Letters to the Editor: Statues glorify historical events

In recent months I’ve heard many people, including fellow Vermonters, argue that removing statues of Confederate heroes is a misguided effort to erase history. And yet, it seems to me that very few white Americans have truly looked inward to understand more about our national history and how we, as individuals, continue to benefit from and contribute to a racist society.
Statues and memorials are not history. They are glorifications and commemorations of historical events and people (mostly men). A statue of Robert E. Lee does not tell the history of the Civil War, nor does it reflect the experiences of people who were enslaved in America. It is a celebration of the man who led an army that fought to preserve the right of some people to own others. It symbolizes the dominance of white America over non-white America, and its removal was the rallying cry for white supremacists to descend on Charlottesville this past weekend. Armed to gills they violently asserted that they “cannot be replaced.”
They can and they must, but not until we recognize the pervasiveness of their racism in our past and our present.
In Vermont it can feel as though we are in a world apart from the violence and destruction of Charlottesville. But we are not, and we must all work to examine and accept the ways in which we have benefitted from the racist structures and systems that uphold some Americans and oppress others. We must ask of ourselves hard questions that may upend our sense that all we have achieved is due to hard work alone. If my grandparents had been black, would they have been granted a loan to purchase land that allowed them to start a family farm in the late 1940’s? If my parents had been latino, would they have been admitted and accepted in the colleges that shaped their futures? If I was a person of color would I live safe from fear that my child may be shot by police for playing with a toy gun? We must be honest and humble about the truth we are privileged to overlook in our daily lives — that our country always has and continues to disfavor some people because of who they are in favor of others.
We are not separate from all this in our beautiful Green Mountain state and just as we are all part of what happened in Charlottesville, so must we be part of what replaces white supremacy with a multiracial, multicultural future. We do not risk erasing history with the removal of statues that glorify the American Confederacy. The greater risk is our own continued ignorance of how the repercussions of our history foster oppression and injustice today.
Ellen Whelan-Wuest

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