The thing about your Monuments

To most people in Germany, Nazis are shameful. They are not a political “side”, their ideology is not a “point of view”. They are evil. They are wrong. If you hate people and want to destroy humanity–you’re incongruous to this planet, you’re just not suitable. Nazi arguments are not to be “heard out” or considered–we’ve already done that–we’ve fought a war for humanity, to eliminate that which sought to destroy it. And supposedly, we won.

In Berlin, if you want to go and visit the spot of Hitler’s bunker, you can. Just type it into googlemaps and it will take you right there. But be careful, you might miss it. You see it’s been paved over and sits as a parking lot. It’s used by the tenants of a nondescript city apartment building that sits behind it. With a bit more investigation, you can find a small and inconspicuous board that identifies the spot as the site of Hitler’s bunker. It gives you a bit of information and history to aid with your exploration.

This is how Nazi history is treated ALL OVER Berlin–and I’m told, all over Germany. They are not hiding their history–in fact they are extremely careful not to–it is ACKNOWLEDGED everywhere. But it is not glorified. You won’t find any Hitler or Nazi statues. My husband and I spent seven days in Berlin and every single local we spoke to about their history emphasized that this acknowledgment is very important to them. While there is great shame in their history, the greater stain would be to let it be repeated. They work tirelessly to see that this doesn’t happen by handling their history properly, insisting on the truth, and educating each generation.

Every tour guide we had in Berlin cited 3 specific reasons why there are not statues or memorials dedicated to Hitler and the Nazis but there are plaques and signs that identify sites:

  1. Acknowledge history as to not repeat it–but don’t celebrate it
  2. Do not create shrines for Neo-Nazis to memorialize and spread hate
  3. Respect and not prolong the suffering of victims and their ancestors

#3 is what I’d like to focus on right now, in light of the events in Charlottesville and the discussion of Civil War monuments around the country.

I guess if you’re white, it’s easier to just see these monuments as “history”. I wish I knew what that felt like. I was trying to relate and come up with something similar in my mind. For instance, I’ve never been raped before. But if I came across a statue of a man who raped a bunch of women (who was memorialized because you know, it’s true, it’s history), I’m not sure I could just shrug and think, “well that was a huge deal, like it or not, it is a part of our history.” I would actually think it was distasteful. I would think, “man that must be really painful for victims and their families and their ancestors to have to walk by that statue. What does it say to them that we’ve memorialized this man?”

Do you know when there have been surges of pro-confederate war memorial erections? Each time there was a push for any type of equality or civil rights for blacks (please don’t call me African-American–I don’t call you Italian-American or Irish-American–I don’t appreciate being distinguished in this way unless everyone else is, I find it insulting.) These monuments were a push back, a rebellion, a direct response to the idea that blacks should be free and treated equally to whites. They were erected to be reminders of the true beliefs of the south, and to incite fear. As blacks were “free” or legally gained more rights, more murder and torture and terror were doled out by whites who would never be held accountable for their actions. We shouldn’t sit around wondering why some of our police place no value on black life today–we might just look to our history and see the years of example set before them.

So while you, sitting comfortably in your white skin might be able to view these memorials as “history”, to me, a half black, half white woman, they are extremely fucking painful. A statue of Robert E. Lee says this to me:

  • We are proud of this man who fought to keep your people enslaved, he is our history, and we are proud
  • We think the world might be better if you were still enslaved

Please don’t say that I am overreacting. If a parent takes their 6 year old black child into a park with a statue of Robert E. Lee and the child asks who the man is and the parent tells them–what is that child supposed to think? Logically? This is a man who fought to keep people who look like me enslaved. The people of this town are proud of him and want a statue to stand here so they can be reminded of him and his work when they pass. 

WHAT THE FUCK.

