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