Don't Focus On Statues, but It's a Good Place To Start | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Dr. Anne Bailey during a Newsweek podcast debate on confederate monuments. You can listen to the podcast here:

At the end of the day, it was about ways in which we can deal with issues of inequity and these huge disparities, not just between black and white as it was during the civil war, but white and indigenous peoples, white, black, Latinxs and so forth. Many groups are literally underrepresented in our public sphere in the present day, so that's really what it's about. Removing statues is a start, it would not necessarily have been my primary focus, but people have zeroed in on it because it's such a public emblem of something that they're trying to change. So if you're trying to change systemic racism, I don't think you should start and end with removing a Confederate statute, but you may start as a community and say, well, if these are our values, maybe we don't want this representing us in the public sphere. But now let's look at what we do want, let's look at the kind of equity programs that we do want, whether in education or prison reform or what have you. So I agree that we should not be just focusing primarily on the statues, but it is a place for people to begin.

Confederate Statue Removal
The statue of Robert E. Lee is lowered from its pedestal at Robert E. Lee Memorial during a removal September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

I want to say this very clearly. I do not agree that it extends to the founding fathers and so forth. People who help to build a country are much different from those who are part of its division. I think we have to make that distinction. And if that distinction is not out there, I think it's upon us, frankly, to be communicating that. It's not only on us, but I think the onus is on people who understand this to get that word out there, that there is a difference between the Confederate statues in the public square versus the founding fathers. I don't see how those things get confused. And that's where this does get political because people don't understand history. And that's why I feel like those of us who do, and I feel it's a privilege to have been doing this work for several decades, are kind of coming out of the attic now to realize, wait a minute, there hasn't been enough connection between what goes on at an academic and intellectual level and the general public. And that's been a big frustration for me all my career, that we're sitting in our silos and we know the details of this history and the average American may not. And that's what I think we're seeing.

Dr. Anne Bailey is a Professor of History at SUNY Binghamton.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.