Please stop with the history excuses. I beg of you. It’s too fucking hurtful for words. I think that is why I keep saying “fuck”. It’s so painful, I struggle to find other words to say. It saddens me when we are unable to look past our privilege and consider what things might mean and feel like to other people. Put the statue in a museum–you will never hear a complaint from me. Put up plaques that tell the true history of what occurred on the land in front of us. But please, don’t celebrate the torture and bondage of my people.

I wish you could know. I always say that I wish that every person in the world would have to wait tables at least once in their life, so they could feel what it’s like to be shit on and treated like you’re less than.

More though, I wish everyone could be a minority for at least one day. To walk around knowing that there are people that don’t know you, but hate you because of the color of your skin. I wish you knew what it was like:

To know about this hatred since you were a really little kid. To understand that there are people who believe you are less than. To have nightmares when you’re 8 years old, about the KKK coming to your house and taking your dad. To feel genuinely frightened when you’re 34, that rampant overt racism will rise again in America, and maybe even slavery. To look through facebook on a day like Saturday or Sunday and see people avoiding the issue and posting about having a blast at a baseball game. To look at their photos and think–“they’re never going to speak up about this, because they know they’ll probably be ok.” To just unfollow but not block or defriend your white extended family members who voted for Trump–because you’re afraid you will hurt their feelings or cause drama–letting the fact that they fucking broke your heart fall by the wayside. To see black kids get shot and killed by police and civilians, and have society say that no one has to pay for it. To know that your life is valued less than that of a white woman’s–and to know that some of the people who devalue your life don’t even know that they do–or why they do, because it is intrinsic to our heritage. To know that people all around you don’t know or don’t care about history. To know that they have no real concept of the gravity and brutality of slavery–to know that some of them grew up with textbooks that said Africans migrated to America. To somehow inherently know the truth of that brutality, because it’s in your blood–the fear and the anguish and the pain trickles through your veins. To know that whatever you do will only have so much impact. To know that in order for the true healing that your country needs to take place to happen, white people will have to step up–and tell other white people what’s right. To be so afraid that they won’t do it.

This is not whining. I don’t write this to complain. I write to explain. To be understood. All of this feels like too much all the time. But I have to start somewhere. I saw someone write about how monuments were “history” today and as my heart began to pound heavy in my chest, I took a deep breath and thought–Ok, I will start there.  I have to do my part. I have to explain. And I have to ask you how you feel about it too. I can’t just hope to be understood–I have to seek to understand as well. We don’t know it yet–but Donald Trump could be the biggest gift America has ever gotten. Slavery is the shameful, disease-ridden sore that our country was founded upon, and we’ve never owned up to it so we can heal. It’s time to expose the wound. It’s going to be painful. Really, fucking, painful. Please be willing to feel the pain. Your country needs you.

 

 

I know this is a big deviation from the norm guys, but this is what’s really near and dear to my heart. More running and yoga and travel and food posts will always be around the corner, but I’ve got to keep it real. I’ve got to write what’s in my heart. I hope you’ll stay with me. And if you feel differently about something, let’s hear it. I’m down to grow, to listen, to understand. As always, thanks for reading.

 

header image: jakob owens

 

54 thoughts on “The thing about your Monuments

  1. Thank you for sharing. Your explanation about how history is handled in Germany has been very enlightening, and I like the idea of keeping our history in the museums as accurately as we possibly can.

    Sharing your words and how you feel is the first step to building understanding and empathy. I don’t know what you have gone through, just as you don’t know my experiences, but through your words, I can feel your pain and learn from what you have gone through. So I’m sending you a hug and look forward to more of your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this Janine. You’re so right, we have to share our experiences with each other and be ready and willing to listen when someone else opens up. Thank you so much for hearing me here. Thank you for reading. I hope you do come back and engage again–I appreciate your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t wrap my head around how people, “good people,” can’t see the truth of these monuments. These monuments are for people who stood on the wrong side of history. People who fought AGAINST our country. They were traitors. Most of all these monuments were not erected to memorialize them, but for reasons much more sinister. If people want to remember history, open a damn history book. I can’t believe in 2017 we are still having this discussion. Makes my heart sick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The problem is, some of our history books contain just as many lies as the false stories around these monuments. What you know as fact, many people have never heard before. We are still talking about it in 2017 because we’ve never dealt properly with the realities and consequences of this country’s greatest sin–it’s legacy of slavery. It’s like an open wound that we’ve tried to pretend wasn’t there for 150 years. It’s going to continue to fester till we tend to it properly. Our country needs people like you-educated people who know the truth and have the strength to share it. Sounds like you have such a powerful voice-hope you are using it in your community.
      Thank you so much for reading this–I really really appreciate your thoughts!

