My friend reached out to my other friend and me asking to understand why we felt the students tearing down the statue was justified.

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Tue, Aug 21, 2018, 11:19 AM
to Li, me

a bunch of unc students tore down silent sam (statue of a confederate soldier in the quad) last night during a protest, and it's causing quite a stir.  I was trying to talk with a coworker about whether the protesters' motivation to tear the statue down actually makes sense, but had a hard time making any headway through the barrage of straw men and "you're not a minority so your opinion doesn't matter" arguments.  wondering what yall think about the following:

- while it may be true that the most common motivation to have a statue of someone is because you admire their actions, other reasons to have such a statue do exist.  put another way, just because you have a statue of someone does not mean you endorse their actions.  
- the effect of a statue is what thoughts it creates in the mind of the viewer -- if it creates anti-slavery sentiments in the student body, then it is a de facto anti-slavery statue.  
- tearing this statue down may seem like a protest against confederate ideals (in particular, slavery), but that's only true if the UNC administration endorses slavery and maintains the statue to display that endorsement.  this is obviously not why UNC still maintained the statue.  
- in reality, tearing this statue down is tearing down a reminder of where UNC came from.  covering our eyes to the past and pretending that it never happened is to trivialize the very thing they are protesting.  

I am no philosopher, but to me, this protest seems like the product of bandwagoning masses fueled by zeal instead of righteousness.  curious what you lads make of it.  

Tue, Aug 21, 2018, 11:52 AM
to Kevin, me

Joe and i had a conversation with Alan about this - i don’t remember all the specifics, but I’ll try to summarize and expand here:

- UNC’s maintenance of the statue is an implicit endorsement of the ideals and emotions that it creates in the student body and those who walk by it/share in its experience; I say that it’s an implicit endorsement given that the governor gave them permission to remove it and they didn’t (see additional note below)
- The presence of the statue on campus and the fact that it is honored as a monument (it’s pointed out on campus tours, used to be featured on the unc website, etc) certainly seems like an endorsement of the statue as well
- The statue is a constant reminder to African americans (and other minorities as well) of the constant discrimination, violence, and hatred displayed (although present tense may be just as accurate here) throughout the south; most confederate statues, including silent sam, were erected in the 1910-1920s during the deepening of jim crow; the unveiling speech for silent sam contains plenty of hateful and distinctly racist rhetoric (
- Imagine walking past a monument that celebrates that legacy, a legacy that has resulted in hurtful stereotypes, economic suppression, and the systemic mistreatment of your people; and now imagine walking past that every day. I was called “chink” one time in middle school, and I still think about that moment from time to time - imagine a constant reminder of that moment, of the degradation of your character and your quality as a person based on something that should be celebrated instead.
- hopefully you can imagine why the lack of action taken by the university, supposedly a bastion for equality and advancement, may have finally boiled over into an action.
- I agree that there is a space for these monuments; that place is a museum, not in a place of honor

there are some emails that indicate that UNC maintained the statue because they were scared of losing large alumni gifts from people who can probably be categorized as “not the most open minded people” - this feels like an implicit endorsement of racism to me

Aug 21, 2018, 1:21 PM
to Li, me

Good reply.  I don't disagree that the statue was originally erected from a place of hatred, nor am I trying to trivialize the injustices associated with this discussion.  I'm not even trying to argue that the statue should be put back up -- I'm just trying to determine if the UNC student body is acting from a reasonable position, and I suspect that they are not.  

What I'm getting at is that the statue means something different today than it did when it was first erected, or at least it has the potential to do so.  I see little difference between a statue of a confederate soldier and a memorial to the victims of slavery -- to me, they evoke the same thoughts, and if anything, the statue may even be "better" in that it more firmly cements the idea of how things have changed since then.  Instead of "slavery caused a lot of suffering", it's "slavery caused a lot of suffering, and some people used to think slavery was a good thing" -- keywords being "used to think".  

I don't think the "reminder of discrimination" argument holds water -- if the desire is to remove a reminder of past injustices, then I'd say that the nearby stone table should also be removed (I don't know its name, but it's a stone slab atop the backs of many dozens of slaves).  As for the alumni gifts, it's a good point, but I doubt that's the driving factor behind these students' actions.  

