Alexandria Renaming of streets and monuments of Confederate soldiers and generals some say would be a step in the right direction towards racial reconciliation. Besides the nightmarish logistics of renaming major thoroughfares, I question, for a moment, the optimism (even idealism) of the desired outcomes.
Before the critics crucify my audacity to question popular outcry, I want to make clear my stance: I want the flags down, and all other remnants of the Confederacy preserved in a museum, somewhere. What I fear is in our haste to correct the cosmetology of the race problematic, we try on the seductive allure of sanitizing (which runs the risk of revisionism) history. Where does it stop? Remember there are streets named after Presidents of the United States who were also slave owners. Do they get a pass or fail? Remove or stay? Since the issue is about slavery, wouldn’t it also be within bounds to remove slaveholders and sympathizers?
What happens after all remnants of the Confederacy are neatly tucked away from plain sight, into a historic sanctuary where the devoted can regularly visit? What then?
What street was Sandra Bland on when she was stopped for a traffic violation and told she would be “lit up” before getting arrested? What was the name of the street where Eric Garner’s right to live was choked from him? What street was young Tamir Rice on when he became a threat and therefore eliminated? When you look at it, the name of the street had no bearing on whether their human right to exist would be violated.
These streets matter but the names, less so. I care more about the space that occupies the heart and mind of those who think it normal to devalue life based on melanin and class. That individual can be on any named street and carry out their privilege, their bias, their prejudice. The question remains: Does a renamed street protect the rights of descendants of African slaves to live and traverse on those streets?
Renaming streets, I can assure you, will not assuage my anxiety of being Black in America.
McKenya Dilworth-Abdalla is a community activist and also serves on the Human Rights Commission in Alexandria.