I'd like to preamble my article with this: I am white. I acknowledge that being white puts me in a place of privilege, especially when discussing sensitive topics such as racism. For or against Silent Sam, white people cannot claim to be as affected by its original placement in a prime location on campus as are people of color.
That said, I think the monument is garbage, and its time on our campus should be permanently over.
Regardless of what anyone has to say about the statue's primary function being to commemorate UNC students and faculty who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, the statue has harmful connotations of racism and white supremacy that should not, under any circumstances, be tolerated on our campus. It is 2018—it's time to wake up.
The men who fought for the Confederacy fought for its desires, and one of those desires was the continued enslavement of African Americans by whites. Sure, they were fighting for "states' rights." States' rights to allow slavery. There is no way around it: the Confederate states were fighting to keep slavery. And to me, Confederate monuments honor that cause. Silent Sam honors that cause.
Many other students think so, too. There's a reason there have been protests against the monument since the 1960s, and I'll state that reason one more time for the people in the back: Silent Sam is a symbol of racism and white supremacy.
In my opinion, the argument that Silent Sam is an important commemorator of those from UNC who fought in the Civil War is weak. At the end of the day, the statue honors soldiers who fought for the Confederate cause. Dying for a cause does not make that cause honorable. Even so, there are history books to help you remember those soldiers. Their names are in the UNC archive. You can watch a plethora of documentaries about the Civil War in order to remember its causes and consequences.
At a certain point, if you simply can't seem to let go of Silent Sam, you might have to ask yourself: Am I racist?
So, here we are. To summarize, Silent Sam does not belong on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill. Not in a prominent location as the face of the university, not in some new "History and Education Center," not even in a storage closet. It is not lost on UNC students that the proposal would place the History and Education Center, and therefore Silent Sam, in the heart of an area in which the African American community has deep roots. I speak for most students, I think, when I say we want Silent Sam gone.
There is a problem, however, with our protests against the plan for relocation. Since the release of this proposed plan for a $5.3M History Center to which Silent Sam will be relocated, students and others have taken to Twitter, among other websites, to criticize Chancellor Carol Folt for the decision.
By all means, we should hold Chancellor Folt responsible. It is up to UNC's administration to ensure that campus is safe and inclusive for all students, and Silent Sam takes away from what should be an inclusive university environment. The problematic statue should have been removed decades ago, when students first began to express that they were uncomfortable with the monument.
However, it is important to note that Chancellor Folt, like many of us, would prefer that Silent Sam not remain on campus. In fact, one option presented was to install Silent Sam at the North Carolina Museum of History (read the NC Government response here). Unfortunately, despite her place as Chancellor of UNC, Carol Folt does not have the ability to override state law—which, in this case, is what's keeping the unwanted statue on our campus.
My point is not that Carol Folt is innocent—far from it, actually. Let us not forget that in her statement just three months ago on August 31, she said, "Silent Sam has a place in our history and on our campus where its history can be taught, but not at the front door of a safe, welcoming, proudly public research university." A few months ago, then, she apparently still thought the statue had a place "on our campus."
What I'm saying is that this issue goes far beyond Carol Folt, and using her as a scapegoat distracts us from the real problem of institutionalized racism, the continuing effects of which allow the Confederate monument to go on standing.
So really, when I say we can't blame everything on Carol Folt, what I mean is that we can't just blame everything on Carol Folt. We can—and should—express our disagreement with the chancellor and with the UNC Board of Trustees' proposal for keeping Silent Sam on campus, but we need to also address that the problems go beyond UNC's administration. It's time we direct our anger to the NC General Assembly, so that we can achieve the changes in legislation necessary to make the permanent removal of Silent Sam from UNC's campus legal.
Carol Folt is just the current most prominent face of a system of institutionalized racism persevering in North Carolina, a system we need to address. The fact that there is a state law preventing Silent Sam's removal from campus, despite the harmful connotation of the statue and the outspoken protests against its presence by many students, faculty, and staff members at UNC, speaks to this system.
For now, we can turn our attention to the UNC Board of Governors, one of whom has already expressed distaste for the proposal put forward by the Trustees. This member, Thom Goolsby, says that the UNC Trustees are cowards, and that Silent Sam should have been returned to his pedestal in McCorkle Place. This is yet another troubling addition to the controversy over the monument. The Board of Governors is the next level of administration through which the unsatisfying proposal must pass, and the fact that one of its members disagrees with the proposal because he thinks Silent Sam deserves to retain its place of honor at the "front door" of the university is not only disappointing, but unacceptable.
As this controversy continues, I agree with the UNC Latinx organization Mi Pueblo, who said in a statement, "We are struggling to comprehend how the university can tout diversity on its brochures while it undercuts our communities on campus."
Before you boast about your diversity and inclusiveness, UNC, you should make sure to get rid of all the lingering symbols of white supremacy and racism that continue to exist on our campus. And maybe, just maybe, start to address the concerns of the students who allow you to label yourself "diverse."