Critics of the Real Silent Sam’s demands have argued that the racist history of monuments on campus is not representative of present-day racism and that to remove or rename these monuments would be to “rewrite history.”
But the racist foundation of UNC is not disconnected from our current issues with race.
We can see it within the student-athlete model, a connection that the Real Silent Sam made at UNC’s 2014 homecoming game in which they sought to bring visibility to the marginalized students of color.
We also see it in pitifully low black male enrollment and disproportionate admissions rates compared to state demographics, as well as in public attacks on policies meant to correct these deficiencies.
While the University’s current attitudes about race might have changed to a degree, what these monuments represent has not. They continue to be present in spaces that students of color must navigate, reminders of UNC’s past and present exploitation of people of color.
It is important for us to face this history in order to move forward — and movement is critical.
While recognizing the history of these campus structures will not solve racism, it will help continue the important conversations about race that are happening now. Directly facing our racial history will help UNC create a more inclusive environment for students of color.
Allowing these structures to remain unchallenged also allows for them to continue representing the University. If anything, we should be rewriting history, in the sense that there is so much about the University’s history that our building names and monuments leave out.
Additionally, the success of renaming projects and further explanation regarding our monuments would not mean that related historical events would be forgotten altogether. Instead of letting the history of racism continue to be represented by those who benefitted from it, we should finally stop repressing the voices of those who suffered under it.
The University should heed the demands of the Real Silent Sam and its supporters. Students should engage with the group and actively educate themselves about our campus’ racial history as part of broader efforts to bring context to the monuments of UNC’s racist past.