“History has its eyes on you” is a very moving and popular song from the hit play Hamilton, which just opened in Hollywood at the Pantages theater. Well, I’m no great statesmen or founding father, but history had its eyes on me last week when I made a mistake. Yup, turns out I should stick to words not numbers. The Civil war was actually 152 years ago, not the 252 I wrote. Oops. What’s a century between friends?
I was alerted to this by more than a few people, and clearly had I reflected at all on the numbers, I should have caught the mistake. I am a child of the 1776/1976 Bicentennial fervor after all. But, mistakes happen, and I apologize for that.
The lesson though was not lost on me that, more than a few people also didn’t catch it. I received some great feedback on that piece, with no mention of the obvious error. Some people may have been polite, others just missed it also.
And this is a perfect example of why we need people to speak up. Just like the current wave of anti-Confederate monument sentiments that is sweeping the nation, there are people who may have always been bothered from the first installation of the monuments to those who have never given it a moment’s thought until this week. Some people just accepted that they were a right and proper monument. Others have always felt their oppressive power, which some say was the point of having them in the first place.
Monuments to the losing side in a war are usually removed immediately. In America, many of these monuments were put up well after the end of the Civil War, and so their purpose was not to honor the ‘valiant warriors’ of the Civil War, but to continue the war for hearts and minds – in effect the winners of that war were the whites who wanted these statues erected.
But the less obvious ‘hearts and minds’ war, which has been waged for the past, well 252 years (Yes it’s right this time! There were abolitionists at the time of the American Revolution.) has turned against the racists. Thanks to the constant and increased exposure of people of color on television, in the mass media, and the teachings in our schools about bias and racism in general, we have turned a corner on racism. The winners in this war, are removing the monuments and emblems that were used to subjugate, albeit non-violently, people of color.
We learn as children that ‘sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ – well, that’s a load of malarkey. Words and symbols are very powerful, otherwise why would we use them? I know I recoil when I see a pink triangle – it’s what was used to mark my people in Nazi Germany. I know Jews who do the same with the yellow star.
When I see the American Flag I feel pride. When I hear John Philip Souza, I swell with emotion. And then there’s the Marines – who doesn’t love a Marine in uniform?
How we speak of fallen leaders, how we honor, recognize or demean them, speaks volumes about what we value. For too long, this country has allowed these monuments to stand. Frankly I never thought twice about it. Call it my white privilege blind spot – guilty as charged.
However, once pointed out to me, I see how they were used to create an environment of discomfort designed to empower some, and disempower others. I was just in Dallas. I was filming for a documentary I’m doing about male victims of domestic violence. While there I was able to attend the rally against white supremacy. It was an interesting experience as part of it was being staged in Pioneer Park – a cemetery with more than few Confederate veterans buried there. In front of the monuments to the Confederate soldiers, were a line of police officers behind barricades. Just a few hundred steps away were 2,500 or so people of all stripes and colors. Gays and Lesbians, Asians, Blacks and Latinos, Christian pastors, veterans with gas masks and medical supplies all came out to support the idea of equality. There was a smattering of armed white supremacists, which was unnerving to be honest. I was a bit on edge seeing a man with a rifle and 30 bullet magazines walk around who had me concerned.
Thankfully there was no violence. A couple of shouting matches erupted, the chest beating one would expect of opposing sides, but in the end peace reigned, and the beautiful woman with the Make Love Not Peace sign was the most popular.
Mistakes happen to individuals, and to societies. Thankfully, history has its eyes on us, and as has been said, the arc of history bends towards justice. We’re getting there. It looks like the winners of the war for hearts and minds are the not the narrow minded, but the open minded and open hearted.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra