IN SEARCH OF HUMANITY
Thursday, May 14, 2009.
One of the primary reasons we continually fall into racial traps is a purposefully induced amnesia which whitewashes and bleaches history, rendering it incomplete because of the same racist agenda which produced the transatlantic slave trade and its brutal aftermath.
A stubborn and sinister racial trap is the diminution of the underpinnings for and the historical reality of the transatlantic slave trade. Far too many still believe that this trade was just another example of slavery similar to other forms of slavery throughout history.
Some go so far as to attempt to soothe their historical conscience and consciousness even by equating that trade with various practices of Africans who may have enslaved fellow Africans.
The unconvincing logic is that black people should get over or minimize the vast horror of the transatlantic trade because dramatically fewer numbers of blacks once owned slaves.
Just as Hitler’s genocidal practices were historically unique, so was a transatlantic slave trade that raped the African continent and removed untold millions from their homeland, histories and identities.
The recent denial of the scope of the Nazi genocide by an excommunicated Roman Catholic bishop sparked considerable controversy and outrage by most people of goodwill.
The Catholic Church had to respond quickly to charges of anti-Semitism by those who could not understand why a bishop who denied the nature of the Nazi Holocaust could be so easily welcomed back into the highest ranks of that religious community.
Appropriately, we should all be outraged when anyone denies the scale and rationale for Hitler’s planned extermination of millions of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and some blacks.
Yet when some cavalierly suggest or under the cloak of scholarship and reason seek to advance that because many societies once had slaves, the transatlantic trade was not as bad as we think, there is no similar outrage.
This in itself is a legacy of a racial amnesia that has sought to destroy or rewrite history from the distorted vantage point of those who established the transatlantic trade or whose descendants continue to benefit from the racial privileges --economic and social -- the trade bestowed.
It is no coincidence that near the National Mall in Washington D.C. the Holocaust Museum remembering the Nazi genocide, which occurred this century, has been open since 1993.
Yet there is no similar museum on the transatlantic trade which began hundreds of years ago; and a national museum to honour the legacy of African Americans -- the National Museum of African American History and Culture -- was only recently opened.
History is usually recorded, written and remembered by those with and in power. In this instance the people who enslaved black people had no interest in recalling the history of the very people whose history and memory they sought to destroy.
This is still the case, particularly by those who suggest that the transatlantic trade was just another example in the long history of slavery.
But more genuine history, free of amnesia and self-interest, reveals that other instances of slavery pale in manner, scope and scale to the transatlantic trade which was underpinned by a racial ideology and supremacy that denied the very humanity of those enslaved and produced a racial legacy that is still cancerous hundreds of years later.
In most other forms of slavery those enslaved were still seen as human beings rather than as nonhuman or subhuman or two-thirds human.
Many other examples of slavery were like serfdom, typically temporary or part of the spoils of war or conflict. They were not systematic programmes of holocaust and genocide and exploitation that sought to demonize and destroy a whole class of people solely on the basis of their biological/racial heritage.
In many forms of slavery freedom often came quickly because of the reversal of fortunes by the group in power. Not so with the transatlantic slave trade. Once you were taken into slavery, generations of your offspring remained slaves.
The toxic nature of the enslavement of millions of black people over many centuries endured even after emancipation proclamations were signed.
In Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II, journalist David Blackmon recalls the tragedy of millions of black Americans brutalized by the continuation of slavery by another name even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
This 45-year-old Wall Street Journal editor and self-described child of poor whites from the Mississippi Delta, laments the “twisted racial order of my childhood” and corrects a historical record written mostly by white officialdom which quickly jumps from slavery to the end of the US Civil War to Martin Luther King Jr., glossing over a critical period of racial history.
Blackmon chronicles the arrest of generations of African Americans in the South for trumped up and usually inconsequential charges which resulted in layers of unjust fines the convicted could not pay, and were required to work off in forced labour camps such as modern plantation farms and coal mines.
Those trumped up charges included changing employers without permission and “vagrancy”: the inability to prove that one was employed. Both were early forms of racial profiling. The real crime was blackness, because the legions of equally unemployed whites were rarely arrested and forced into servitude for similar offences.
That this fairly recent history (it continued well into the 20th century) is still unknown by many or was hidden away or suppressed, is there any wonder that the more in-depth history of the transatlantic trade is also often distorted or diminished.
But the broader history is emerging and is being written by a new generation of enlightened whites and blacks who want to replace racial traps with historical accuracy and genuine remembrance.
That is one (though not the only) of the animating spirits behind the Clifton Heritage National Park which should, in time, become a living monument to our past and a sacred space for reconciliation and healing.
The history of the transatlantic slave trade and the related Diaspora is a history of struggle and transcendence through the butchery of the most insidious form of slavery in human history, neo-slavery, colonialism, genocide, holocaust, historical amnesia and the perpetuation of lies about the achievements and dignity of a people who overcame and are reclaiming their history.
That history is important because it explains why things are the way they are today, why people think -- and sometimes behave -- the way they do today; and it makes clearer the challenges that have to be faced and overcome if we are to live in peace recognizing and celebrating the oneness of our humanity.
Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at email@example.com.