People who want the Confederate monument to remain in the Circle often suggest that it is an emblem of free speech and a reminder of history’s lessons. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees (IHL) has delayed the relocation of this statue, citing a need for a report on the university’s efforts to provide context on Confederate history to students.
Here is some context: the Confederacy is analogous to Germany’s Third Reich. In the former, millions of black people were kept in brutal captivity. In the latter, millions of Jewish people were exterminated. Neither can be said to be worse. Both can be seen as horrendously inhumane.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a black person. I am a Jewish person. I can imagine that forcing a black person to tolerate a Confederate statue in a public space would be akin to forcing me to tolerate a Nazi statue in a public space.
In Germany, extensive efforts are made to remember the Holocaust. They do not have monuments to Nazi soldiers. As a result, I felt safe when I visited Germany.
It is not hard for me to imagine that a black person would have just cause to say that a Confederate monument makes them feel unsafe and unwelcome.
The university is a public one, and the presence of such a monument on campus is state-sponsored violence and intimidation.
We must be compassionate. The psychological effects of being a descendant of oppressors may be just as corrosive as those of being a descendant of the oppressed. We do not show that compassion by enabling the oppression to perpetuate itself.
It is sad that the monument exists and sad that a movement led by brave students to relocate it is being delayed. Honestly, it should not be relocated. We should dispose of the monument altogether, and as long as we don’t, we are sending a message that we are, in fact, not fully committed to learning lessons from history.
We can replace the statue with a monument to slaves whose lives were destroyed, or those who fought for a more equitable country despite the terror and subjugation they faced. We can memorialize as white people what we’ve really lost: the notion that our ancestors were perfect. We don’t have to make the same mistakes as them. We can grow.
I hope this contextualization can further the cause so that we can all move toward healing.
Zach Borenstein is a second year Masters in Teaching student from Scarsdale, New York.