      Like

  3. This is so beautiful–thanks for your perspective and honesty. Also, I’m so inspired by how you engage with all your commenters with such an open heart. I know this work can be really emotionally exhausting, especially for WOC, so thanks so much for showing up for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right about it being emotionally exhausting Anne. I have been working on another piece but as you can see from my blog, I write about a lot of “lighter” topics as well and those are coming much easier to me at the moment. I know it’s important though so I will keep on plugging along, I hope you will as well. And please don’t be a stranger–love to have your thoughts here whenever you feel compelled to share them! x

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  4. Brave, wonderful, truthful writing. And Yes you’re right it is one thing celebrate a contentious and aggravated past and quite another to acknowledge and not repeat it… coming from Greece and having my family see first hand what the Nazi regime is capable of… this kind of muddling and side tracking of the past is not to be accepted by anyone. Keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your words Eleana, and for reading. I have so much interest in European history and have been lucky to travel to a few places so far, but i have yet to get to Greece. I just recently heard someone mention Greece in a Podcast and talk about their history of immigration and also racism and it very much intrigued me. I think the history and current situations all around the world inform us about situation as well. So much to learn!
      Thank you for your encouragement. I will keep writing. x

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  5. YAASSS. This: “Do you know when there have been surges of pro-confederate war memorial erections? Each time there was a push for any type of equality or civil rights for blacks” THAT RIGHT THERE.

    Virginia is my home and even though I don’t currently live there…seeing C’ville….where my brother went to school, where my former students are currently at school….ripped my heart apart. I was in Tennessee when it happened on vacation with my family and my mom (white, southern, liberal but somewhat with her head in the sand) stated she saw the statues as history and didn’t understand taking them down. I asked her if we should have statues of Hitler in Germany because that’s history too. And she said “No, because everyone knew what Hitler was doing was wrong but they were scared and just went along with it”. UM…..HE GOT A WHOLE COUNTRY TO AGREE WITH HIM BY PROMISING A BUNCH OF NATIONALIST IDEOLOGICAL CRAP!!! Fear was only part of it. PEOPLE BELIEVED HE WAS RIGHT. Just like people believed slavery was ok!!!! You could maybe….MAYBE argue history if the statues were erected during or right after the war…but no. They were and are devices of oppression. The only place that imagery belongs is in a museum with a theme similar to the holocaust museum. A museum that says “this is terrible and wrong and should never have happened but we recognize that it did and we want you to remember what happened to people that were enslaved so it never happens again”. *end rant*

    Sorry. I got into some feels there….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is not a rant Courtney, it’s the truth, and so articulately said. Thank you! Thank you for challenging your Mom–that’s exactly what I don’t think is happening in homes across the country that really needs to be. I hope you are raising your voice like this everywhere, especially in spaces where you know people think differently from you, or are “uncomfortable” talking about race. We need your voice! Keep using it! Thanks Courtney.

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  6. Thanks for your thoughtful comments,Cat. And your comments take me deeper as well. As I ponder what you have written on same/difference, it occurs to me that the challenge is to accept our similarities, allowing us to start from common ground, and from that place of relative stability, then be able to go into the differences to explore, appreciate, and hopefully empathize.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll add myself to your list of appreciative readers, Cat. Thanks for writing. That it comes from your heart is so very clear. I’m white, and privileged, and I’m gay and female, have been raped, etc, etc. Places of advantage, places of disadvantage, most of those not obvious at first glance.
    All of us as individuals and societies have so much work to do to acknowledge our own histories and those of others, and begin the process of healing and growth. It is my belief that as long as we come from places of fear and scarcity, we will have limited success.

