Which racism and whose history? – by Deborah Levine

Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press

We all heard about NASCAR’s decision to remove the Confederate Flag. And the immediate resignation of a long time driver was all over the news. There were photos of the protest parade of trucks near Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway sporting Confederate flags. Most spectacular were the shots of a plane flying overhead hauling the Confederate flag and a Defund NASCAR banner.

Controversy over Confederate statues isn’t new and divided views over what the flags stand for have been around since the war between the states. That division can sometimes take center stage like four years ago in Charlottesville over the removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee. Given the uproar generated by the violence that erupted when white supremacists clashed with protesters, we expected permanent changes to our national culture.

But few Confederate monuments were officially removed or relocated after Charlottesville. And there were more internet ads than ever targeting the true believers: “We’ve got a whole bunch of Dixie stickers & decals, including confederate flag stickers and decals… Add a confederate bumper sticker to your truck … Show the world you’re not ashamed of your Southern roots and you’ll FOREVER raise our Confederate Flag. It’s Our Heritage… Our History.”

Referring to the protesters, our president said at his Arizona rally, “They hate our history, they hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans.” He refers to these Confederate symbols as “our wonderful monuments” and echos on his statement of ”good people on all sides” describing the Charlottesville incident.

Branded by as un-American, anti-racism protesters aren’t waiting for federal approval to take down these monuments. In our the post-George Floyd culture, there’s little trust in official action. Yet, there’s growing awareness, sensitivity and willingness to act by organizations, universities, corporations, and municipalities. In addition to NASCAR’s decisions, some towns are moved to take down confederate statues. Lawmakers in California are revisiting affirmative action policies that were jettisoned two decades ago.

The result is a magnification of the emotions on opposite sides of the spectrum that is spiraling upward. Virginia Sen. Amanda Chase declares, “This isn’t about destroying Confederate history, it’s about destroying WHITE HISTORY… the history of America. These liberals and socialists seek to paint us as racists when it’s them who are racist.” The White House adds threats of violent repercussions towards anyone taking down these statues without official approval.

It’s disturbing to hear comments crediting God for raining out the NASCAR re-opening as punishment. The battle over whose history and whose racism only intensifies with a rally cry of divine purpose and evoking God’s name. A modern-day civil war isn’t far fetched, especially given the economic and social unrest of COVID-19. That’s why it’s so vital for religious leaders to intervene and make sure that our country isn’t torn apart, again.

It’s heartening to see local pastors call for learning the history of racism. We know that,”Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But education doesn’t always lead to action as we saw when our state legislature recently adjourned with little done. And some resent that education and increasingly resist efforts for change.

Religious leaders can inspire their flock, educate us all, and pray for those making the path by walking it. But they can also help congregational leaders engage in public policy, urban planning, economic development and election reform. We need to mobilize the change makers of all faiths to come together, design that future, and implement it. And we need to make sure that they’re heard.


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