As expected, the 2017 VMAs were full of political and social justice messages about the state of the country this year. But one message that was less expected was one from a descendant of Robert E. Lee, who took the VMAs stage. Introducing the mother of Heather Heyer, the counter-protestor who died during the white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12, Pastor Robert Wright Lee spoke about racism in a simple, but powerful message.
While it shouldn't take the great-great-great-great-nephew of Robert E. Lee speaking out for Americans to recognize that racism is evil and still needs to be fought against, Lee speaking out against racism helps diffuse the argument that the statues of Confederate generals are about "heritage." Robert E. Lee is literally part of Pastor Lee's heritage and yet he still recognizes that his ancestor has come to recognize racism.
Lee previously spoke out about wanting the statues of his ancestor and other Confederate icons to come down. He told The Huffington Post, "These statues have morphed into a symbol of racism, a symbol of bigotry, a symbol of the alt-right, a symbol of white nationalist movements. That is not okay and that can never be celebrated or honored in any way, whether you believe you should honor legacy or ancestors or not.” He added, "When we don’t acknowledge that white bodies matter more than black bodies in America right now, it’s a gross mishandling of the gospel of Jesus Christ. People are dying because we have been complicit in our silence or in our action.”
The following is a transcript of Lee's speech at the VMAs:
"My name is Robert Lee the Fourth. I'm a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of the violence in Charlottesville.
We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America's original sin. Today I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God's call to confront racism and white supremacy head on.
We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women's March in January, and especially in Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville. It is my distinct honor to introduce Susan Bro, Heather Heyer's mother, who is continuing to magnify Heather's work."