    When we become able to see each other as fellow humans much like ourselves, even as we are quite different in many ways (not unlike siblings or family member with very different political views–in my family, too) then we will have a chance at healthful growth. I think something along the lines of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation commissions may be needed to allow for a full sorting/accounting and learning. And I feel very presumptuous as I write this, as my own knowledge and experience is limited. If we are willing to come with open hearts and truly listen to each other, then we (the entire planet) has a chance. For me, every little bit matters and we can’t know where we will end up as we start the journey.

    Thanks again for such a thoughtful and impassioned post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’ve said some really important things here Steph–especially about our advantages and disadvantages not being obvious at first glance. For me that can be a hard part of the conversation. I think of myself as a considerate and empathetic person but sometimes when it comes to issues regarding race, it unnerves me to offer so much consideration to whatever disadvantages whites might be experiencing. It’s not because I don’t care about them or think they are important, but i often think they serve to cloud the systemic racism that we can never seem to flesh out and really talk about honestly–the conversation just ends with “well, everyone has their challenges,” and I don’t think that moves the ball for anyone.

      I think another key thing you’ve mentioned here is that we are all humans, AND we are all different. I have always felt very fortunate to have grown up in a mixed race household and to have had gay uncles. The dialogue surrounding these things was always very open and fluid in my family and I often wish the rest of the world was like that as well. People don’t want to deal with race and they throw a blanket over it when they say, “We’re all the same.” There is a part of that that is true but I don’t think it helps us understand each other any better.

      Lastly, yes, every little bit matters. I hope I can make other people see that and encourage actions that they might not take because they think they themselves cannot make a difference. We all can.
      Always look forward to your thoughts Steph–they always make me go deeper. thank you! x

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  8. Powerful stuff. Reading from Ireland, and we watch America with interest. Obviously there are a lot of Irish connections with the states (some good, some bad). I hesitate to use the word ‘united’ as it seems anything but. What does seem encouraging (from over here anyway) are all the white faces out supporting the rallies against hatred and bigotry, and that’s important, because most of these issues in the modern day don’t seem to be specifically about race but more about fear, ignorance and (deep down) some form of self-loathing. We have lots of these bigots here too I’m afraid; in fact, Ireland can be quite a nasty racist country when you scratch the surface. My wife’s boss is just like your Mum. Married a Nigerian man and had several great kids. But I know they suffered racist abuse in Ireland. As you say, maybe Trump is doing us all a favour. I hope you’re right. It’s a painful process, so I hope there’s plenty of light at the end of it. Best wishes from the Emerald Isle.
    P.S. Took your hint on the magnesium oil. I know running blogs seem a little trite sometimes when faced with the awful shit going on in the world, but I know it keeps me sane anyway 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for all of this, I’m so interested in and appreciative of your perspective. You’re right about those white faces, they are out there, but we need more of them. That is what we are really trying to get white people to see right now–that it has to be them that leads this fight, and in numbers like never before. Donald Trump has been right about one thing–we’ve all been too passive and politically correct about too many things. When a family member says something racist or homophobic, we haven’t called it out like we should, we have made excuses like “oh they are from a different generation, or they are from the south.” I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a mixed race home because race is something we talked about very openly. I often wish everyone was able to have that honest experience.
      Blacks can only shout about what we deserve for so long–and it won’t ever be heard by those who believe we are less human than they are. It has to come from other white people.
      It’s interesting, because bigoted white people here try to use Irish people as an example of why blacks should shut up and stop complaining, because they were treated horribly here in America as well. Yes, they were, until they realized they could make the black man the enemy and it would take the heat off of them. You have to look no further than a city like Boston to see that history clearly.
      I hope your hope as well–that there is light at the end of all of this.
      Hope the magnesium oil is helping a big! I know what you mean about the running blogging–we do need it, for sure.
      Oh and lastly, my husband and I want to plan a trip to Ireland, it, might be next year. Perhaps I will be able to use you as a source? As to what to see and where to go, of course, but also for guidance on where not to go. (One thing many whites don’t consider about their privilege is never having to consider where they might not go because of racial attitudes.)
      Take care ? (I need your name!) x

