For over a century America has been a country in denial about its past, a nation refusing to apologize, nor truly recognize chattel slavery's foundational role in its creation.
This past weekend those unsaid historical truths boiled over in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a people fought over a monument of Confederate General Lee, and its place in history.
Was General Lee simply a soldier fighting against a better union, or was he more? Was he a man that represented the conflict of whiteness, and the dilemma of color’s placement in our nation’s history books?
A country painted in black and white left lasting scars on a enslaved people, and simply set them free as an answer. Then after being free for but a short period allowed the oppression to continue with peonage, convict leasing, and redlining. Now over 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans are left with the results. A group that turned to the 20th century leaving slavery, entered the 21st century mired in poverty, and unfairly targeted with the full pressure of mass incarceration.
Lee is quoted as stating:
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.
In his words he echoed the quandary of whiteness in America, for its very existence requires the otherness of blackness. For Lee to own slaves, and at the same time believe it to be a moral and political evil shows the true confusion not just of a man, but of a nation. It also shows why America will never be whole if it is not made to confront its original sin, American slavery.
In his press conference, President Donald Trump stated "First Robert E. Lee, What’s next George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?" This question acknowledges the core moral conundrum America must face.
This is bigger than General Lee, President Trump, and Charlottesville. This is a question that really should make us question it all.
Please watch my video explaining the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest below:
Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary "Freeway: Crack in the System." He has contributed pieces to the Grio, The Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration, and economics. Follow him on YouTube Channel Tonetalks. For more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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