With all the controversy about Confederate monuments and the chorus of shrilly racist dog whistles about “Southern heritage” emerging from the Trump administration and its supporters, the fact that a different sort of American history continues to be erased from the national discourse is too often drowned out. That’s the contention of Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Appearing on Wednesday’s Daily Show alongside host Trevor Noah and singer and activist Andra Day, Stevenson offered the opinion that the buzzword “heritage” being tossed around by certain white people furious about the removal of Confederate statues is, in itself, an example of the very “erasure of history” that Trump’s “very fine” white supremacist monument enthusiasts claim to be against.
“We haven’t engaged in the narrative conversation we need to have,” is Stevenson’s point, noting that other countries that have dealt with genocide akin to that engendered by American slavery don’t suppress free and honest discussion of their violent pasts. (And countries Stevenson cites like Germany, South Africa, and Rwanda sure as hell don’t erect monuments to those responsible.) Pulling up the sobering (sickening) map the EJI and corporate partner Google have been compiling of every known instance of lynching in America since the end of the Civil War, Stevenson explained that, while the North won the war, the concept of Southern heritage has won an ongoing ideological battle to downplay the horrors of the decades of “terrorism and violence” against black Americans that the current rise of emboldened white supremacy under Donald Trump’s presidency throws into stark, blood-red relief. As Day put forth, “When you can see that truth, deal with those painful realities... it’s the only way we can move forward and heal as a country.”
(Day also sang a stirring rendition of “Strange Fruit” for emphasis, in this online exclusive.)
For more information on the Equal Justice Initiative’s ongoing attempt to chronicle the history of lynching in America, check out https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/.