Set in Stone

As I write this, I’m looking at the last page of the 2022 calendar that has hung over my desk all year. Put out by the Equal Justice Initiative, the calendar marks every single day with a reminder of some racial injustice that occurred in America on that day in history. To take this week as but a single example: On Sunday, we recall the assassination of Black Panther Party leaders in 1969. On Monday, we remember that in 1910, a judge ruled against an eight-year-old who was “1/16th Black” and wanted to attend her local elementary school. On Tuesday, the anniversary of the 1915 US Supreme Court ruling that stripped American women of their citizenship when they married “foreigners.” Wednesday, an 1874 lynching. Thursday, a 1915 lynching. Friday, the 2014 report detailing the torture of Muslim detainees in the Iraq War. Saturday, we remember when an integrated California football team was banned, in 1960, from staying in a Florida hotel. 

And that’s just one week. All year the calendar has hung over my desk, silently bearing tribute to the fact that every single day of the year in America bears a terrible stain. 

The image at the top of this month’s page explains it all. It is a picture of the pedestal of a monument that stood in New Orleans for over 125 years. The caption explains that the statue paid tribute to a violent 1874 coup that had forcibly removed Louisiana’s elected governor. The calendar image zooms in on the words carved in stone at the base of the statue: they celebrate a movement that “RECOGNIZED WHITE SUPREMACY IN THE SOUTH AND GAVE US OUR STATE.” 

White Supremacy. 

Those are loaded words, aren’t they? I think of them as modern words, explaining words, even academic words. Words that only get used when some expert is defining the regrettable attributes of some fringe group. I don’t think of them as words that people in mainstream power would use to positively frame their own actions. But in 1891, “White Supremacy” was such a generally accepted value that those words were hacked into stone and set at the base of a monument placed in the middle of a busy city street. 

On April 24, 2017, under cover of night because of violent threats, the monument was removed. Less than four years later, on January 6, 2021, another violent mob attempted to interfere in another democratic election: this time, not in New Orleans, but in Washington, D.C. The cycle seemed poised to begin all over again. 

The truth is that White Supremacy has always been a value accepted by at least some portion of American citizens. Every single day of my 2022 calendar proclaims it to be true. White Supremacy has led to lynchings, assassinations, and injustices. But it is not a value that needs to be set in stone to define who we are in this country. We have other shared American values: democracy, freedom, liberty, and justice for all. 

At the dawn of this new year, what will we choose to write on this calendar’s pages? 

By Sarah L. Sanderson

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