Some folks get offended when I use the term “bullshit.” “Bullshit” is actually a wonderful word, explored in depth by philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt, which describes a language trick we employ that is not *quite* an outright lie. The goal of bullshit, he says, is not to deceive someone about facts, but about your *self*. I can say something that we BOTH know isn’t true, and my goal is not to deceive, but to *perform*.
When Lost Cause Apologists say, “These monuments teach history,” these white supremacists aren’t lying about a fact. They are performing. Everyone knows busloads of school children do not go to see these monuments and learn anything about history. If anything, the monuments are about *erasing* history, about substituting the Lost Cause Mythology for the pain and suffering and trauma of multiple generations of enslaved black people. No, the Lost Cause Apologists are lying about THEMSELVES. “I’m not a white supremacist—I’m just concerned about “history.”
Alabama has THREE state holidays for the confederacy, and ONE for MLK day (which is co-opted by Robert E Lee day). Nobody sends greeting cards for Jefferson Davis’ birthday, or Confederate Memorial Day, and there are no parades or speeches on these days—at least, none for people who aren’t White Supremacists. These holidays are not about history. It’s about reminding state employees—and everyone else—that we live in a white supremacist state, with white supremacist legislators.
Neither the monuments nor the official state holidays are about HISTORY, preserving it or teaching it. They exist ONLY to announce who is in charge, to remind us all of the Theology of Whiteness.
Case in point: just after Selma elected its first black mayor, white supremacists put up a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Dragon of the KKK.
Lost Cause Apologists want to claim these monuments are about history because they want to have their cake and eat it, too: to advance an agenda of White Supremacy without being called “White Supremacists.” Claiming these are about “history” is not a “lie,”—but it is bullshit. It is a way for someone to claim they are concerned about something that they would PREFER TO IGNORE.
You want history? Visit the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery and the Legacy Museum. Visit the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham.
There is an effort to bring memorials for the thousands of racial terror lynchings to every county where they happened. This would, in fact, be about teaching the history that has been erased by these monuments to white supremacy.
But anyone who says the bland, featureless obelisk in Birmingham was about “history,” is full of BULLSHIT. It was a blight. And the fine imposed on the city by our white supremacist legislature is a reminder of white supremacy, too. It is fitting that white folks pay the bill for white supremacy.