Friday, August 25, 2017

Whitelash and White Fragility -- "Leggo of My Statue"


It is very important to research the facts whenever writing about an issue. The current debate over the public display of Confederate statues and monuments is no exception. Let's begin with the action that led to the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In February 2017, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove the city's statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Then, in April, despite a pending court case that will ultimately determine the general’s fate, city staff also devised options for how the city might move the statue. The staff advised that the city can sell, auction off or donate the statue. 
The council directed staff to solicit proposals for a purchase of the statue. According to the resolution Councilor Kristin Szakos put forward, the buyer would be responsible for removing and transporting the statue.

As things stand, the statue does not face demolition. This should be of great comfort to all who claim the monument is an important tribute to American history. The question becomes “Where should the statue be displayed?” Perhaps such artifacts should be displayed in a museum or in a private area that truthfully documents their story. 
(Chris Suarez. “Charlottesville City Council votes to sell Robert E. Lee statue. The Daily Progresss – Charlottesville. April 17, 2017.) 
Why are we experiencing the huge reaction to state and local concerns about racism? In recent years, we have seen a greater push for racial justice. That has led to pushback from the other side that some sociologists have called “whitelash.”

But the term whitelash describes a historical reality. Dramatic racial progress in America is inevitably followed by a white backlash, or "whitelash." Reconstruction in the 19th century was followed by a century of Jim Crow. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s was followed by President Ronald Reagan and the rise of the religious right. And time follows this pattern. 
Another term describing reaction to the movements for racial equality is “White Fragility.” Robin DiAngelo, consultant and trainer for over 20 years on issues of racial and social justice, described the phenomenon in a 2011 paper:
“White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility.
“White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”
(Robin DiAngelo, PhD. “White Fragility.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol 3. 2011) 
We must realize and recognize the “insulated environment” of white America. Society has historically given whites advantages. Who could doubt that? Yet, after their racial security has been challenged by such modern developments as the election of the the first black president with Barack Obama and the great rise in the minority population, many fear resentment and eventual loss of control.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nonwhites are expected to become the majority of the nation's children by 2020. And, the bureau projected that America will have a “non-white” majority by 2044. (In the Census Bureau’s projections, children with one Hispanic, Asian, or black parent are counted as minority (that is, as Hispanic or nonwhite.) This spells the demise of the white majority and its loss of power.

Call it “whitelash” or call it “white fragility,” the movemnt is upon us. This is evidenced in the last presidential election. The widespread support for Donald Trump in the 2016 election and campaign demonstrates that the changing racial demographics of America contributed to Trump’s success as a candidate among White Americans whose race/ethnicity is central to their identity. Racial concerns caused these people to support anti-immigrant policies and greater opposition to political correctness.

(Branda Major, Alison Blodorn, and Gregory Major Blascovich. “The threat of increasing diversity: Why many White Americans support Trump in the 2016 presidential election.” Sage Journals. October 20, 2016.)

Charlottesville represents just one of many localities dealing with deep differences in cultural understandings. Public statues and monuments to the Confederacy all over the country have become focal points and objects in jeopardy of removal. Where should these tributes be displayed? Each community must decide how best to serve the population … not just serve the white population, but serve the ever-changing population of America.

Another fact is very important to understanding the historical significance of these symbols. Most of these Confederate monuments were built during the onslaught of the “Lost Cause” revisionist histories when there was a resurgence of white supremacy organizations like the KKK and during the time Jim Crow reigned safely throughout the South. Their creation was undeniably a sign that they were meant to explicitly represent white supremacy in the South. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports whenever the country appeared to have made some racial progress, cities and states – mostly in the South – responded by erecting such monuments.


People can still argue the statues are meant to be respectful, honorable reminders of Southern culture, yet doing so feeds a myth – a myth and a fact. Most of them were explicitly created to accompany organized and violent efforts to subdue blacks and maintain white supremacy in the South.

Karen L. Cox, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, says ...

"On the surface, they were memorials to the Confederacy and their heroes. Yet, they were also built during a period of racial violence and strong beliefs about Anglo-Saxon (i.e. white) supremacy. The fact that they were placed on the grounds of county and state courthouses was intentional. The message: white men are in charge."

(John Kruzel. “Did Confederate symbols gain prominence in the civil rights era?” Punditfact. August 15th, 2017.)

I hope that now you know “destroy” is not necessarily a part of “removal from public areas,” you understand how a compromise on preserving and displaying Confederate monuments may be reached. In addition, I hope the facts give you a greater understanding of the symbolism and creation of these tributes. I think we all agree that white supremacy is an evil that is still alive in this country. If we are ever to achieve racial justice, we must deny a bleached, revisionist history and the lies that sustain its beliefs.

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