I remember the day I was asked, “But are the statues actually hurting anybody?”
It was a difficult day. I didn’t give you an answer, but not because I didn’t have one. I did, I still do, but I had no opportunity to give it. I had no strength to give it. It wouldn’t have mattered either way.
I had been told, after saying the statues never affected my education of history, that it was because I never had the opportunity to see them.
Now, I sit here and I wonder, doesn’t that just prove my point? If I never needed the opportunity to see the statues in order to learn everything I know about history, then are they really necessary?
They are pieces of stone with the faces of racists carved in them. Confederate statues stand tall across the country, and a few came down while others are being petitioned to be removed.
You shout in outrage—an outrage you had never shown towards the injustices Black people were facing. At least, not in front of me, along with me.
Are they hurting anybody?
Not physically, because a statue cannot move to hurt someone physically. But they still cause pain, the same way a haunting memory will. The memory you shove to the back of your head to forget because it tightens your chest and makes you feel suffocated.
You would never get that feeling in regards to the statues, because they are not statues of people who, if alive today, would want you shackled and working in fields; they would not spit on you and gladly string you up for so much as daring to look at them.
You question how a statue can hurt someone, and I question back: How can a statue that cannot speak and has no thorough context where it stands teach us history? How is a statue that was built and put on display by white supremacists supposed to offer us any good, unbiased history?
These statues have no purpose other than to remind Black people of where they once were. You take a racist white family there, and the parents might speak highly of the man portrayed, corrupting a child’s mind. You take a Black family there, and that child will be taught fear. A valid fear that they probably already knew, because the ideologies behind those statues you are so eager to defend are still alive and hurting people to this day.
Stone cannot hurt someone the same way a racist with a weapon could, but they share the same ideology. Maybe you don’t have to agree with them being torn down, but must you be so quick to brush off the reasoning behind the act? Must you be so eager to make a thousand excuses to oppose a message from the Black people of the US?
If you meant you didn’t like the way people went about removing the statues, you would have said that. Instead you uttered a thousand reasons why the statues should be allowed to stay where they are, and that is not the same thing. That is completely resisting change.
And you could try to backtrack and say that wasn’t what you meant, but either way you said what you said, and those words had to have a feeling to inspire them, and it is hard to believe that feeling was anything along the lines of go about it a different way.
You do not have to understand why these statues are so harmful to the Black community, the same way you do not have to understand why the Confederate flag is a harmful symbol of racism.
But you do have to take a step back and realize your place. You have to take a step back and listen to the Black people who do understand these feelings. You have to be willing to listen and attempt to understand.
You have to access a place of empathy because while to you they might mean nothing, to others they are the symbol of the oppression people of color face daily in this country. The oppression people of color have always faced in this country.
You do not have to go out there and demand they be removed as well, but you sure as hell need to step back and understand why you demanding that they stay makes you seem just the same as the racists in this country.
To you they are just statues, a piece of history.
To Black people and those willing to listen, they are a haunting memory of oppression that cannot be shoved to the back of the mind and forgotten because they so openly exist and are celebrated by people who don’t give a damn about the damage those people carved in stone did that left shockwaves through entire generations, creating and shaping a racist nation.
Bee is a college student, hailing from the South and its conservative environment. “Statues” is an excerpt from their larger, currently unpublished collection of poems targeting various social issues coming from their perspective as an activist having to constantly combat the other side, even if it is in their own home.