I've changed my mind about the statues
I used not to care whether the Confederate memorials remained or were removed. In Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, where the footprints of stars are embedded in concrete, those of forgotten stars of yesteryear are sometimes removed to make room for fresher celebrities. So likewise with memorials. What moved us yesterday may not move us today; ergo, make room for fresh enthusiasms.
But on reflection, something different – and alien – comes to the surface with the removal of the statues.
Those represent a part of our history – the history of all of us, black and white, slave and slave master, whether our own actual ancestors were here then or not. We inherit that family history. Not all of us were saints. But this isn't the Vatican; we are not in the business of pushing for canonization of our past, just its remembrance.
We are one new people here, e pluribus unum, and not still a collection of separate walled off ethnicities.
We may have been Cossacks or Jews or Poles in the old country, or slaves, but when we were dumped out on these shores, we were pressed and shaken and melded into something new: Americans.
We have a song. It is called the National Anthem. We sing it when we are celebrating what we are – our new nation culled out of many others, with a new common past and a joint subscription to certain principles we believe make our national family secure.
When someone refuses to sing that family song, he is in effect opting out of sitting at the family table.
When an attorney general speaks of "my people" and is referring specifically to one ethnicity to the exclusion of all others, he has gotten up and left the family table.
When Mayor Dinkins in New York was confronted with a boycott of a Korean-owned store by the black community, his immediate response should have been to be the first man to walk through the door of that store. It was a symbolism that would have counted, that would have reaffirmed that we are one family. Instead, the mayor opted out. He got up from his seat at the table.
When rioters in Los Angeles attacked and burned Korean businesses (with Maxine Waters cheering them on), and mostly black city workers thereafter threw garbage on Korean demonstrators at city hall, Mayor Bradley should have met with the Koreans and sympathized with their plight. He was mayor of all the city. Instead, he walked away. He got up from the table. He refused to meet with the Koreans.
The Confederate statues are a remembrance of a part of our family saga. There were men who fought out of a sense of duty and who showed courage and others who did not. The same was true of the Union soldiers. The war, as wars generally do, brought out both greatness and venality. But we are the inheritors of both stories, and both the good and the bad. It is hoped we may learn something from it all, but with humility, we need to remember that we are no better or worse than those who came before us. We cannot claim that the past did not happen. Or that the pirate on the far limb of our family tree isn't related to us.
All the pictures in our family album belong there, and it is deceitful for those who come after us if we pluck out some and leave only blank spaces in their place. We all sit at the same table.
If we are not to become black and white and Pole and Cossack and Greek again, then we must accept the common inheritance of our past. Removing statues from pedestals, crossing names out of textbooks (examine current schoolbooks on U.S. history, and you will discover how much has been omitted), denying the past, and magnifying errors will only ensure that we never gather together again as one.
History has brought us to where we are, and a look back along that long road may help us get our bearings – still singing one song, and clinging to the same set of convictions about what we ought to be, even if things are not yet so.