Might Makes Right and the fight for Confederate statues


The world is talking about statues and their importance and Might Makes Right and J.K Rowling are weighing in. But what should we really be saying?

J.K. Rowling fans have some of the most open hearts I’ve ever met. But despite our passion for the virtues in the Harry Potter series – that we fight evil, and bigotry, and never see anyone as inferior based on “blood status” – fans from the American South can see our own cultural bigotry as an exception.

The pull of our history can be too strong and blind us. White southern culture is anchored in the celebration of honor in dark times, with conflicting impulses of community and singular pride. It lets us care deeply for black neighbors, while expecting them to walk past statues whose purpose is to say that Might makes Right.

To a black child looking up at a Confederate monument, the message she receives is that the Confederacy was fought in order to keep those who wanted freedom in their “rightful place”.

Cultural significance?

We see these monuments in Harry Potter, when Death Eaters ruled the Ministry. What if there had been no Harry, and Voldemort survived? He and his Death Eaters would probably have won the Battle of Hogwarts. Given that magical blood is the one thing Voldemort valued, there is a good chance that Muggle-born children would go to Hogwarts again. So imagine an 11 year old, newly-minted Muggle-born witch going through the magical entrance of Diagon Alley for the very first time, and seeing statues honoring the Death Eaters who fought to keep her out.

Imagine if the Ministry moved the “Might Makes Right” statue into Diagon Alley to greet everyone who entered. We already know how one Muggle-born felt about this statue, from Hermione’s revolted reaction that it showed “Muggles in their rightful place”.  Our 11 year old Muggle-born would leave Diagon Alley with her books of magic and her wand, and the weight of knowing that she was barely tolerated by her new magical community, and could be put in her rightful place at the whim of a Pureblood.

The American South

The American South is built on myth and stories. Our stories, black and white, are full of pride, and survival, and family. But our culture has allowed a purified, gentle version of our history to replace its ugliest parts. It’s understandable. Our stories tie us to the land, and we know what happened there, and how people suffered.

I understand the anchor of homeplace. On a wall in my house hangs a painting of my ancestors’ home in tidewater Virginia. They lived there for generations. My great-great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier. When his son, my great-grandfather, grew up, he moved to another part of the south, so we have been removed from Virginia for 5 generations now, and yet my family still thinks of Virginia as our ancestral home.

We’ve gone back there for reunions to see our distant cousins. These people have deep-seated kindness in them, and the sort of decency that is handed down through the generations. And yet, most of those generations had slaves. And my great-great-grandfather joined the army that fought to keep them enslaved. I can love my family, and honor Grandfather Augustine’s memory, without feeling what he did was right.

Statues memorializing the generals of our families provoke our consciences, in typical southern fashion, with conflicting feelings of pride and unease. It may feel like respect, but at what cost to all our fellow southerners who are black? How could we see that as honor, and not heartbreaking?

A shift in history

We need to change the story of our history to honor everyone who was part of that history. We are upset at the mere thought of that fictional 11 year old witch seeing the Might Makes Right statue, that symbol of what Purebloods fought for, and we should be appalled for the very real 11 year old southern black girl who is confronted with the same kind of statue in our culture. Voldemort, Death Eaters, Confederate generals and their soldiers – they all lost their wars, slavery was abolished, that 11 year old witch never had to see a statue of Bellatrix Lestrange, or of Voldemort, or of any historical landmark that even hinted that might makes right.  Real-life  black children in the south deserve that same emotional freedom. Let’s fix this.

From my friend, Robin:

“What to do with all the Confederate monuments that either have been or should be removed? Melt them down and have high school and college art students in each state work together on a sculpture that symbolizes kindness. Then place that sculpture in front of their state capitol.”

Next: What if movie Harry Potter actually looked like book Harry Potter?

Sounds like a job for Harry Potter fans.