Aug 21, 2018, 2:04 PM
to Kevin, me

Gonna go point by point here, including numbers for reference.

1. Statue means something different today. Does it? In a time where white supremacism, racism, and bigotry is ever more out in the open (see: white house, charlottesville, charleston murders, etc. etc. etc.), it seems that a monument with roots in the very same values is never going to be a symbol of hope for the future. I think the hurdle here is that you're only looking at what it evokes for you, in particular. For me - it evokes that the south is still a place filled with hatred and racism, and the legacy lives on. Every time I see a confederate flag, every time I see somebody preaching xenophobia and racism, every time I see something that celebrates that legacy, is a sharp reminder of the systemic oppression of minorities in the country. Both of our stories are equally valid - but I'm inclined to believe that the collective impact of that trauma and the number of people affected by it may have a larger presence than those who view it as a symbol of progress. That's why we have museums and classrooms - to teach what people used to think. Which leads me into the next point below.

2. Reminder of discrimination/nearby stone table: Silent sam isn't just a reminder of past injustices, but a celebration of the values that led to them. The unsung founders memorial ( is a celebration of those who helped build the university and who haven't had halls and classrooms named after them. Yes, it's a reminder of the injustices of slavery, but it celebrates the oppressed, instead of the oppressors. There are more subtleties than simply being "reminders of discrimination" and lumping them into the same group removes the nuance and intent behind the memorials. If we want to celebrate progress, create a monument to replace it with that specific intent. There is a reason we have holocaust and genocide memorials, but no statues dedicated to nazis and fascists.

3. Alumni gifts. Agreed - I meant is more as a point of the university's willingness to accept those values in exchange for money. I'm disgusted by their (in)actions and their willingness to sell their morality. It's a blemish on the standing of the university as an institution of higher education, especially in a state already so marred by social injustices.

Aug 21, 2018, 2:54 PM
to Li, me

I don't have the metrics to support this, but surely white supremacism, racism, and bigotry must be at or near all-time lows in the US.  Obviously they still exist, and obviously their effects are still felt in an acceptable way, but it's true that things are vastly different and better now than they were in the days of the civil war or Jim Crow.  As such, I just don't believe that the original intent of a memorial is relevant.  I like my watch because my dad wore this type of watch for many years.  I don't think Casio intended that, but that's what the watch means to me.  Why should the original intent of the statue dictate what we do with it today?  By respecting the original intent, we are giving power to the people who held that intent.  I don't care about what a bunch of dickhead southerners wanted, I care about the suffering they caused and the progress that has been made since then.  If I had a dickhead racist uncle who left me his confederate flag when he died, would I be a racist for choosing to hang it on my wall to remind me of how shitty he was and encourage myself to be a better person?  

Side note -- I haven't read any articles or anything about this issue, but this is the second time that I've heard the "put it in a museum" rhetoric, so I assume it's a widespread sound bite.  It rings kind of hollow to me -- UNC campus is basically a museum in itself anyway.  Why should unpleasantly-sourced objects be locked away because of what someone a hundred years ago wanted?  

Aug 21, 2018, 3:55 PM
to Kevin, me

No hard statistics on the rise, but it's certainly become more visible. The general argument is that it's always been there, and recently they've been emboldened by a number of factors (trump as president, among other things) to come back out of the woodwork.
Some relevant links for reading:

I think you're still failing to see my original point, which is that the statue isn't just about your personal reaction to it - it's about the reaction of an entire group of people who have been maligned for centuries. The difference in your example is that you're around to give a reason as to why you've decided to hang it on your wall and you have the luxury of being able to explain the reasons behind its presence when somebody who would be hurt by it walks by. A monument in the public space can't have that luxury - nobody can always be there to retroactively explain away the sins of the creators, who had this to say at the unveiling: "But the cause for which they fought is not lost, never can be, never will be lost while it is enshrined in the hearts of the people of the South, especially the hearts of the dear, loyal, patriotic women, who, like so many Vestal Virgins (God’s name be praised), keep the fires lighted upon the Altars". It may be a symbol of progress for you, but regardless of the strength of your personal conviction, for the oppressors and bigots and racists who still walk everywhere among us, it's a symbol of a time when they were in control and when they were allowed to freely degrade their fellow human beings without consequence.

