By VATRENA KING/Guest columnist
I saw a debate in the Winters Express (which is one of the things I love about the Winters Express) about the Winters High School logo. I was going to opine about that. But then another letter caught my eye, and another about the current national situation. And well… there was no going back.
“I am well aware that times have changed, but history is history, and we can’t change that, no matter what we take down or destroy.”
Imagine someone going to a public square in Germany and erecting a statue of Adolf Hitler? And when the Jewish citizens complain saying, “Well… Hitler is part of ‘our’ national history. We can’t change that so… deal! (And, BTW, continue to pay for its maintenance with your tax dollars.) And when your children play in the park, at the foot at that statue, don’t worry about how that might negatively affect them. Just tell ‘em it’s part of our history. And we’re proud of him.” (Cause that’s what a statue in the park says.)
Thousands of people living in this country fought against the Nazis. Americans died fighting that war. Yet we saw people marching down the streets of Virginia, flying Swastikas and “heiling” Hitler. Those who weren’t waving Swastika flags were marching alongside those who were. Yet many people were pretty passé about that part. Citing how “complicated” it is. “Both sides” and all.
Trump even compared those Confederate generals to our founding fathers, citing that they also “owned slaves.” Sure, Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. And Jefferson in particular grappled with this conundrum his whole life.
But some 100 years later, Robert E. Lee didn’t just own slaves; he was willing to die for slavery, to kill for it, to lead thousands of other men to die and kill in order to keep “Africans” (most of whom had a great dollop of European ancestry by this point due to certain practices of the day) oppressed, enslaved. He fought to keep in place an entire system under which millions of people were killed, tortured, maimed, shackled, sold, raped.
Our Union soldiers — the U.S — fought against him.
In other words, the white “nationalists” marched in the spirit of a leader the U.S. fought against to protest the removal of a statue commemorating another leader the U.S. fought against.
And the idea that some obscure quote (in all the quotes I found, I couldn’t find the one quoted in the newspaper), should somehow overshadow Lee’s legacy as a Confederate general is unbelievable. His actions speak way louder. And I don’t think anyone from either side of the line would appreciate the watering down of his legacy due to effectively journal entries or whatever is the case.
For the protesters and counter protesters, the Lee statues are literally symbols of oppression and of the South’s resistance to change; for some, symbols of their ability and right to oppress. For others, the statues are toxic, the environment is toxic. And they want to clean their home (finally).
I grew up in Virginia, and there is a particular brand of arrogance and celebrated ignorance in the South that is at once maddening and terrifying. For Californians that may be hard to get.
One Winters resident said, “It seems to me that racism, whatever that means, is a term that almost exclusively applies to people of European ancestry. By 2024, will the term ‘racist’ be a word synonymous for all ‘whites’?”
Firstly, I hope that won’t be the case. However, as to why the term almost exclusively applies to people of European ancestry, in a word: History. Certainly many cultures have oppressed others; the Japanese oppressed the Chinese, the Chinese have been awful to the Tibetans. Antarctica is the only continent Europeans haven’t marched into and been incredibly disrespectful, dismissive, prejudiced and oppressive of the people living there. That Imperialist attitude carries on right through today in many cases.
That’s the history that we must deal with. If we don’t, it will teach us nothing.
Black people are used to studying European/white culture, because it’s the predominant culture. “Mainstream” culture. It’s what’s taught in school. Other perspectives are gleaned by choice. Here are just a few opportunities to open eyes and educated dialogs about racism:
~ “Eyes on the Prize” (available at the library): Amazing documentary series, because it uses actual footage and puts one right in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. There are also interviews with people like Andrew Young AND Alabama Governor George Wallace.
~ “The African Americans” documentary series (hard-hitting but very educational)
~ “The Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela’s autobiography (about the Afrikaners (Dutch) treatment of the South Africans;
~ “Gandhi,” about the British oppression of the East Indians
~ “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” European-Australians treatment of the Australian Aboriginals.
Of course, all “whites” are not prejudiced or racists; to say or think that would be “racist.” “Racism” is basing one’s opinions and actions toward another person solely on the basis of that person’s skin color or ethnicity. America needs to have the courage to look at European history and its own history squarely in the face, just as England and Germany have. That’s the only way to heal the South (and the rest of the nation.)
Lastly, regarding “Black Lives Matter.” This is certainly the Calaveras Big Tree blocking a very thick forest.
Quote: “We all matter. Judging one another is not up to us.”
But we have judged! And the national verdict for the better part of four centuries has been this: Only white lives matter. (Please watch “Eyes on the Prize” before debating this!)
The question of the day, with all due respect to every creature on this planet, is unapologetically, unabashedly, library-book-overdue, “Do Black lives matter?” Imperialism still affects us.