      Like

  9. Pingback: Week #6: “Why doesn’t anybody like me?” – cat h. bradley

  10. My daughter lives in Richmond and we’ve been down Monument Avenue many times. I have to admit to mixed feelings whenever we pass the gargantuan statues of the Confederate “heroes”. Having Arthur Ashe on the end does make a differences, however.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never been, I’d be interested to see it. But, I have to admit that my husband and I have felt pretty discouraged lately towards visiting a lot of places, especially in the south.
      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  11. Hanna @ minimal marathoner

    As usual, fantastically written. Obviously can’t say I know what it’s like, but I agree with your thoughts, and thank you for opening up and so eloquently sharing them.

    Like

  12. Very well written. I agree with your observations and comments. I do not understand your next to last sentence, “I’m down to grow, to listen, to understand.”. Did you mean to say bound rather than down?

    Like

    1. Hi! Thank you so much for reading. So no, I did mean “down”. My use of the word here is colloquial I guess. It means I’m “willing” or “prepared to”.
      Again, thanks so much for reading, please come back!

      Like

  13. Thank you for writing this. I’ve been absolutely paralyzed the last few days in horror – not at what happened, because we’ve seen this coming since the election, but at the reactions from other white people, defending what I had assumed was the indefensible. I can only hope what happened has opened more eyes and readied more minds to finally fucking do something.
    *HUGS*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think what’s hurt a lot of black people is that we’ve seen this coming from way further back than the election–we’ve seen it here.
      You’re right though, the feelings really can be paralyzing. I had to write this just to snap out of it! I think Charlottesville opened some eyes but we will need help opening even more. Our country needs all of us more than ever.
      Thanks for chiming in here and contributing. Lots of love to you. x

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Lorna Bank

    this is absolutely perfect!! thank you so much. As a white mother of a black son I have been wondering how to respond to white “friends” (??) who talk about the “history” aspect. You have given me a great response which I will no doubt use often! thank you. and thank you for your thoughts on the fact that Trump might (in a twisted way) be a very good thing and finally thank you for your take on the term African-American …. a term which I have steadfastly refused to use. Bless you, keep you safe and happy…and please please please keep writing! you have such a gift!!! the world needs you!! sending you love!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah man, Lorna, I can’t thank you enough for your comments. As you’ve read I’ve got a white mama as well so all white women with black kids who are struggling to navigate this landscape are very near and dear to my heart. I can’t tell you how many conversations my mom has told me about when people have just spoken freely, not realizing she had four black children. It’s pretty amazing what people will say and what they feel-especially those who don’t believe they are racist.
      YOU are so vital to this conversation. You have a perspective that needs to be shared. I hope you are leading the conversation in your community, I can feel that you have a strong and ready voice.
      Thank you so much for your support–hope to write more that will interest you, and hope to hear from you again often. take care and be well. x

      Like

  15. Hi Cat, this is such an important post and so well written. I’m still shocked about these atrocities and cannot comprehend how this is happening. I did a free walking tour in Berlin and saw the playground where the bunker was, and I agree it’s a brilliant way of talking about history without in any way creating a shrine. Coming from the UK I don’t know enough about American history and it’s terrible past (and present) so look forward to reading more posts from you! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ida. I’m sure in your travels you have gotten to see a lot of different strategies towards dealing with history–i think it can be enlightening, and I hope we can start to consider this and be more open minded about what we can do here in the U.S. Thanks for following along- I hope I can offer a useful perspective in subsequent posts!