You are able to look at that monument and ignore its original intent, and turn it into a symbol of progress. It reminds you of who we have left behind, and not who we are. So let me appeal to your sense of empathy here - I look at that statue, and I cannot ignore the original intent. I cannot ignore the legacy it left behind and the fact that the society I lived in made me feel ashamed of who I was for nearly two decades. That society made me believe that the color of my skin and all the attributes that came along with it rendered me somebody who didn't deserve the same respect and acknowledgement that those with white skin deserved. I was called names, humiliated, and marginalized by people who felt empowered to do so without consequence. The fact that Silent Sam remained standing for so long is a microcosm of the lack of consequences that the south has created for those it considers higher class citizens.

As far as putting it in a museum goes, the museum is intended to be a place of learning. Having it displayed on the quad in a place of honor (after all, monuments are meant to commemorate) is an unfortunate commemoration of bigotry.

Joe Puccio 
Aug 21, 2018, 10:07 PM
to Kevin, Li

First, I want to say this is a very good discussion to be having, and indeed one that Li, Alan, Tara and I had when the Durham statue came down. 

Second, I believe two of the premises in Kevin’s original email contradict: 
1. "The effect of a statue is what thoughts it creates in the mind of the viewer -- if it creates anti-slavery sentiments in the student body, then it is a de facto anti-slavery statue."
2. "Tearing this statue down may seem like a protest against confederate ideals (in particular, slavery), but that's only true if the UNC administration endorses slavery and maintains the statue to display that endorsement."
I claim 1. and 2. cannot both be true. 
a. Say 100% of the student body believe the statue creates slavery sentiments, then it is a slavery statue (by 1)
b. Say UNC does not endorse slavery and does not maintain the statue to display as such, then tearing down the statue is not a protest against slavery (by 2)
c. Since it is a slavery statue, students tearing it down is a protest against slavery (follows from a)
However, c. contradicts b.

Things I’d like to add to help guide the discussion: 
I think it is wrong for that person you were talking to about this to jump to "you can’t understand because you’re not a minority". I think it’s fair to say at any point "you can’t fully understand because you’re not a minority", because I can not know exactly what it is like to be called racist slurs, grow up in a family with 1/10th the household assets, be discriminated against at school, during the job search process, etc. and then anticipate exactly how I’d feel when I see a certain statue. But I think it is possible for an empathetic enough non-minority person to achieve the understanding necessary to discuss this topic intelligently. 
I think it’s wrong to focus on details (like whether UNC cared, what the original intent of the statue was, etc). I think what’s important for discussions like this is chasing after an answer to: Should monuments that reference important historical events or figures remain, even if some who view them are harmed by the sight?
I don’t think it matters at all whether white supremacy is on the rise or the decline. What matters is that it still exists to the extent that minority communities are too frequently reminded of instances of racism in their lives when they see certain images/symbols/statues (because the racism was perpetrated by people who sometimes identify with these things).

Expansion on the points Li already made: 
I think it might be fair to erect a statue to show how people used to think that slavery was a good thing, but I don’t think it would be a good idea until acts of racism/discrimination are very, very rare (if that ever happens). When a black person walks by that statue today, they probably think about that time the guy with the confederate bumper sticker yelled out the "n" word while driving by, they probably don’t think "I feel bad that my ancestors had a terrible life, but I’m glad that part of history is over. We’ve come a long way." How could could they think that, when probably every 2 weeks someone yells a slur at them, or they see that another unarmed black kid was shot in his car, or only their friend with a white sounding name gets an interview with that company they applied to even though they have the same GPA and are in the same classes? That part of history is far from over.
Basically, there’s a sort of imbedded code in humans: "do whatever you want, so long as you don’t hurt others". I’d say this is the basis of why it’s okay for you to put a confederate flag up on your private wall because you use it as a reminder that people thought slavery was important enough to fight and die for (but why not use the Union flag, or both, then). But if you put it up in public (as the statue was), then the minority observer does not have that context, and I think more importantly: even if they did have that context, the sight of it still might evoke strong negative feelings because active racists still associate with that flag. Why is that a problem? Well I think Li said it best:
 "I'm inclined to believe that the collective impact of that trauma and the number of people affected by it may have a larger presence than those who view it as a symbol of progress."