The violent white supremacist protest in Charlottesville has prompted local leaders across the country to begin dismantling visible signs of white supremacy, with cities from San Diego to Baltimore to Gainesville removing or planning to take down their Confederate monuments.
But in Durham, North Carolina, protestors were forced to take matters into their own hands, toppling a statue of a Confederate soldier with the sheer force of their collective will.
The state’s Republican legislature seemingly gave them no other option because they had passed a law making it impossible for anyone but the very same Republican legislature to remove such oppressive monuments.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the North Carolina legislature has done allowing white supremacy to flourish. Since gaining control in 2010, the state’s Republicans have illegally suppressed votes, unconstitutionally drawn district lines and blocked wage increases that would disproportionately limit the wages of the state’s black workforce, among other acts.
That the protesters in North Carolina had no choice but to risk jail time to remove symbols of racism points to a political system that has historically sought to limit participation and liberation.
If we want to dismantle systemic racism — both its overt symbols and the policies that produce racialized outcomes in our economy, our criminal justice system, our government,— we must ensure the full participation of black Americans in our democracy. Ultimately this means ensuring the increased political participation of black communities by aggressively eliminating barriers that block access to the ballot box and investing deeply in the mobilization of black voters.