It was the threat of the removal of Robert E. Lee that brought out the ugliness of white supremacy in Charlottesville. The man who was called on by other men to lead men and boys to fight for the right of men to own men and women and children – his image incited men to emerge from their darkened homes with rebel flags in their hands and unabashed swastikas emblazoned on their arms, pridefully bearing the symbol of a nation that devalued nearly everyone. The present sight of these past symbols of hate makes us wonder, “How long must we deal with the scars and receive fresh wounds from history’s darkest days?” Sadly, a little bit longer, it would seem.
The frustration with the scenes in Charlottesville overflowed in Durham as protesters pulled the bronze statue of a confederate soldier to the ground. His feet remained planted in the marble slab that toppled with him, but his legs buckled under the weight of the fall. Crumpled on the grass, he was kicked by legs of flesh that did nothing to mar the form any further than the plummet from glory had already, all while insults were shouted in his deaf ears.
The Durham monument was erected “in memory of the boys who wore grey.” The boys. They’re always the ones who fight our battles for us. Whatever ideals we hold to, whatever blind spots we refuse to acknowledge, it’s the youth that are called upon to sacrifice themselves in their honor, or to inherit the sinful ruts that our wheels keep falling into. I can’t help but weep for the boys who wore grey. And the boys who wore blue. A generation cut down for a cause they may not have fully understood. I weep too for the boys who marched with rebel flags. And the boys who were singled out because they donned a hoodie one fateful morning. How often the boys are naively forced to carry the flags we put in their hands, and then to die because we didn’t have the courage to admit the evil residing deep within. We all bear responsibility for our actions, yet too frequently we lead those who follow us into the same pits we have already fallen in ourselves.
The filth of our hatred runs deep, and it spills over from generation to generation, polluting the water the boys are asked to drink. We long, deep in the wells of our hearts, for the water to be purified, maybe by time or knowledge, but it nevertheless fills our streets and our faucets, until one day we don’t realize what we’ve been drinking now makes up the influential majority of our being. We assume slavery has been burned to the ground with much of the post-war South, but it rises again and again. We think the dream is becoming a reality, but then we wake up to news of fresh violence based on the color of a man’s skin and blind to the content of his character. We assume that we have overcome our own wickedness, but it shows up in unbidden thoughts and careless words.
We can pull the boys to the ground and watch their knees bend, but no matter how hard we kick, we still have to stare in their faces and realize that what we are so angry at them for has to be beaten from our own hearts first. Bronze statues were built to endure, even when we wish they would disappear. Public or hidden, their history must never be ignored, not so we can point our fingers in judgment, but so we can contemplate how like our ancestors we are. Bronze or flesh and bones, we all have feet of clay.
So we must continue the good fight, for ourselves and for the boys and girls that will fight the battles we incite, and we can truly hope that things will change. Yet for the ones who have chosen to walk with Jesus on the road of love and self-sacrifice, our greatest hope is that we as children of God through faith in Christ will one day be dressed, not in grey or blue or any other color, but in pure robes, our multi-colored faces unveiled and lifted towards the throne of the Lamb who died to ransom sinful, hateful, evil people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Every knee will bend before him on that last day, and every tongue will confess that we are sinners all, and that the only one who can declare supremacy is the one who humbled himself and died to purchase his bride, made beautiful by the love and grace she has been showered with.