For A Split Second On Saturday, I Kind Of Understood Why People Don’t Want Dallas’ Confederate Monuments Torn Down. But That Moment Quickly Passed.
All photos by Obed Manuel.
When I was a kid and someone asked me what school I attended, I would say — almost emphatically declaring — that I went to John H. Reagan Elementary. I was a proud Reagan Ram.
It never occurred to me to look up who my school was named after. I always figured schools and public buildings and parks were named after important people who made big contributions to history and culture. And, honestly, for a long time I thought the school was named after President Reagan — although that was before I figured out that the president was named Ronald and not John.
That was also long before I was disgusted to learn that Reagan was the postmaster general for the Confederate States of America, and that he was one of driving forces behind Texas’ secession from the Union in 1861.
That said, the sight at Dallas City Hall on Saturday — when about 2,300 people rallied to call for the city to remove Confederate monuments in Dallas — gave me a brief, and I feel more accurate, taste of what white supremacists who argue in favor of keeping these monuments to slavery and bigotry claim to feel. They claim it’s their history and heritage. And, well, it is — albeit a history of oppressing people of color and women and then building tributes to those actions during the Jim Crow era to remind up-and-coming black people that they were still inferior. Theirs is a heritage of always being at the totem pole, and then feeling like they’re being oppressed when really everyone below them is making incremental progress.
For me, however, Reagan Elementary is where I, an immigrant from Mexico, first learned English. It’s where I had some of my first “American” experiences. There were field trips. There were band recitals. It was the first stop for both me and my brother after my family moved to the states in 1996.
Reagan Elementary was where I met some of the smartest kids in Oak Cliff, many of which have gone on to find success in college and in various careers. The school and its name? It’s part of my personal history.
And so, for just a few moments as the crowds at Dallas City Hall and across the street at Pioneer Park Cemetery and Plaza chanted for our city’s Confederate monuments to be torn down, I must admit that a thought rang through my mind: “Who the hell do you think you are, wanting to change the name of my elementary school?”
When something like that is close and dear to you, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of it all, to fear the coming change and to feel helpless at the fact that it all feels out of your hands.
I get it. I really do.
But I’m also not dumb. I know that the school needs a name change. I’ve been in favor of a name change ever since I learned what Reagan did. Personally, I would love to see the school named after a local Latino leader.
I understand, however, that the school will always have at some point been Reagan Elementary — just like how Robert E. Lee Park will always have at some point been Robert E. Lee Park, and how Pioneer Plaza will always have once been the home to a memorial honoring four of the most famous men of the Confederacy. Even if Mayor Mike Rawlings’ slow-moving Confederate Monument Task Force comes back with a recommendation to remove these tributes, that much will never change. The stain — that racist history — is always going to be there, no matter what statues come down.
That’s a point I had to begrudgingly concede to the bald white guy in his 50s at Saturday’s rally who was wearing a black “Back The Blue” shirt while standing next to cops, almost pretending like he was one of them. I hated doing that, largely because he made his point with such a smug tone.
Thing is, he wasn’t wrong.
But neither are the people who want these tributes to bigotry gone. Their removal will hopefully make sure that future generations can grow up without having to walk next to these abhorrent monuments or through the halls of buildings named after men who believed black people were inferior and meant to serve other races.
See Also: After The Dallas Against White Supremacy Rally Ended… // Black-And-White Photos From The Tense Scene That Played Out After The Rally Against White Supremacy, As Counter Protesters At Pioneer Plaza Clashed With Rally Attendees.
Our future generations should definitely be taught about these ugly moments in our history, of course. But they shouldn’t be forced to literally walk in the shadows of monuments honoring that past. That, I believe, is where the line is crossed.
As for me, I’ll always be a Reagan Ram. No matter how hard I scrub at my own history, that’s just always something I will be. I’m OK with that. I accept it. And I am proud of the way my elementary school shaped me.
I don’t have to be proud of the man for whom my school was named, though. He had nothing to do with my education. His name was just a simple designation, and removing a tribute to him doesn’t devalue the lessons I learned in my schooling.
But I know that taking his name off the building could go a long way toward making others feel less marginalized. Removing monuments, it turns out, is not the same as scrubbing history.