In the simplest terms, it hasn’t, which has caused an excessive amount of consternation and cognitive dissonance in America and around the world. As racialized violence continues to spread, it appears that the nation is still not ready to acknowledge the pain and harm caused by the enslavement of people of African descent. Recently, while reading Caste by _____, I came across a segment where it speaks to the challenges Nazi Germany was having in considering what to do about its “Jewish problem.” As they looked worldwide at how people were treating the undesirables in their communities, they spoke to the way America was lunching, burning, tar and feathering, and other heinous acts of brutality against people of African descent too brutal. As such, they chose to go with gas chambers as a more “humane method to dispose of the undesirables” in their communities.
Aside from the fact that human beings are being labeled as “undesirable,” it should give us pause when a country with the history of human mistreatment that Germany has, looks to America as being too barbaric. Furthermore, fast forward to Germany today. One would be hard-pressed not to see the visible atonement Germany continues to make for this horrific moment in its history. They made financial and political decisions that openly addressed the impact of enslavement of Jewish people, which lasted well over 12 years.
We have seen the acknowledgment of the harm to the Japanese being placed and kept in internment camps and the pain of the Chinese railroad immigrants. We have also seen America acknowledge the pain of the Jewish who were brutalized in Germany and make efforts even to protect animals and wildlife through legal and financial measures. Yet, when it comes to the descendants of the African people stolen from their homeland, there is a hesitation to acknowledge in the same legal and financial manner or state that harm has been done to an entire race of people. America is quick to compare people of color and their successes but much slower to be transparent about the differential supports provided to those harmed.
In America, there is still debate on the impact, and the denial runs so deep that people attempt to behave as though slavery didn’t occur and that its effects are not continually felt today. Whether it is the continued flying of the flags of losing entities like the confederate or trump flags or the backlash of the removal of racist historical symbols, statues, and figures, or the debates that come about when history is told from the perspective of people of color that illuminate the lack of desire to address the fact the American slavery and its roots in racist ideology have harmed everyone. This phenomenon begs the question, how will we ever heal if we never acknowledge that harm was done? What exactly are we recovering from if we do not point out who was harmed, how, and how it continues to be perpetuated today?
While many are attempting to answer these questions on large political or moral scales and seeking sweeping legislation, I argue that the solution to this is much more personal and straightforward. The key lies in the very place where these ideas are born, flourish and perpetuate through beliefs and actions. The solution lies in our homes, how we worship, and how we raise our children.
There is this belief that America is this untouchable outside entity beyond reproach and meant to be defended, yet who is America? As an educator, I would constantly hear people complaining incessantly about “the district,” yet when I ask “who is the ‘they’ that is being referred to as ‘the district,’” there is usually an awkward silence. ‘The District’ much like ‘America’ is made up of people, and what occurs in a school district or our country is based on what we “the people” believe and therefore allow. That being said, America is made up of families like yours and mine, and we have more power inside of our own homes than anywhere else. So, how can America acknowledge the harm of slavery? How about we start by teaching our children the truth of what was happening during that time, why it was happening, who was harmed, and how, and discussing with them what we can do to make this right in the future?
Addressing racism in our homes using a therapeutic approach will require that we learn the history we are looking to teach. Many adults are stuck in the version of history that paints that fantasy visual of America as this untouchable unicorn-like entity that needs to be preserved, defended, and saved. In actuality, America has been harmful to many people in her short time in existence, and if we are going to change the future, we have to start by being honest about what happened in our past. We cannot expect the world to acknowledge the harm of American slavery if America has not done that herself.
This begs the question of each of us as Americans: what are we doing to ensure our children understand the harm that America has done as a result of slavery? How are we making sure our children are aware of their ancestors' prices for the benefits we have today? How are we going to have our children be the change that we seek in the world? And finally, how are we as parents going to teach our children something that we may be learning alongside them?