Statues come down, while barriers to truth are erected

In Charlottesville, Va., where a Unite the Right gathering of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, Lost Cause devotees and other angry history deniers left destruction and death in their path in 2017, there was a different scene this past weekend.

The city removed statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, memorials to those who fought on the losing side of a Civil War to maintain the brutal and murderous institution of slavery. They were erected as monuments to white supremacy, not in the 1860s but the 1920s, a Jim Crow threat to Black citizens to “know their place.”

Now, as then, there are those opposed to this bit of progress, with arguments that removing the stone idols would mean erasing history, which is ridiculous since that history will never disappear from books, museums and tall tales handed down by the “never forget” brigade.

Ironically, many of these same folks would be only too glad to forget what really happened, during that bloody Civil War and in the 100 years after — the ingenious laws and policies that continue to reverberate through everything from health care to housing.

Since when has racial equity been a controversial goal? Sadly, forever

Somehow, I thought she would live forever.

Cicely Tyson, actress and force of nature, left the world so many heartrending, joyous performances — and much more. She told stories, informed by her 96 years on this earth as an African American and an artist, navigating an industry and a world that sometimes found it difficult to accommodate her own high standards.

One story in particular haunts. On a press tour publicizing her 1972 film “Sounder,” a white male journalist’s comment shook her and helped her decide to choose roles carefully. As she recalled, he told her that “it was difficult for me to accept the fact that this young boy, who was the elder of your sons, referred to his father as ‘Daddy’ [in the movie].” She said she understood what he was saying: “What he could not come to grips with, is the fact that this little Black boy was calling his Black father ‘Daddy’ as his children were calling him.”

But that was nearly 50 years ago, wasn’t it?

In January 2021, in Rochester, N.Y., the go-to for police confronting a situation involving a distraught 9-year-old Black girl yelling for her father was to push her down into the snow, handcuff her and, when she refused to sit in a police car, pepper-spray her. “You’re acting like a child,” said an officer sent to protect and serve. “I am a child” was the frightened little girl’s response.

That racial equity was high on the list of policy priorities for the Biden-Harris administration was not surprising. From policing to housing to health care, made explicit by a pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, inequality is on display for all to observe, if not experience. The United States has only sporadically turned its gaze inward when it comes to righting racist wrongs, usually when civil rights activism has forced the issue through protest and sacrifice. And under the leadership of Donald Trump, U.S. policies either put the brakes on any effort to realize America’s lofty promises or tried to drag the country backward into a Make America Great Again past that never was.

There is more than one way to be Black — and to be an American

Elijah McClain of Aurora, Colorado, was many things. The slight 23-year-old, who looked younger, was a massage therapist one client described as “the sweetest, purest person I have ever met.” He was a vegetarian who taught himself to play the guitar and violin and shared his musical gifts with shelter animals to calm them. Family members said he sometimes wore a ski mask because he was anemic and always cold, and perhaps to create some distance in a world he found overwhelming. (And aren’t we all supposed to be covering our faces these days.) In his final trip to a convenience store, though, he interacted with the clerk and customers, it seemed from video, offering a bow on his way out.

Did he look “sketchy” and “suspicious” to a 911 caller and police because he sang to himself on the walk home and waved his arms, perhaps conducting a symphony only he could hear? McClain told the police who stopped him, “I am an introvert, please respect the boundaries that I am speaking.”

The three officers escalated the confrontation, took him down with a hold that made him utter a too-often-heard refrain: “I just can’t breathe correctly.” One officer threatened to sic a dog on him. If they saw his quirks, his idiosyncrasies, his joy, it did not translate. If they heard his pleas, these enforcers of laws the young man had not broken did not listen. “You are beautiful and I love you,” he told them. He apologized for vomiting as police tossed around his 140-pound body before medics shot it up with strong drugs.

Now, Elijah McClain, who police say committed no crime, is dead.

Opinion: Forgetting What It Means to Be an American

The 2004 romantic comedy “50 First Dates” offered a novel, though somewhat implausible, premise — and I don’t mean that Drew Barrymore would find Adam Sandler irresistible. The heroine of the tale, afflicted with short-term memory loss, woke up each morning with a clean slate, thinking it was the same day, with no recollection of anything that happened the day before.

Who knew the president of the United States, most members of a political party and White House staff would suffer from the same condition?