Boston march restores some faith in United States

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Posted 8/22/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

Is it really only a week since Charlottesville?
As I stopped into the office Saturday to do some writing, I procrastinated getting started long enough to look at Facebook posts on some of the early reports on the Boston protests. They showed a sea of humanity marching in solidarity against hate.
There were times last week -- Tuesday’s Trump press conference included -- where it felt as if our country was on the brink of falling into a racial divide that could never be overcome.
Saturday, at least, I saw some hope.
But I also found much to remain concerned about. Not the least of which was a lot of chatter on local social media pages expressing views showing little regard for the feelings of people offended by Civil War statues.
Comments like “Just don’t look at them,” or “What’s next? Are we going to blow up Mt. Rushmore?” overlook the reality that it’s someone else’s offense we’re talking about, not our own.
Last week I wrote in this space that I was not for removing all Civil War statues; in fact, I likened it to trying to rewrite history. My solution last week was to suggest such monuments be accompanied by information that put the statue into historical context.
But even as I wrote, I realized, if I were a Jew in Germany, no amount of context would make me feel a statue of Hitler is okay. I felt convicted last week, even as I espoused a policy of keeping the statues but putting them into context, that my beliefs were in conflict.
I began to realize that, as a Caucasian, I cannot possibly understand how offensive a Civil War monument is to a descendant of slaves. I cannot possibly understand, even though I can empathize, with how it feels for a Native American to pass by a park named for Custer.
It’s not simply a matter of looking away if it bothers you. 
As I read more and more last week about these statues, I learned that few were erected before the 1920s. Many more went up in the decades between 1920 and 1960. 
These monuments are not strictly historical at all. In the South, they’re more like veiled threats -- statements from people who continue to live in a past where slavery was legal, where white people believed they were better than people of color, and where the people who erected them wanted to send a message: “You may be rising, but don’t overstep.”
I believe I got almost to the same point in my column last week where I wrote this is not a black and white issue -- meaning, there are no easy answers.
But to suggest that because a number of communities in our country are reevaluating the appropriateness of monuments from an age of intolerance we must also tear down the Lincoln Memorial or disown George Washington as the father of our country is ridiculous.
Mount Rushmore is a beautiful work of art, but when you think about the fact we carved it into the side of the Indian’s sacred Black Hills I am a little aghast. Just as beautiful and impressive is the Crazy Horse monument under construction a short distance away. Within a few miles of one another, they give context to all who gaze upon their facades. 
Taking another look at the appropriateness of monuments and deciding to remove some is not a precursor to a world in which history no longer exists. What it is, I hope, is an evolution of our society’s collective vision of what it means to be “One Nation Under God” -- a nation in which we have declared “all men are created equal.”
As a woman, I take “all men” to include me, even though that’s not necessarily what our founding fathers believed. 
Last weekend, with the predominantly peaceful demonstrations in Boston and elsewhere, we saw that a great majority of our citizens won’t stand for hate. I stand with them. 
It is unfortunate that a free speech rally in Boston was overshadowed by some left-wing thugs at the mostly peaceful march. If we want to remain the great country we are, we need to continue the thoughtful assessment of the messages we send -- and the monuments we preserve. 
We are a great county because of our diversity -- not in spite of it.