      Like

  16. Constance Henderson

    Cat,
    Didn’t realize you had those terrible nightmares at age 8. No child should go to bed with the fear of a parent being taken away. Makes it more real for me, the stuff young children of color must be feeling every night – that someone could come into their school and take them or when they get home their parents would be gone.
    Thank you for writing this. I know it is a challenge being in this family, but I know you. And I know you will keep making your voice heard.
    Love,
    Ma

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Mama,
      You know how fearful I was as a kid–no way I could have told you every single nightmare–there was too much. I’ve always been grateful though that you’ve always understood how hard I internalize things, and you’ve always known how much I see. That helped.
      Our extended family is especially challenging–and all of us are as well. One thing I have always been so grateful for though is how open the dialogue about race was/is within our immediate family. I’m not sure how a family with one black parent and one white could live any other way, and I’m glad we never had to. You guys did good.
      Love you Ma. x

      Like

  17. As a white woman, there is no way I can possibly understand what a person of any other color has gone through. For that matter, no one knows what any other person has gone through, regardless of sex, race, or age. It’s a travesty what has happened in American history, though, and I think we can all agree on that. I’ve said so many times that everyone should wait tables to know what it’s like so that servers will be better appreciated (I waited tables in college). If only people had more understanding and compassion, this world would be a different place!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think as a white woman you may not be able to understand, but you can be open to trying to, and from the little i know of you, it seems like you are willing to try. It’s people like you that we need–people who have understanding and compassion. We need you to have even more and to show others how that compassion can create a world that we all really want to live in. I think the more we know about each other, the less we are the OTHER, and the stronger we will be, together.
      PS–Have I asked your name before? I feel like we interact enough that we should be on a first name basis :).

      Like

      1. I think the best we can do for each other is know that we never fully know what other people go through and have understanding and compassion for one another. You’re right, we need less division amongst ourselves and we’ll be stronger for it. That’s one thing travel has taught me, that we as humans are more alike than we may realize, regardless of what country we live in and our backgrounds. My name is Donna, thanks for asking.

        Like

      2. Donna! Yes–travel has taught me that as well. Travel is one of my greatest teachers–I wish more people could have the opportunities to travel that I have had–i think it does so much for your world view.
        Was so happy when I found your blog–running + travel = two of my very faves!!

        Like

  18. So well written and I’m more than happy for you to deviate from your usual topics for something so important. I’m not in a great position to comment on the situation in the US but Australia has our own shameful past that we’re only scratching the surface of starting to deal with – you have certainly strengthened my resolve in speaking up more about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gill. I hope you will speak up more about it. I think a lot of us don’t realize or give credit to how valuable each individual voice is. We have no idea who we can effect and the ripple that can come after–we can all make a positive difference if we decide it’s important and are willing to speak up!

      Liked by 1 person

  19. SO POWERFUL! I love this Cat, I have been trying to find words to explain how the fact that racism even exists, makes me feel sick to my stomach but you pretty much sum it all up in this post!! xo

    Like

    1. Thank you Ang! You should still try to find those words–I think they would be very impactful coming from you–we need your voice!! I will be writing similar pieces in the future, I think we have to stay vocal and start conversations, even if they are tough to have. x

      Liked by 1 person

  20. This is very well written. Thanks for writing it. It gave me a few minutes to stop and think about our situation in the world today. I hope on the balance I’m more helpful than hurtful in our society and help others that can’t help themselves. But your message just strengthens my resolve to try harder to help others and keep my mind open. Great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome Michelle, thank you. It was tough to write–this subject is so loaded, I feel like there are about 1000 things I want to say about it so it took a long time to get focused and just take on a piece of it. I hope I am able to articulate more in the future and have other people contribute their thoughts just like you have–we need to start talking about this stuff in a real way. Thank you for helping those that cannot help themselves–it’s what we all need to be doing.

      Like

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