By Armando Vazquez
Last week I wrote an op-ed piece on racism that got quite a lot of circulation in the local electronic media. I want to lend some nuance to the often ugly race relations in America. I also wanted to give the reader a 62 year historical perspective through a few of my personal and traumatic race relation experiences I had in America. The negative comments from readers came fast and furiously as expected. Some of the exasperated readers wrote the usual racist advice and complaints, “get over it…stop whining…your comments are toxic…America belongs to white people…MAGA” and the old standard bile “If you don’t love this country then go back to Mexico”, but I also got positive feedback like, ”you should write a book… and the one that keeps me writing and helps me take on all the slings and arrows from the haters was, “you have to keep writing to tell our history.”
And then I read Caroline Randall Williams’s profound, painful and poignant article, My Body Is A Confederate Monument, in the New York Times and I was moved to tears and a solemn recommitment to speak truth to power as inspired by her searing and eloquent truth. Caroline Randall Williams writes, “What is a monument but a standing memory? An artifact to make tangible the truth of the past. My body and blood are a tangible truth of the South and its past. The black people I come from were owned by the white people I come from. The white people I come from fought and died for their Lost Cause. And I ask you now, who dares to tell me to celebrate them? Who dares to ask me to accept their mounted pedestals?
Certainly not the Black and Indigenous people of this nation. These monuments and statues of the conqueror/oppressor that curse this nation’s landscape are a grotesque, vile and vivid American memory and our daily searing reminder of over 500 years of brutalization, rape, plunder, murders, theft, slavery, genocide of millions of Black and Indigenous men, women and children the likes of this world has never known.
Yet still today, some White folks, and others, glorify these monuments, these “glorious” brick and mortar memories throughout America, from the deepest parts of the South to California, of the conqueror/oppressor. As the late genius American poet Gil Scott-Heron noted, “America has always led the world in collective and selective racist amnesia”. These same folks will pathetically attempt to “airbrush and whitewash history” and “leap frog” over those 500 genocidal years and scream and demand that the Black and Indigenous descendants of those enslaved and slaughter millions “get the hell over it!”
As Caroline Randall Williams’s describes, “This is not an ignorant pride but a defiant one. It is a pride that says, “Our history is rich, our causes are justified, our ancestors lie beyond reproach.” It is a pining for greatness, if you will, a wish again for a certain kind of American memory. A monument-worthy memory.” But that “racist amnesia”- like wish, will not, and cannot wipe away the blood that was spilled by our Black and Indigenous ancestors to build this nation into what it is today. The time for historical lies, revisionist tales and insolent wishes is over!
It is time to face the whole unvarnished genocidal historical American truth, all of us! The time of denial is over. The time for painful, honest and sincere reckoning is here. There must finally be an official acknowledgement by both the federal government and the American people of the 500 years of genocidal atrocities that were committed against Black and Indigenous people under the power of the cross, the whip and the gun by White men.
We must convene a South Africa type of Reconciliation Peoples’ Court that will be charged with looking at the 500 years of Conquests, Slavery and Genocide and staffed predominately by Black and Indigenous representatives. This representative’s body will be charged with making recommendations that must be fully supported by the government so that the recommendation can be enacted. This Black and Indigenous people’s court will examine every facet of American public institutions and their deleterious effects they have had on the current lives of Black and Indigenous people and then, enact bold steps to make things “right”. It is time to start practicing real democracy, equality, equity, and justice for all.
There must an immediate formal government act of reparation made to the Black and Indigenous people of America. The acts of reparation must be real acts that go to the heart of “leveling the so- called playing field” that has been grotesquely skewed in favor of White folks. Removing all Conqueror/Oppressor statues, monuments and artifacts from public spaces one small, yet significant initial step. What real acts of reparation look like are giving every Black and Indigenous adult the equivalency of the reneged and failed federal government promise of giving every freed slave, “40 acres and a mule”. We know that this reparation is doable, especially in light of the recent Trump multi-billion dollar COVID-19 criminal give away “relief” gift to his billionaire friends. Another possibility for meaningful reparation is mandatory federal government acts that would provide every Black and Indigenous person with universal housing, health care, higher education and employment.
It has taken us, all of us and our ancestors, 500 hundred years to come to this point in our nation’s tumultuous history, and it may well take 500 more years to make thing right for the Black and Indigenous people in this country. But it must be done and it must be done now. As Caroline Randall Williams stated in her powerful essay, “Now is the time to re-examine your position. Either you have been blind to a truth that my body’s story forces you to see, or you really do mean to honor the oppressors at the expense of the oppressed, and you must at last acknowledge your emotional investment in a legacy of hate. Either way, I say the monuments of stone and metal, the monuments of cloth and wood, all the man-made monuments, must come down. I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels”.
Armando Vazquez, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.