OPINION: Why do we cling to the Confederacy?

Posted on Feb 22 2019 - 5:50am by John Hydrisko

Much of the debate about Confederate monuments on campus has centered on whether these monuments are symbols of racial hatred or regional heritage, framing the anguish of the black community against the erasure of Southern culture. Many people have painstakingly explained why these monuments are racist and why the celebration of Southern pride does not outweigh this racism.

Many would say that the Confederacy clings to us, but few would say that we cling to the Confederacy. Truthfully, we invest in the Confederacy everyday. We walk past monuments to its soldiers. We teach and learn in buildings named for Lamar and Longstreet and George. These structures might seem like relics of the past, residue of a bygone time, but we let them shape the space around us everyday. To acknowledge our troubled past exclusively is to ignore our troubled present. No matter who we are, we pour our time and money and love into a space that tolerates the intolerable and defends the indefensible, and soon, we find ourselves doing the same. We let the Confederacy become a part of us, and we let ourselves become a part of it. The Confederacy clings to us, but only because we cling to it.

The statue on campus takes up far more space than its footprint on the Circle. It pervades the atmosphere; it dominates our reputation; it seeps into our character. When we defend the Confederacy under the guise of preserving Southern history and culture, we rob ourselves of the very same. When we keep the Confederacy on a pedestal, we keep Fannie Lou Hamer and Ida B. Wells off that pedestal. When we cling to the Confederacy, it costs us all the best parts of our story.

The notion that the symbols of the cause to keep black people in bondage can be race-neutral is bewildering, and the fact that a public university would maintain a monument to an armed insurrection against the United States is astounding. But the most insidious harm in this case is the belittling lie that the best of Mississippi is contained in the long-dead casualties of a long-lost war.

The neo-Confederate protesters who will be here on Saturday are obvious perpetrators of that lie, but they are not the only ones. We tell ourselves that lie when we invest in the Confederacy. We tell ourselves that lie when we turn our backs to a more full history of our state. So long as we keep telling ourselves that lie, that lie will persist. The hard truth is that the monuments of the Confederacy cannot be torn down; they must be torn away.

John Hydrisko is a sophomore English and Philosophy major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.