Dear 100 Hour Board,
I consider myself not racist, I think. At least I'm not trying to be a troll here. But when do you draw a line between tearing down statues that wrongly elevate confederate leaders, but still preserve history? How much should we turn Robert E. Lee into a villain? From what I gathered, he cared less about slavery and more about protecting his beloved Virginia. Do we doom ourselves to repeat history if we tear down the public icons? Is there a place for them in a museum?
There is a difference between statues and history. Until the recent events, I wasn't aware that there was even a statue of General Lee anywhere, yet I still know who he is. To erase history is to erase all records and remnants of a thing or person, particularly with the intent to eradicate all traces of them from human knowledge. It would take quite a lot more than getting rid of a single statue to get rid of the memory of Robert E. Lee.
Rather than a piece of history, I think it's more accurate to look at statues as symbols. Statues of historical figures naturally symbolize those people, which is a form of preserving history. But the statue isn't limited to symbolizing just the person it depicts, and thus isn't purely historical.
In this case, I think it's fair to say that the statue of Lee has come to represent more than just the man; it connotes slavery, oppression, and white supremacy. Perhaps it hasn't always represented these negative ideals, but that past doesn't serve to change the present.
We are not in danger of forgetting Lee or the part he played in the Civil War. Either the continued or severed existence of a single statue won't change that fact. Thus, if that statue is functioning as a rally point to hatred, I think it is worth it to tear it down.
Part of the problem, not only with this issue but with many other issues, is that one or both sides of the argument like to argue their position in an absolute way. As our good friend Obi-Wan said,
One example of an absolute that pertains to your question is, "Erecting and maintaining Confederate monuments promotes racism." On the other hand, there are other reasons to commemorate the losing side of the American Civil War than wanting to enslave black people, but that doesn't mean that that isn't one reason for having Confederate monuments. It's important to try to see the nuance in these situations, but sometimes it's hard to do so. You're going to upset people no matter what you do, and frankly, it's easier to maintain a clear conscience by going with the side that doesn't idolize people who committed treason.
I wonder if it wouldn't have been an issue if systematic racism wasn't still prevalent. It seems to be less about the man/the statue and its context, and more about the current context in which there are still groups that don't see people of color as fully capable or deserving of certain things. In that context the statue may symbolize continued disenfranchisement.
It also strikes me that, while there's an argument for preserving history, I'd say that's exactly what certain groups have forgotten. Minorities of any type have a history of difficulty and negative bias on the institutional level, which is to say that if people are angry there's probably a reason. Moreover, racial supremacy has already been tried, tested, and proven false. It doesn't need another go.