By Mitch Landrieu
As part of our research for Divided by Design, we heard how the legacies of the Confederacy and Jim Crow are still widely felt by residents in the South. Confederate symbols and monuments, and political rhetoric about the identity of a place, often prioritize and commemorate a one-sided history that disregards the lasting institutional effects of racism.
Some 155 years after the end of the Civil War, why do we remain stuck on whether these Confederate symbols are acceptable?
The unwillingness of many, particularly white, people to confront our hate-filled history — including its close ties to heritage, and its lasting impact on modern institutions — has hindered the development of more contemporary southern identities associated with openness and reconciliation. The truth is these monuments tell us the wrong history. Many don’t know our whole history because it was never taught. The landscape — from our textbooks to museums to public spaces — does not accurately reflect our whole or our true history. And there is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for an inaccurate version of it.
In the past weeks, we’ve seen progress. Statues are falling left and right, some with the support of those in elected office, but also some by the people, and even across the pond. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of Confederate statues from display in the Capitol. General David Petraeus, perhaps the most recognizable modern military figure alive, called for ten military bases to be renamed. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy even called for a “bipartisan discussion” on renaming bases. Even NASCAR last week banned the display of Confederate flags at races. So things are on the move.
Some have asked me how removing a statue or flag is connected to George Floyd’s death or how it is doing anything to advance racial justice. And the answer is now more apparent than ever. They are related in the ways we, as a country, have dehumanized Black lives. This has been endemic since our nation’s birth.
This moment gives us an opportunity to be intentional about how to correct that. And in a small way, removing these statues and forcing the conversation about the truth of our past is a step towards healing and reconciliation.
The impact of institutional racism is everywhere you look. Let’s stay motivated to continue to change it. We cannot run away.
Founder and President