Black History Month: Facing The Complex Foundations Of Our Country And The USA’s Obvious Failure To Really Truly Abolish Slavery
Sitting with current events, “Finding Your Roots”, and “Slave Play” effects
So far, for Black History month, I have been taking the time each day to listen to Black Americans in various formats, and am sitting with what I hear, read, and learn. The following link is a part of what held my attention yesterday.
A recent post on comedian and actress Wanda Sykes’ Twitter profile by Now This featuring Congresswoman Cori Bush.
More on that later…
Here are some other links to a video and articles I have been sitting with:
- Jeremy O. Harris, playwright — “Slave Play” interview on The Daily Show.
- A discussion/review of “Slave Play” on Vox.
- An essay/review of “Slave Play” on The Undefeated.
- An opinion piece in the NYT about Black Out night of “Slave Play”.
I first watched the interview with Harris on The Daily Show, and found it compelling. Since there is no way for me to watch and experience “Slave Play” at the moment, I went to reviews to get a feel for it. Luckily, I found some pretty profound reviews, which helped me to get an idea of what it was all about.
Surely, it is no substitution for experiencing it firsthand, but I still found all of it important and worthwhile. I would recommend especially reading the Vox review, and following the links given within it, that show Harris’s experience with “Talk Back Tammy”. I found that aspect, of response to this play by a white woman in the audience, to be as revealing and something to sit with, as much as the well-written reviews.
As a white person, I want to sit back and listen when people of color tell their history and stories. And, I want to put my story and experience in the passenger seat or in the audience (respectfully) while that is happening. So far, I do have some responses and thoughts today after sitting with what I have listened to so far.
What happened with “Talk Back Tammy” (see links in the Vox review of “Slave Play”, link above) is that she took an entire play entirely too personally. From the way the play is described, via the review links above, there is an actual invitation, via mirrors on the audience, to face one’s self in the reality of collective and systemic racism that affects everyone — via the symbolism of the play. But, “Talk Back Tammy” took the play personally — in a very reactive, disrespectful, distorted, self-centered, victim-reversal type of way.
It made me think of how easy it is to become like a narcissist or a sociopath if you are continually with one. Meaning, a lot of people have become quite emotionally and mentally confused and ill through the systemic racism and discrimination, poor education and slanted education, and privilege that goes unnoticed — combined with the mainstream media’s corruption and slants, and rampant fear that it feeds on. Meaning, not only was our last president a malignant narcissist, our current society seems to breed various forms of it.
And, it is detrimental to mental and emotional health to isolate from diversity.
I look at someone like her as a symptom of a hollowed out culture that has never fully educated children, and never fully faced or addressed abuse, hate, or crimes of our government and country.
These “Talk Back Tammy”s and “Karens” are evidence of the soul loss and crisis that occurs in humanity due to a lack of diversity and holistic, objective history and education; and a lack of social justice in general. It is the spoiled, yet somehow also abused or neglected child who falls into a deep unconscious mental illness — where every feeling hurt, every misunderstanding — is a wrong that they must avenge for themselves, no matter how distorted, self-focused, and false their interpretation of things may be.
We have been witnessing, on the public stage, a deep confusion, ignorance, and covert narcissism in people (recent times highlighting white women) who react and behave in this way when people of color (and others who are discriminated against systemically) are creating or simply minding their own business, and taking care of their own stories and lives. This isn’t news to Black people. It’s us white people who are coming to terms with it.
What would help to re-educate those who are so entrenched in feeling both victimized and privileged, all the while wearing blinders to the truth being presented to them in transpersonal and collective ways?
I am not sure. Plays are powerful, and could be an instrument for education and processing. And, I do know that we white people need to focus on active participation in demanding changes to education and laws (locally, regionally, nationally), so as to do the ongoing work of dismantling systemic racism and other systemic discrimination. And, perhaps part of the answer is that as we make changes…solutions for healing and restoration will emerge. I am hopeful, even though the problems we face now are quite daunting.
What I am most aware of at this time is that the problems we had hundreds of years ago are still very much alive, and not dealt with by us yet as a country.
My husband and I really love to watch “Finding Your Roots” on PBS, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. We have been watching the new season with gusto. There is so much to learn and process in simply watching that show.
Check out Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s (the host of “Finding Your Roots”) Twitter timeline, it is a great resource!
What it often reveals is a really complex history of this country and its peoples. There are many surprises, twists and turns. And the realities of the hardships and hate that many ancestors faced, or perpetrated against others, comes up.
