The following statement can be attributed to Mary Bauer, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia:
The Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond was erected more than 130 years ago, a 40-foot-tall bronze and granite shrine to the Lost Cause mythology. Not long after it was built, an all-white community was built around it to conclusively say that Black people do not belong in this space.
What remains now is much more beautiful. The pedestal is covered in layers and layers of colorful graffiti that show the pain that Black Virginians have endured for generations. In between some layers are coats of grey paint – attempts to silence dissent and quiet any voices that refuse to accept white supremacy as the status quo. And yet, Black people continued to come back to this space to pour out their pain, show their love, and build a new inclusive community. The community space was renamed for Marcus-David Peters, a Black man killed by police.
Today, the treasonous slaveowner and his high horse were taken down, and what’s left is the beauty created by the Black community in spite of immense obstacles.
Those writings on the pedestal represent a huge change in the Commonwealth and how we view the legacy of slavery. But just like the granite and bronze monument, systemic racism was built to last in this country. Black folks are reminded of that fact every day just by walking down the street or driving a car. Data released this week shows that Black drivers made up 30% of all traffic stops in Virginia, 43% of all vehicles searched, and 37% of all arrests during traffic stops, even though they only account for less than 20% of the population. White drivers, in contrast, were stopped in proportion to their population. Other examples of systemic racism show up in our voting laws, our carceral system, how we educate kids, and who gets access to housing, employment, and opportunities.
The colorful pedestal that remains on Monument Avenue is a reminder that we must continue to voice our dissent. We must write justice into our laws and build a community that includes all of us. America was not made for everyone to be equal, but the power of the people can topple the largest monuments to white supremacy. It can topple white supremacy itself.