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In the wake of the events of Charlottesville, I have seen, as well as been, the target of an alarming amount of hate on social media, especially from a group of people that are “opposed to hate.” Due to this, I have decided to say the things that most do not want to hear.
Please make no mistakes: I am not a racist or a supremacist sympathizer. Quite the contrary, in fact. I condemn the actions of those that acted violently during the protest and believe that the man who killed Heather Heyer should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. I cannot, however, condone the deafening outcry for vengeance against the white supremacists or the destruction of a historical monument. This is because I am caught in the uncomfortable middle ground where I oppose hate, but also wish to see freedom of speech, the law, and history preserved.
The first thing I shall address is the eruption of hate in response to hate. Posts propagating faces and addresses of white supremacists and racists, in my opinion, encourage violence and unlawful activities such as stalking and assault. I have also seen posts saying things such as “The next time they march with torches, it would be fairly easy to fill water balloons with gasoline.” This is a direct call for attempted murder and arson that, if actually taken into action, could potentially cause casualties. If we respond to violence and hate with violence and hate, how exactly are we better than the opposing side?
The second thing I shall address is the statue of General Robert E. Lee and the Civil War. I am an avid lover of history. I have been for as long as I can remember. A wise man once said, “Those that cannot remember the past or doomed to repeat it.” A century and a half ago, Americans fought one another in one of the bloodiest wars the nation has ever seen. Memorials, monuments, museums, and textbooks remind us of this. And before you start to protest that those in the Confederacy were not Americans, consider this: General Lee himself, well known due to the Civil War, was also distinguished during the Mexican-American War and worked at West Point before the Civil War. Brother fought against brother and families lost many men on both sides.
A common misconception, due to the generalization of history, is that the Civil War was caused by the North’s wish to abolish slavery. Unfortunately, the only reason that was the case was due to the economic and political clash between the North and the South. The North developed an industrialized economy that did not rely on slavery to keep it going. The South, with its agricultural economy, relied on slaves for both labor and political power (which it gained with the Three-Fifths Compromise). The Emancipation Proclamation was, in fact, a political power move by President Lincoln in the hopes of causing dissent among the slaves of the South and weakening the militant power of the Confederacy from the inside. The truth is that African Americans were second class citizens in both the North and the South after the war and tenant farming, which was essentially slavery with a few extra steps and the words “you are free” stamped over it, kept the freed slaves under the power of plantation owners. However, even though the Thirteenth Amendment did not accomplish much at the time, it did lay a foundation that made the African-American Civil Rights Movement possible a hundred years later.
Another problem that the removal of the statue of Lee speaks to me of is the censorship of free speech. I’m not saying that what white supremacists believe is right, but they do have the right to free speech, just as you or me. This has been a point of debate among political philosophers for a very long time. If we allow one group to be censored, we are saying that it is okay for any group to be censored, whether they speak of love or hate.
Also, the statue of General Lee, though it may have represented something of pride to one group, represents a dark time in American history to others. To people like myself, the statue says, “This is something that happened. It was a terrible thing and it must not be forgotten.” The darkest irony of this is that America is now becoming divided once again. On one side is a group of racists that believe that violence is the answer and on the other is a group condemning them with words of violence and hate in return, while also condemning anyone that does not see things in the exact same way as them. If this hate continues, if this violence continues, the Civil War will not be the last war fought by Americans on both sides.