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We Don’t Need No Water Let the Motherfucker Burn: On Notre Dame and Mourning Imperialsm

In 10thgrade, my humanities teacher had us read Beloved. After we had read and thoroughly discussed the masterpiece, we took a written test to assess what we’d learned. The test gave five topics for essay questions based on themes in the book. We were to pick and respond to three of the questions.

One of the questions I selected asked us to explore the significance of the house as its own entity. Now this was 22 years ago, and I still vividly remember my teacher lauding that essay because I had mastered how places hold and give life to memories and experiences. Sethe’s house insulated, trapped and stored all of the trauma she had experienced. It was as important a character in the story as anyone else.

Yesterday, as word that Notre Dame was burning spread around the world, I watched some Black people mourn the loss of the monument. A friend remarked how she’d had the opportunity to visit the church a few times on trip’s to Paris and was sad to see it ablaze. Another offered that contrary to a popular critique, one could care about both a fire at Notre Dame and the series of Black churches burned down in Louisiana last week. These two friends are usually keen on racism and colonialism, so I suppose they had separated the church from France’s racist, colonial past and present.

But as with the shack in Beloved, you cannot separate the place and the memories.

Notre Dame is an institution of white supremacy. It has stood for more than 800 years because France has used the same tyrannical, imperialist, destructive tactics as the U.S. to protect its land and monuments while destroying the land and monuments of Black and brown people around the globe. It is the same church where Napoleon Bonaparte, France’s legendary racist emperor was coronated. And that church sits in the capital of the country that nearly two centuries ago bullied Haiti into paying former French slave owners, who following the revolution had “submitted detailed tabulations of their losses to the French government,” for the loss of profits resulting from the successful revolt. Surely Notre Dame has received its fair share of that illegal and immoral payment.

So despite the inclination to appreciate the beauty of the structure and its centuries’ long history independent from the evil it represent, you cannot. Notre Dame is no less a symbol of imperialism than the White House or the Washington Monument. And Black people forging sentimental ties to white supremacist institutions cannot consider themselves anything other than willing agents of white supremacy.

Fruit from the poisoned tree is just as poisoned, even when it pleases us aesthetically. There is no way to detangle the legacy of Notre Dame and all it has endorsed by way of Catholicism and its allegiance to France from the building itself. It’s no different than a victim never again being able to enter the place where they raped. The walls of Notre Dame house all the byproducts of white supremacy.

As Notre Dame burns so do the French soldiers sent to the Central African Republic, a former colony of France – because France was the greatest victor in the Scramble for Africa – on a peacekeeping mission, who instead of restoring peace used their power to sexually abuse Black childrenand escaped any punishment. That cathedral engulfed in flames is tantamount to the Catholic missionaries, revering Notre Dame as a symbol of their faith, who enter Black and brown countries under the guise of helping the poor only to aid and enable the catastrophic pilfering of their land and natural resources by European superpowers. Burn, baby, burn because Notre Dame’s destruction represents the destruction of same institution that protects, coddles and emboldens child molesters.

Ain’t no half revolution. If y’all really want an end to the global white supremacist regime, all this shit is going to have to burn to the fucking ground. And if y’all plan to be standing in the ashes mourning the brick and mortar manifestations of your oppression, then you might as well be honest with yourself and accept that you are endeared to the physical embodiments of white supremacy and thus, assisting in your own demise.

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Kinfolk Kollective avatar About the author: LaSha is a writer who’s obsessed with Black people. Find her work here of course, but also on Ebony, The Guardian, Essence, Salon, Everyday Feminism, Teen Vogue, HuffPo and For Harriett. She’s loves trap music & 90s R&B, watches Jeopardy faithfully and believes fried chicken is her soulmate. The clapback queen is loud and clear about loving her kids above all else and kinda digs her Yankee husband too. Anti-Blackness gives her hives. Get at her @lashawrites on Twitter.

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