Opinion: Critical Race Theory Justified Removing Confederate Statues In Charlottesville

Despite what many conservatives claim, American history is steeped in racism. The GOP’s ardent opposition to critical race theory is not simply about whitewashing history, it veritably proves that white supremacy and white rage is prevalent in the Republican movement.

Although it failed to dominate the 24-hour news cycle, there was an important reminder this past week why critical race theory is not only a necessary field of study, it is crucial to understand how to put an end to the systemic and institutionalized racism plaguing the nation.

Four years ago Trump acolytes descended on Charlottesville to “Unite the Right”  to protest the removal of monuments glorifying Confederate leaders as heroes. Those white supremacists’ heroes, by the way, were guilty of treason and still avoided the ultimate penalty for waging war on the United States of America. However, the white supremacists were protesting their racist heroes’ monuments being removed and were likely ignorant that they were protesting to save monuments to traitors. They were protesting to preserve symbols of white supremacy.

Unlike four years ago when a white supremacist killed a counter protestor, there was no violence in Charlottesville when the statues were removed. The Charlottesville city council had previously created a commission to examine the monuments and rightly concluded that the statues of Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, like other Confederate monuments across the country, glorified the South’s racist past.

The city council-create commission concluded:

The Lee and Jackson statues embodied the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, which romanticized the Confederate past and suppressed the horrors of slavery and slavery’s role as the fundamental cause of the war while affirming the enduring role of white supremacy.”

It is particularly noteworthy that part and parcel of why “critical race theory” is crucial to addressing the systemic and institutional racism plaguing America today was addressed by the commission. The “commission’s examination may not have been labeled “critical race theory,” but their conclusion is founded on investigating the effect of racism and white supremacy on public policy.

The commission noted The Lost Cause mythology “helped justify [future] segregation in housing, employment and education and the disenfranchisement of Black voters.”

The Lost Cause ideology still exists today in more than the Southern United States. And the opposition to acknowledging it exists, like opposition to critical race theory, is driven by white rage. In fact, it is that Lost Cause ideology that perpetuates racism and racist power structures that critical race theory exposes.

The Lost Cause mythology was crucial during the Jim Crow era in the South, and denying it today “minimizes or completely denies the central role of white supremacy In the antebellum South and currently rampaging across the nation.

Exposing the origin of systemic racism and white supremacy is precisely why Republicans oppose critical race theory and frankly, any teaching of factual American history in the public education system. As an aside, critical race theory is not taught in public schools; it is a “dense academic theory from the 1970s and regarded as an analytical framework used by legal scholars to study systemic institutional racism.” 

Removing those symbolic monuments to institutional racism was the result of what can be loosely labeled critical race theory by Charlottesville’s city council. And it was “a real step forward” according to author, lawyer, city councilor, and mayor when the “Unite the Right” rally occurred in 2017.

Mike Signer said he was pleased to see the monuments taken down because they “had become totems for [these] terrorists that ravaged the city four years ago. Mr. Signer continued:

In so many ways, Charlottesville was a microcosm for what’s happened in this country: the advent of flagrant, open, violent white nationalism in public streets. The ‘Unite the Right’ rally was clearly a prologue for the insurrection on Jan. 6.

Of course Mr. Signer is spot on in his assessment. Flagrant racism reared is ugly head when Americans elected an African American man as their president in 2008 and roiled among the white supremacist ranks until Trump came along and elevated white supremacists to a place of honor as part of his profane “make America great again” campaign. The vehement opposition to critical race theory became a cause célèbre forRepublicans after Trump lost the election and  is little more than a means of rallying support from its angry racist base.

It has come to the point that no small number of Republican supporters are violently opposed to an academic construct they clearly hate and are incapable of understanding. It is not solely because their monuments to white supremacy, and treason, were removed; it is because they are being exposed as white supremacists driven by white rage because people of color are demanding to be treated as equal American citizens according to the guarantees in the United States Constitution.