Black Virginia Senators Explain To GOP Assholes That Confederate Statues Actually Hurt
Virginia's new Democratic majority in the General Assembly has already passed some kickass legislation. In just the past couple months, the newly Democratically controlled legislature has passed an anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill. It's passed the Equal Rights Amendment. It torched Lee-Jackson Day and replaced it with a state holiday for Election Day. But not everything's been rosy, particularly when it comes to gun safety, and now there's some tedious pushback about Confederate memorials.
You'd think after Charlottesville, where Nazis and other white supremacists let their hate flags fly, everyone would agree to junk the memorials to slavery celebrating traitors. However, we live in a world where Republicans exist.
One of those Republicans, freshman lawmaker Sen. Jennifer Kiggans, claimed it was "divisive and not healing" to even consider removing Confederate memorials. Kiggans is the sort of Republican who conflates history with celebration. It's not as though anyone's going to forget 9/11 unless there are statues of Osama bin Laden in Central Park. Valorizing sworn enemies of the United States is a weird thing to do unless you really dislike black people.
Kiggans, who by the way is hella white, argued that Civil War memorials were "in most cases … dedicated to deceased veterans who fought for their homeland and died or were wounded alongside their hometown friends." This is bullshit. These people were all traitors. They willingly attacked and killed American soldiers. No amount of revisionist, "Lost Cause" nonsense can change that fact.
Hundreds of Confederate monuments litter the state, and current law forbids localities from tearing them down or moving them. #AllStatuesMatter, I guess. A majority of Democrats favor legislation that would let counties, cities, and towns decide the monuments' fates. A few weeks ago, the Senate had passed its version of this bill, which all Democrats supported and all Republicans opposed. There was an intensely emotional debate Wednesday when the Senate amended its bill to match the House version. Kiggans just couldn't resist her "last chance" to say something gross and offensive about these damn monuments.
KIGGANS: As a little girl, I remember visiting the Vietnam War memorial with my father, who had many friends whose names were on the wall. Although Vietnam was not a popular war and was outwardly opposed by many, the wall exists today as a place of reflection and connection with those who have never returned home.
The lady can't help herself. She can't stop comparing Americans who died in an admittedly stupid war to traitors who died fighting for slavery. Kiggans should ask herself how her father would feel if the Vietnam War memorial also included fancy statues valorizing Vietcong snipers.
The Senate bill's sponsor, state Sen. Mamie E. Locke, is a college professor. She has a degree in history not just Advanced Gone with the Wind Studies. She was prepared to read Kiggans for filth but was overcome. We sometimes fetishize the strength of black women. We expect sisters to absorb untold levels of radioactive white nonsense and turn it into a fierce meme, but all that crap takes an emotional and even physical toll.
LOCKE: What was divisive and not healing ... was the erection of monuments that were not necessarily erected immediately following the Civil War. . . . They were erected as symbols of hatred. They were erected as symbols of Jim Crow.
Locke was overcome. The burden of having to guide white people to their better natures, like leading a blind man to a chair, was too much. She sat down. "I can't do it," she said. Her colleague, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, consoled her, urged her to go on. As Locke found her strength, state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan tried to put some sense in Kiggans's head.
MCLELLAN: I think you all are witnessing the pain that some of these monuments inflicted on Virginia's black community. When you don't talk about trauma, it doesn't go away. It simmers until it can't be held back anymore. Everybody in my family, in Senator [Lionell] Spruill's family and Senator Lucas's family and Senator Locke's family, has a story about the trauma inflicted on them solely because of the color of their skin. And these monuments, some of these monuments, trigger that trauma for every single one of us.
After steeling herself, Locke reclaimed her time.
LOCKE: Those monuments and statues were not erected to talk about the reality of history," Locke said. "They were erected to say to me, to Jennifer McClellan, to Lionell Spruill and to Louise Lucas ... that, "your lives don't really matter to me."
History is rarely objective. It is usually written by the victors, but sometimes the true victims of history can make their voices heard. We might have endured the past but we don't have to celebrate the worst elements of it.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).