Culture Wars/Current Controversies

The Government Didn’t Remove the Statues—We Did

Folks, it doesn’t do much good to “remove the statues” but keep the government. It might be a better plan to focus more on the latter rather than the former.


Today, after years of protest, the authorities in Richmond, Virginia are finally removing a 12-ton statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, the largest remaining Confederate monument in the United States. This is an opportunity for Democratic politicians to promote the narrative that they are the ones who can reckon with the legacy of white supremacy in the United States, encouraging anti-racists to focus on state-led forms of social change. It is also a chance to narrow the debate about public monuments to Confederate statues alone, when in fact the demand to remove Confederate statues is just one element of a much broader movement against all forms of structural white supremacy, memorial and otherwise.

The Lee statue is not coming down because law-abiding citizens participated peacefully in the democratic process until they succeeded in achieving a popular reform. If those who desire to see the Lee statue and others like it removed had confined themselves to the democratic process, all of those statues would still be in place, because that process disproportionately centers the agency of wealthy white conservatives and liberal politicians whose approach to social change is based chiefly in appeasement and empty promises.


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