SYMBOLS MATTER:

Rev. Earle J. Fisher, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 8/24/2017, 11:27 a.m.
Why we must remove the statues of white supremacy immediately.
Memphis activist Tami Sawyer has been relentless in the quest to remove this statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest at Health Sciences Park. Forrest was the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. (Photo: Aisha Raison)

“It won’t change anything.”

Not immediately.

“Don’t you have better things to worry about than statues?”

Yes...and no.

There are critics of removing the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis statues on both sides. Supporters of the Confederacy’s legacy say the statues represent history and heritage not hate.

Even those who are repulsed by the realities of Forrest and Jefferson’s connections to white supremacy, bigotry and slavery say racism will still exist in spite of the removal of any statues.

They’re right... in part.

Rev. Earle J. Fisher

Rev. Earle J. Fisher

What so many critics neglect in their analysis of our cause is that activist, organizers and social justice advocates know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. With comprehensive problems facing communities of color, those people at the front lines of The Movement for Black Lives (and what Tami Sawyer has dubbed #TakeEmDown901) have a legacy of attacking systemic oppression from multiple angles simultaneously.

We understand the statues are connected to a broader system and structure of white supremacy – one we intend to tear down in totality.

But, there’s something about the statue removal initiative itself that has been understated. The statues must be removed immediately because statues are symbols and symbols matter.

Symbols communicate a particular vision of our existence. Symbols impact our interpretations of the world and what we believe to be possible.

Symbols matter.

Over 4,500 years ago, in Egypt, near the ancient pyramids, the Great Sphinx of Giza was constructed. This is the oldest known monumental sculpture in the world. However, the current statue doesn’t look like it did initially.

Historical legend suggests that the statue was altered, defamed and disturbed when Napoleon issued a governmental and militaristic order for the nose of the Sphinx to be shot off. (I guess he didn’t want to wait for the French Historical Commission to give him permission.) The alleged rationale for this excursion was that Napoleon was irritated because the Sphinx symbolically represented the brilliance and bold strength of Africa.

Although this legend is historically untrue, the connection between symbols and sentiment is not.

Symbols matter.

Over 2000 years ago, a Black Palestinian Hebrew was executed by the State of Rome for sedition – starting a revolution. He was killed on a cross – the symbol of Roman oppression, legality and power. But, according to the Gospels, a few days later this political prisoner was raised from the dead.

Jesus – the Negro from Nazareth – altered, defamed and disturbed the symbol of the cross. Now, for many people of faith, the cross represents resistance, redemption and revolutionary possibility.

Symbols matter.

Sadly, the image of that Black Palestinian Hebrew has also been altered, defamed and disturbed. White supremacists co-opted Christianity. They’ve transformed the image of Jesus from black to white; from powerful to pale; from revolutionary to pacifist.

White supremacists know that symbols matter. Sawyer wrote of the Confederate statues, “These statues represent the gods from which white supremacists draw their inspiration.”

Preach!

There is no coincidence that the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue – representing a white supremacists war criminal – was erected in the early 1900’s and conspicuously stands on a street named after the Union army (the ones who won the war). The statue rebelliously faces south.