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Monumental Rubbish: With the Statues Torn Down, What Next for New Orleans?


Monumental Rubbish: With the Statues Torn Down, What Next for New Orleans?

Adolph Reed Jr.

I’ve been in New Orleans since May 1. I came to visit my mother, who died on May 4, five months shy of her 95th birthday and was buried on May 10. That means I’ve been here through much of this latest round of public cavil over the city’s decision to remove the four most conspicuous monuments to the Confederate insurrection, 1861-1865.


The US has always been too large and too diverse a nation to manage and Lincoln would have probably let the Southern States secede if there had not been a high probability of California joining the Confederacy. There was also a risk that Oregon would follow California into the Confederacy. Just like today, manifest destiny was one of the most powerful forces driving US policy, domestic and foreign. Losing California would have stopped manifest destiny dead in its tracks.

For more than 150 years the South has been a ball and chain hampering progress that the rest of us envision.

If we can’t break up the US perhaps the best replacement statues would entail an almighty figure slaughtering an elephant and a donkey to remind us that the 99% will make no progress until the Republican and Democratic Parties are outlawed and abolished.


That sounds very much like a dictator.


It’s always great to see more work from Reed. I’m also sorry to hear about the passing of his mother, although she evidently lived quite a long life. The combination of historical knowledge and personal experience in this essay makes it particularly rewarding to read. It is also a refreshing antidote to “clickbait”-style, web traffic-driven discussion of these issues, not only on openly racist right-wing sites like Breitbart, but also at centrist-liberal sites like Salon or the Root. Reed shows that, in the present as in earlier periods, the right mobilizes racist ideology to conceal its elitist economic agenda. For that reason, it cannot be effectively resisted only through the language of race, because if the left adopts a narrative of black vs. white, or people of color vs. whites, this ironicallly feeds into the right’s pseudo-populist appeals to working-class whites. Anti-racism is necessary, but also insufficient; the left needs to unmask the economic agenda behind the right’s racist ideology, while building a multiracial working class movement for social justice.


The “narrative” is indeed key to fighting against racism and economic inequality.

Although Occupy Wall Street’s (OWS) 1% verses 99% was the paradigm change ptogressives needed to make progress and to steer clear of the “language of race” trap, Obama realized that fact and saw the bright light OWS shined on the “elitist economic agenda” that fills most of the Democratic Party’s playbook. That is why everything OWS did was criminalized by his Justice Dept.within months of their September 2011 emergence.

Throughout history racism has risen in sync with economic inequality and fallen in sync with economic equality. Failing to acknowledge that racism is driven by economic forces assures that racism will only get worse.


Also, as usual, Reed’s critique of liberalism is razor-sharp. This paragraph is one of my favorites:

“Stephens’s critique sheds light on how even a militantly ideological antiracism can nest naturally within a neoliberalizing political and economic order. If racism is ontological and cannot be overcome by changing political relations and institutions but only through the equivalent of epiphany and conversion, or Baptism, then what takes the place of political action is exposé and demands for recognition of the oppressed and symbolic displays of atonement.”


Every political-social order comes with a narrative and mythology to support and justify it. Mr. Reed in this article does a good job discussing what was and that as the order has changed and been replaced the narrative and mythology of the old order has been repudiated and its monuments removed. (Worth considering whether the ‘baptism’ of change would have required the destruction of the monuments, not just their removal.)

Mr. Reed gives several paragraphs to how the new order places new ‘chains’ on the public. But he and his public fail to see the whole extent of them. For example: In the pre-Katrina order Public Education was an entrenched institution. It existed mostly to benefit certain people, administrators and union chiefs, with a nice paycheck handed out to teachers too. But it also institutionalized incompetence, producing low-grade education of its students in many schools. The support for post-Katrina charter schools has been a rebellion against that institutionalized incompetence. – It is fair to scrutinize and check that the new order is better than the old one, and that opportunities for even better are not closed.


This commentary covers a vast amount of important territory and provides excellent insight on the south and the U.S. I have this sense that the southern “lost cause” mentality has held sway over this nation for all those years up until today. The violence, hatred and cruelty towards African-Americans is reflected in many of the cruel, backwards efforts taken by current day inheritors of the “lost cause” mentality. Since they are elite and special as were the plantation owners, they assume that all of us not in that class are unworthy of a decent life. The Free State of Jones is a model and should be receive a prominent place in the history of the civil war that is taught in the U.S. We seem to be getting somewhere with the removal of these monuments. It is time for us to stop the division and unite under a nation and world which will work to uplift all people. I would hope that people will try to look to the highest common denominator - our humanity and shared values which should be for a good life for all people - rather than looking for a narrow vision of ourselves which can only connect with our specific racial, religious or other identity.


What you write, is bullshit by omission. You omit the entrenched profiteering interests, who have pushed the privatization of public schools for their own purposes: looting, and the reduction of the public sector.