Smashing Confederate statues: anti-racism, ISIS-style

In Britain, America and South Africa, removing statues and monuments, which hark back to the history of slavery and colonialism, has become a preoccupation of anti-racist activists. The latest incident happened in New Orleans, where the city council voted to remove four Confederate-era monuments, after pressure from an anti-racist group called the Take ‘Em Down NOLA Coalition.

The last of the four monuments – a statue of Robert E Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the American Civil War – was recently removed. Crane workers wore scarves to conceal their identities while removing the statue. Crane companies in the region have received anonymous threats – such was the level of controversy surrounding the move.

According to Take ‘Em Down NOLA, the statues ‘demean [black people] and psychologically terrorise us’. It even went as far as to say that the monuments ‘result in actual discrimination and murder’. From these campaigners’ perspective, for the sake of diversity and inclusivity, ‘all monuments’ and symbols of ‘white supremacy’ need to be removed. It appears that anti-racists are suffering from a form of inanimate-object neurosis. Just the sight of a statue makes them feel psychologically terrorised.

Malcolm Suber, a radical, black historian who supported the removals, called on the city to hand out sledgehammers and ‘let everybody take a whack – just like the Berlin Wall’. But that would be more reminiscent of ISIS destroying priceless relics in Palmyra than East Germans struggling to smash their way to freedom.

These campaigners have been praised by the media. In the New Republic, writer and poet Clint Smith said the ‘role of the activist has never been to ask for what seems politically feasible, but that which is morally incumbent’. But the campaign to smash these statues is not morally right, it’s morally degenerate. It’s an expression of the politics of victimhood. A politics that has reduced anti-racism – a once-great movement – to an exercise in presenting black people as vulnerable.

Courtney Hamilton is a writer based in London.

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