Until You are Tried in It Personally

The following statement by Abraham Lincoln greatly expresses my current thoughts on the removal of Confederate monuments and the renaming of locations that hallmark the Confederate dead:

I have always thought that all men should be free; but if any should be slaves, it should be first those who desire it for themselves, and secondly those who desire it for others. Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

President Lincoln’s clear argument does not require an exposition. First, he implies the unlikelihood that many people would desire enslavement. Second, those who do not or would not desire to be enslaved cannot impose it upon others because personal experience in the institution would cause him to change his position on the issue.

I think these principles, which are based on the argument that genuine understanding can only be achieved through experience, applies to the edifices honoring the Confederacy and what it represents.

No one alive has experienced slavery or the terrors that followed during the period of Reconstruction. Even blacks of the deep South who survived the Jim Crow Era will be gone in a few decades. These groups can truly understand the oppressive political and social systems Confederate hallmarks represent.

I think that if proponents of the preservation of Confederate artifacts as they stand now, which are in places of honor, were able to experience the violence, bondage, and poverty born out of slavery and then systematic racism, they might think differently about these Southern landmarks.

It is easy to stand in agreement with the preservation of Confederate artifacts when we have no experience of the bondage the Confederacy sought to maintain. We simply attach our isolated understandings of history to an argument, but our privilege blinds us to those who experienced the other side. We do not take the time to think about those who suffered and built the economy that sustained both the Southern and Northern states.

We are so blessed to be spared extreme suffering, but these blessings also function as a curse. None of us have lived through war on American soil. Very few of us know what it’s like to survive persecution or exist with a perpetual fear that some benign action or word will result in our deaths. Until we have experienced that fear and oppression, I do not think we can argue for the honored preservation of the men who strove to destroy both the Union and the enslaved.

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