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No easy answers for monument

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By BEN CARLSON

Column as I see ’em …

A black man I interviewed last week about the appropriateness of the Confederate soldier monument in front of the county courthouse caught me off guard.

“What do you think should happen to it?” he asked me while I was jotting down his response to the same question.

I glanced up from my notebook and quickly realized that I had no idea what to say and, as write this column at 3 a.m. Tuesday, I still don’t.

I answered his question by saying something about not having the same perspective as him — I’m obviously not black — and resumed my job as the guy asking the questions around here.

My inability to answer his question sent me into research mode, where I stumbled across a word that seems invented but nevertheless appears in various online dictionaries.

Presentism, defined as the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values or concepts, is something our country has struggled with for years, but perhaps no more than in recent weeks. Seemingly on a daily basis, traditions and values as old as our nation are cast aside — some by the courts, others simply because enough people no longer care about or agree with those values.

As attitudes shift, those on the front line of those changes try to apply today’s social morays onto the past and come away repulsed. They can’t fathom how anyone would want to fly a Confederate flag or how, as a community, we could embrace a monument dedicated to those who fought to preserve, among other things, the ownership of slaves.

Agree with that or not, it’s safe to say that presentism left unchecked is a dangerous if not ignorant way of viewing history, and when put into full practice, has no other logical outcome than the whitewashing of that history, particularly its pockmarks.

Carried to its inevitable conclusion as it relates to the Civil War, such thinking would require the banishment of all Confederate emblems, including on re-enactment battlefields and in cemeteries, where the Confederate battle flag makes annual appearances. Not to mention schools, roads and bridges named after iconic figures who fought on behalf of the South.

Or, and I like this example, the name of the late Senator from Virginia, Democrat Robert Byrd, being taken off everything from federal buildings and highways based on the leadership role he played in the Ku Klux Klan.

All of that aside, while I’m not sure I have developed an answer to the man’s question, I do know that relegating emblems, statues and other symbols to less noticeable locations or getting rid of them altogether will not and can not change the past. While that’s true, it’s also true that as a community we cannot discount the feelings of those who, while seeking justice for all, must first walk past a monument that in their minds represents those who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved.

Speaking of schools …

We are working on a story for next week about the school board’s decision Monday night to start making athletes pay to play.

I’m not going to squawk too loudly about that, but think it’s yet another example of artificial budgeting that hides the true cost of doing business.

Fees, particularly those that fund schools, are nothing more than death by a thousand cuts. We pay fees, or more appropriately, taxes, on everything from utility bills to cell phones, all of which are designed to forego the grief received by board members when they do the one thing everyone really sees: raise property taxes.

As for athletics, I’ve said for years I’d like to see a full accounting for what it costs to field each team — everything from football to golf, including salaries.

Now that the school board has decided that the cost of athletics is gotten high enough that players — except, of course, those on free and reduced lunches — need to start footing a portion of the bill, it’s time to pull that information together and share it with you.

Stay tuned.