As a graduate of UNC, I have mixed feelings about Silent Sam. He was an anonymous soldier of no rank or influence, a young citizen who set aside personal ambition to answer the call to defend his home. We do not condemn the soldiers who took the field in Iraq. We condemn the leadership who sent them there under false pretense. So it was, to me, with Silent Sam.
But, today, we must listen to those for whom this seemingly benign statue has symbolized something else entirely, something that undermines their equality, and denies them their full portion of the American dream. To these citizens, Silent Sam and other Confederate memorials symbolize the literal defense of slavery; they glorify bigotry. These monuments are symbols of institutionalized oppression.
It is easy for me, a white male, to laugh that off and ridicule it because I never feel it. But I can no longer say I do not see it. Reel upon reel of video footage of horrific, unjustified violence against Black men and women prove otherwise — and there is no mitigating evidence of equal injustice against whites. So, my fanciful, white-privilege feelings of affection for Silent Sam are rainbows and unicorns when compared with the crushing symbolic weight of the glorification of racism upon the shoulders of our Black brothers and sisters. Yes, it is our history, and we must not forget it, but we can teach it in the museum and the classroom without immortalizing its most shameful episodes in the public square.
Civilization depends on law and order. But justice, in the form of social change, often depends on the thunder of those who refuse to bend the knee. Our Bill of Rights acknowledges that truth in the first amendment, in no small part because our country was born of defiance. We all choose when to support authority and when to defy it. In this case, protest was on the side of justice and appears to be winning the day. Let’s hope our leadership, all the way to the top, hears the storm.