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Op-Ed: Dear Brandenburg Council people

By Rae Strobel and Adam Barr 


 Don’t say we didn’t warn you… when we were coming to the planning meetings to express our deep concerns over bringing that monument here, trying to encourage you not to do it, you dismissed us. We said it was a symbol of white supremacy, and that it would bring actual white supremacists to our town. You laughed at us. We said it was a symbol that showed people of color they are not welcome in our town. You scoffed at us.

 I’ve since seen people on Facebook post that they can’t come visit because they don’t feel welcome, because of the statue.

 My question about the events on Friday night are: why in the world did everyone have so much fear over a few people holding signs basically saying “we’re all equal?” You haven’t gotten the point yet? “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean Black lives matter more than other lives. It means “Black Lives Matter, too! Please show us the same respect and basic human decency you show everyone else! Please stop suspecting us of crimes, assuming we are guilty of wrongdoing and even killing us because you are afraid of us, just because of the color of our skin!”

 But back to that darn statue. No one wants to forget history. Even people who want to bring down the statue. Every wants to know the full history, and learn from it. So again, what are we afraid of? That our history and culture will be wiped out? Let’s think about that for a minute. What do the history books teach? White culture. History told from a European perspective, of rugged individuals conquering the frontier and overcoming all obstacles that stood in their way. Wow, those were amazing people, weren’t they? We learn a little about slavery, but it’s mostly glossed over. Who wants to get into those gory details anyway? It’s over, so lets move on. We learn about the civil war. We learn about the expansion of the west and the brave people who got into wagons and suffered so much on the Oregon trail because of their vision of a better world for their family.

 What don’t we learn about?

 The Cherokee people who lived on this land and had houses and industry right here in what is now Meade county before Europeans arrived. The treaties that were made and broken… over and over again until finally all indigenous peoples were forced to leave or forced to assimilate. The fact that Native Americans were not US citizens until 1924. The systematic practice of removing children from their families with the express purpose of disrupting their native language and native culture. The presence and contributions of native people today. My kindergartener came home this year telling me that Indians lived a long time ago in tipis, and don’t exist anymore. I had to point out the few people we have relationships with who are Lakota and he still wasn’t convinced because his teacher told him Native Americans had bows and arrows and made clay pots.

 We don’t learn about the daily lives of people who were enslaved. The expanse of the slave trade and the justifications made for upholding the system. We don’t learn about slave patrols or sharecropping. We don’t learn that there were free Black communities at the same time as slavery. We don’t learn about the many contributions of Black people to our nation, state or community (beyond Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, who by the way was accused of inciting violence and was deemed a “national security threat”). We don’t learn about thriving, financially well-off Black communities. The Tulsa Race Massacre. Redlining. That when Americans were moving to the suburbs, Black families couldn’t get loans and buy in new neighborhoods. When we hear about discrimination or excessive use of force by police most of us think, “oh, well that can’t be right” and turn the other way.

 We don’t learn about discrimination in farming. Did you know… in Kentucky, Black farmers account for only 1.4% of farmers (farm owner/operators). Nationally, it’s 7%. This low representation is not by accident. It’s based in centuries of racist policies and practices, whether intentional or unintentional.

 The history of injustice in society and in agriculture is well documented. Even as recently as this century, Black farmers were discriminated against at the USDA.

 So the history that has actually been erased is not white history, it’s the history of people of color. Taking down confederate statues is not going to erase that history. We certainly still will and will want to learn about it! It doesn’t mean we need to glorify it. What we glorify is what people want to emulate. To repeat. Do we want another civil war? Sometimes it feels like our country is heading that direction because we all get our news from different places, and can’t even have a civil conversation over dinner with those who disagree. It’s too heated so we say, “what’s the point.” We don’t want to sacrifice the relationship, (which I get!!) but instead we’re sacrificing our country… the shared understanding of what is happening in our country. When we have different facts, it’s hard to come to a shared understanding.

 Ok, so lets take a step back. If you’re white and you’re hearing, “you’re bad because your white” that is not what we are saying. At all. But it is important as white people to understand our history. When we walk in the world we bring our histories with us, as Robin DiAngelo so aptly explains in her enlightening book, White Fragility. It’s important to understand that throughout the history of this county we white people have been treated differently… historically and today… because of the color of our skin. And it’s time we do something about it.

 For every white person out there, it’s time for us to stand up and say “this is wrong.” It’s wrong that when I get pulled over because I’m going 10 miles over the speed limit from Brandenburg to Corydon my only fear is for my pocketbook because of the price of the ticket. It’s time to end white silence and speak out when we see injustice. When you hear “Black Lives Matter,” how about a reflective question… hm… what are they really saying? When you see that statue downtown, think about what kind of symbol it is… to people of color and to white supremacists. Ask yourself… is this the community we want to be? (Because we’re a wonderful, welcoming community, so lets show it!) When uncle so and so tells a racist joke at the family dinner (whenever that will happen again), speak up! Do it so your kids or grandkids see your example and they learn how to do it too.

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