In this era of all-out assault against everything Confederate, statues will remain relatively safe in Alabama, at least for the time being. This week, Alabama’s House Judiciary Committee voted down legislation that would weaken the protections in the the 2017 Memorial Preservation Act, which forbids cities and towns from taking down monuments over 40 years old and fines them $25,000 for doing so.
Rep. Juandalynn Givan, who sponsored the legislation, characterized it as a “reasonable compromise” and said that opposition was motivated by racism, according to the Associated Press. “We are in the state of Alabama and there is still much to be done with regards to the issues of the Confederacy and the beliefs of those individuals who believe in the Confederate monuments, in the Confederate flag,” she said. “Dr. Maya Angelou once said, ‘When people show you who they are, believe them.’ They have shown who they are.”
These sentiments are deeply wrong for numerous reasons. First of all, opposition to removing statues is not motivated by racism. It is motivated by the fact that a world without statues honoring a wide variety of historical figures, including Confederate ones, is not a world worth living in. As someone on the autism spectrum who loves historical figures more than anything else in the world, I have spent more days than I can count over the past year crying, screaming, and being completely overcome by grief and despair because of the devastating destruction that has taken place. The enormity of the damage that Givan and those who share her beliefs have inflicted is impossible to convey in words. There is nothing racist about opposing the complete destruction of everything good in the world.
With respect to Givan’s claim that her legislation is a reasonable compromise: when a person or group of people is attempting to obliterate from the world everything that makes life worth living, compromise is not the appropriate response. The only reasonable option is to restore all of the Confederate statues and symbols that have been taken away. Opening up the possibility for removing even more statues should not even be considered an option.
Additionally, it is disturbing to read Givan’s comments about “the beliefs of those individuals who believe in the Confederate monuments, in the Confederate flag” and how “there is still much to be done” about this. What kind of person views the existence of people with dissenting opinions as a problem to be solved? This is totalitarian and is the ultimate in bigotry and intolerance.
Finally, it is true that opponents of Givan’s legislation “have shown who they are.” They have shown that, unlike Givan and supporters of the legislation, they believe in tolerance and inclusion. They believe in honoring a diverse array of historical figures. They believe in a world that actually contains beauty, goodness, and things that make life worth living. I’m not sure why Givan considers this a bad thing.
According to the AP article, Rep. Mike Holmes, a brave defender of statues, was asked about “the feelings of slave descendants” and replied that there is no proof the Civil War was about slavery or white supremacy. He is 100% right. I would add an additional response of my own: the feelings of slave defendants matter the same amount as the feelings of anyone else. The fact that someone was descended from slaves does not give that person the right to inflict unbearable agony on other people. The fact that someone was descended from slaves does not give that person the right to obliterate all beauty, all goodness, all uniqueness, all diversity, and all hope from the world. It does not give a person the right to trample on the rights of those with different backgrounds, values, and beliefs.
The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement complaining that “these dehumanizing symbols of pain and oppression continue to serve as backdrops to important government buildings, halls of justice, public parks, and U.S. military properties.” They also complained that “preservation laws prohibit communities from making their own decisions about what they want to see in their public spaces.”
To call Confederate statues “dehumanizing” is the farthest thing possible from the truth. Confederate statues are beautiful, wonderful, amazing, glorious, and inspiring. It is their destruction that is truly dehumanizing. Removing statues divests the world of everything that makes life worth living. It destroys hope. It treats people like me, who love history, as if our feelings do not matter, as if our wishes do not matter, and as if our happiness does not matter. Anyone who does not see this has no soul.
On the SPLC’s other point, prohibiting communities from making decisions about which statues should be allowed to exist is actually precisely what the law should do. No one should be able to remove any statue, ever, because that violates the rights of the people who like the statue. Once a statue is built, it should remain forever, and no one should be able to take it down. Therefore, Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act is morally right, and all states should enact similar laws. It is excellent news that this law is staying in place.