“We call it being civil, being polite, but I call it being afraid.” CVille Pride President’s speech against local Confederate monuments
Amy-Sarah Marshall (top image, left) is the president of the Charlottesville Pride Community Network, the group that puts on C-ville Pride every year. She recently spoke at an event aiming to urger her local City Council to remove two statues of Confederate leaders from local city lands. The event was crashed by pro-Confederate protestors know as the Virginia Flaggers, the same folks who post up on the Boulevard and wave Confederate flags in front of the VMFA every once in a while.
Below is a copy of Marshall’s speech which does an excellent job of brining LGBTQ folks into the conversation around racial inequality in America, but more importantly here in the Commonwealth, where far too many of the L’s and G’s have decided to shy away from the spotlight in exchange for marginalized living. But as Marshall points out, this silence doesn’t just effect the well-off sexual minorities, and it often damages those on the rest of the spectrum, the younger members of the community, and especially those people of color.
Have a read below and keep up with the CVille Pride folks on facebook here.
Many people know me as someone working for LGBT rights. They may say, it is not my place to talk about race, it is not my issue; race is outside of my scope; stick to gay stuff. But I am convinced to the very depths of my being that the work of justice for one group must also be the work of inclusion for everyone marginalized, displaced, oppressed, sidelined, forgotten. The stories of LGBT people in our American history are buried with many other bones. We cannot move forward towards equality in this city until we say we cannot tolerate prizing the narrative of white supremacy any more. We are not just a white people, here. We are not just a black people. We are not separate. We are all inheritors of this past. And it occupies our present. This park, this monument, forms a shared landscape; this is where the Cville Pride Festival is held every year, after all; so isn’t this our business, to care about how people feel visiting this environment?
These conclusions seemed obvious to me. But not everyone I know was enthusiastic or supportive of me being here today.
For one thing, people here in the South have this aversion to kicking up a fuss. We call it gentility, right? We like skeletons kept nicely packaged in the closet, we like to dress up our past in pretty costumes, and even LGBT friends of mine who are Southern don’t want to make a big deal of it, whatever the ‘it’ happens to be.
We call it being civil, being polite, but I call it being afraid. I call it hiding behind politeness as a shield against truth, which is not always clean and polished, but sometimes has open wounds, blood and scars. We call it civility, but avoiding an open, civil discourse is oppressive. It is silencing. it is a way of forcing people to comply with the “nice” narratives we – those of us who define and enforce social rules – allow to be spoken.
In the gay community, the privileged gay people, the ones with money and status and yes, usually white skin, didn’t want a festival, didn’t see a need for it, for any kind of attention to the fact that, as LGBTQ people, we, despite whatever safety we felt living under the radar, existed as second-class citizens.
And similarly, we want people of color to get over slavery, to move past, to drop it, stop calling attention to discrimination, to experiences of intolerance that might belie the idea that racism and all that ugly past is dead. We shame each other into silence. We perpetuate the beliefs that white supremacy is gone, that privilege and power and issues of domination are a thing of the past. The continuing experiences of people living today are marked down as their fault.
Our culture wants us to believe, as it did in the days before the Civil War, that the truth of our daily experience is not reflective of our institutions. If women experience domestic violence and abuse, if queer children commit suicide and go homeless in overwhelming percentages, if poor children go to school hungry on a daily basis, if black children believe they don’t matter, if the life of Sage Smith can disappear without outcry, well, we tell ourselves, these are personal problems. And in the South, you keep those personal problems to yourself.
All I have to do is look at that statue to know that these are not just personal problems. And to see that, for all our civility, there are some things we have no problem making very public.
Of course we want a pretty statue of a gentleman. Who wouldn’t rather think of Lee as a nice guy who wasn’t that bad, rather than face the absolute horrors that transpired here? Of course we want to keep this statue up. Because to take it down means we are acknowleding that there was something wrong with what he stood for and defended. And to admit that – to truly, fully face that – means we have to face not only the facts of the past, but the facts of the present suffering – the repercussions of slavery, of genocide, that have not gone away.
There are people who are worried about losing history. But we have already lost history. Invisible histories, distorted, half-told ghosts of histories, exist all around us. Genocides took place here, rapes, lynchings, escapes. Human beings obliterated, bought and sold.
Where are the monuments, the markers to remind us of these stories, of the people who once lived on this land, the people who were brought here, torn from their families, who survived, who fought, who suffered? I would argue that we cannot say we are honoring history if we leave so much of it unspoken, unshown, in the interest of protecting the one version of the story of the past, the one we can live with.
All history, we know, is a story, and every story has several versions, is under editorial direction. Who is telling this story? Whose voice is heard? The stories we tell about the past dictate how we behave, the policies we make in the future. And here’s the thing: The story doesn’t stop. History doesn’t get to a happily ever after, ever. We are living it. We are still writing the story. And we are always making revisions.
When the only visible markers of a past that was structured entirely on the basis of domination and power of one race over others is that of one who fought to uphold that institution, we have exited the realm of historical archives.
As my son said, “That guy was for slavery? Why is he still up there?” He gets it.
This isn’t about the person of Lee, the nuances of his character, the details of his biography. This is about a monument; a monument, not a person; a statement, a statue, that was created and placed to represent something. We are talking about continuing to elevate and revere a system of white supremacy and dominance, and we are holding the people who participated in and promoted it as more valuable and worthy than the people who suffered under that system and more valuable and worthy than those currently living.
I, for one, cannot tolerate this. My heart is broken that this is my city, my world, that it is so unimaginable for us to think of each other as one people, indivisible, that we continue to divide our histories and our stories and our lives, instead of joining together.
If taking down this statue breaks your heart, so be it. Perhaps we all need to share in the brokenness that is the real truth of this our American story. Maybe then true healing for all of us can begin.
Top image via Kristin Szakos
“We hold the festival in the heart of Jefferson County where the problem exists, to be visible and vocal as possible for the people who can’t be…”September 13, 2016
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