The Changing World Is Your History Book: Why I Took My White Kids to See a Confederate Monument by Ann Marie Patitucci
Two years ago, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked his constituents to look at the confederate monuments in their city through the eyes of a black child: “Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are, too?”
I was thinking about Mayor Landrieu’s speech when my husband and I took our boys to see the confederate monuments last week, in Richmond, Virginia. It wasn’t the first time they had seen them, but the first time they’d seen them in the context of George Floyd’s murder and the recent protests against racial injustice and police brutality in our city, across the U.S., and around the world.
There we stood, staring up at the Robert E. Lee statue, in Richmond – the capitol of the confederacy – in the state with the most confederate memorials in the country, knowing that it could soon come down. As someone who teaches about the monuments in a course about Richmond, the significance was (and is) not lost on me. The history, the tragedy, the pain of it all is not lost on me, though it is, of course, pain and trauma I will never understand.
Of all the statues on Monument Ave., we spent the most time at the Lee monument, paying our respects at the memorials, talking to people, taking everything in and trying to process the enormity of it all. The graffiti is so much more than graffiti; it’s nothing like what we’re seeing on the news. Being there, seeing it in person, it feels like years, decades, generations of swallowed, censored, softly spoken words finally pouring out, shouting out and landing on concrete in bursts of color. It feels like a conversation, a call to action. The message is clear.
As I saw the statues through my kids’ eyes, I wondered: when they’re older, will they remember this? Will they remember the musicians and the prayer station and the volunteers handing out water and food? Will they remember the calm, peaceful feeling here, the flowers, the memorials? Will they remember kneeling in our neighborhood for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, holding their homemade Black Lives Matter signs, in honor of George Floyd? Will they remember the day that the Lee monument comes down?
I’ve seen a lot on social media lately about whether or not parents should talk to their kids about racial injustice, and what exactly to tell them. In our home, our kids have grown up hearing about racial injustice and white privilege. We talk about social justice. We continue to listen and learn. We have much more to learn.
While we all see plenty of signs of willful ignorance on social media, lately I’ve noticed many people genuinely trying to educate themselves and their kids, looking for helpful websites and videos and a racial justice reading list. This gives me hope. If you happen to have confederate statues nearby, I highly recommend taking your kids to the monuments and discussing their significance in your city and the country. If you want to know more, please don’t hesitate to ask someone. No one should be ashamed of (or shamed for) not knowing something and wanting to learn.
Outrage ==> Education ==> Action
Black Lives Matter.
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