valorous warriors and defenders of Charleston. The statue glorifies the Confederate soldiers by its inscription, “TO THE CONFEDERATE DEFENDERS OF CHARLESTON.” However, someone vandalized the statue by spray painting “BLACK LIVES MATTER” in front of the main inscription. This vandalism reveals the outrage of the person over the statue that glorifies the Confederacy, which supported the enslavement of Black people.  The statue reveals Southern white pride about the brave efforts of Confederate soldiers. However, the statue’s image could be unsettling to Black people who feel that enslaved Black people’s masters are being glorified as heroes. I do not advocate vandalizing these statues; instead, they should be removed in a proper and legal way.

People look at these statues and become upset or angry. They may think about white-supremacy and slavery. Thus, they may want the statues removed from public places.

Both sides of the debate over the removal of the Confederate statues ought to think about the differing ideological frameworks. While defenders of these statues feel that they need to protect their Southern white culture and history, they need to understand that their adversaries may oppose these statues, because of their visceral hatred of the Confederacy’s pro-slavery and white-supremacism, to make public places reflective of tolerant and inclusive values.

Regarding those who are upset about the removal of the Confederate statues, they are upset because these people see their Southern white culture and history reflected by the statues. They may feel that liberals or people who offended by the statues are too sensitive or “politically correct.” Under the Trump Administration, Confederate sympathizers may feel protected, supported, and emboldened by President Trump who tweeted,

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

His characterization of the statues as “beautiful” and his sadness shows how he is defensive about them, which could also resonate with his conservative, white working-class supporters. Ultimately, defenders may try to prevent their “Southern culture” from being “ripped apart” by their ideological adversaries.

In addition, the removal of Confederate statutes does not mean the removal of Southern history. Drew Gilpin Faust in This Republic of Suffering presents the theme of “Numbering” that allowed those affected by the Civil War to deal with the unprecedented loss of Union and Confederate soldiers. Numbers help to “grapple with the larger meaning of loss for society and nation” (Faust 250). We may never remember all of those who died, but we could remember how many approximately Union and Confederate soldiers died. Numbering allowed Americans to commemorate the slain in a more appropriate way. According to Faust,

“States in both North and South enumerated the dead to honor the slain. A name upon a list was like a name upon a grave, a repository of memory, a gesture of immortality for those who had made the supreme sacrifice” (259).

This information is a more appropriate form of honor because listing “names upon a list” is less controversial, yet it also commemorates the soldiers’ sacrifices. This gesture is a more personal and appropriate tribute for Confederate deaths, rather than through controversial statues of Confederate soldiers and leaders. People can still learn about the Civil War history and acknowledge the culture of the South even if Confederate statues are removed from public sight.

Confederate sympathizers should understand why the statues ought to be removed. Rational people who have studied the Civil War through mainstream institutions view the Confederacy as a lost cause that wanted secession and the enslavement of Black people. To put negative feelings into perspective, a statue defender should think about a hypothetical scenario in which a Holocaust survivor looks at a statue commemorating Nazism in her own hometown. Would she not feel angry or sad when reminded of her oppressors? In a similar way, the Confederate statues can trigger thoughts in people’s minds about slavery. Defenders of the statues should stop trying to preserve a toxic culture that reminds others of oppression.

In the post-slavery and post-Confederacy era, we ought to remove these statues in memory of the oppressed groups throughout American history. Removing these statues will require the teamwork and commitment of people to legally petition, protest the statues, and financially support their removal through formal procedures. This process requires seemingly large, but, relatively low costs to remove the statues. The removal of these statues will improve the image of American towns and cities as tolerant and inclusive places. In addition, “Southern white culture” will have to undergo significant ideological changes and find appropriate ways to commemorate their Confederate soldiers. America needs to uphold tolerance and kindness for all racial groups, and this requires people’s willingness to support the removal of Confederate statues.

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