The idealized “American Dream” comes up for many families. But, it is also true that many of those who were able to somehow achieve that dream — in some way, shape, or form — came here as: slaves or servants, or because they were fleeing persecution (religious, ethnic, racial) or due to other hardships (often linked to poverty or discrimination). In fact, poverty was/is often a result of the effects of hate and systemic discrimination (think of the Eastern European Jews, since before even 1900, who were fleeing from acts of imposed poverty and genocide).
Many of the ancestors survived arduous, cruel situations and were able to eventually provide a better future for their descendants, sooner, or much later.
The American Dream is about a place that welcomes all, with an equal playing field, in which to achieve happiness, security, freedom, and dignity. It is a beautiful and valid reality and dream of and for our country. It is an inclusive dream too. But, that dream has also been tarnished from the beginning.
Last night, I was particularly struck by some of the details that emerged for Jim Gaffigan’s and Jane Lynch’s Irish-Catholic immigrant ancestors. Historical documents showed a group called the “Know Nothings” party from the late 1800s, who felt they were “true Americans” and others weren’t. It was a group of US citizens who were actively discriminating against immigrants, particularly Irish and Catholic immigrants. The discrimination towards Irish-Catholic immigrants (who were escaping poverty, famine, and gender discrimination) included degrading caricatures, violent attacks, and being barred from employment or roles of leadership. It is so frustrating to see that hundreds of years haven’t resolved that problem of hen-pecking violence, hatred, and imposed hardships. This hateful type of party lives on.
Gaffigan’s relatives had to flee Maine, and found better opportunities in Iowa. Lynch’s grandmother ended up working for an elderly Irish woman to survive in the US, since none would hire Irish people. And Lynch revealed that later, her grandmother ran a boarding house from her home, to help Irish immigrants transition in a safe, secure way, while paying off her mortgage at the same time.
For the ancestors of African Americans, people of color, and other immigrants who were discriminated against, the American dream came, hand in hand, with tremendous persecution, unfair systems, and ongoing hardships and cruelty.
“Finding Your Roots” is able to illustrate the complexity of our collective history in unique and personal ways. In turn, the host and guests are able to (or are invited to) acknowledge, grieve, honor, and appreciate the whole of it. That is so important! This process, on the show and behind the scenes, is an important key to our collective growth and healing. The resiliency, strength, and determination of many ancestors, against terrible odds — horrifies, emboldens and humbles many of us. Creating space to listen, witness, and acknowledge this is powerfully good.
As I look at Black History in the US this year, due to my personal experiences and lens, I see it as intertwined with Native American and immigrant history in the US. And, I see how current events are as important a focus for Black History Month as it is to recognize and honor African American people in our history who have been overlooked, minimized, and talked over.
As much as we wish to hold up the American Dream as our ideal, I think the lesson of our time, for white people, and those who identify with white colonized history, is that there is an urgent need to face: the ugliness, hatred, and discrimination that has always been at our foundation, right along with the beautiful, worthwhile ideals and dreams.
This country is a refuge, and has been a refuge, for countless decent people. So many aren’t and couldn’t achieve the American Dream because of the active sabotage put in place by systemic discrimination. For a specific example of this, see Amber Ruffin’s quick summary in the link below:
Amber Ruffin explaining historically perpetuated systemic racism created by the US government via federal housing, in a clip on her Twitter feed from her show on Peacock.
So, while good people, escaping horrors, built this country; it was also designed by white people who weren’t here for refuge and a shared dream for something better for all — but for power and domination.
And it wasn’t just a power and domination of owning land, it was a corrupt and twisted desire to consume, erase, and assimilate. It didn’t start here. It was already happening in other places in the world. But, we have to address our history. That is what we are in charge of.
The forces that shaped the foundation of our country, right along with the American Dream, are: the genocide upon Native Americans (with broken treaties, reservations, and environmental and humanitarian crimes); the slaughter to near extinction of animals that once ran free and contributed to the natural balance of ecosystems and Native American peoples, like the buffalo; and enslavement of African peoples (along with rape, murder, and theft); and the embedding of the slavery mindset and values upon our government and country (structures, systems, and economy) once it was “abolished”.
I put abolished in quotes because slavery wasn’t exactly abolished. Slavery still exists in various forms in the current era of life in the USA.
There are many signs and symptoms that reveal this. One, the approach and funding for prison systems and ICE detention centers. Two, to this day Native Americans are continually facing erasure, violence, hate, appropriation, and systemically enforced injustice.
In addition, lynchings of African Americans and people of color occur to this day, and are another sign that slavery is not abolished in the hearts and minds of significant numbers of US people, including those in: law enforcement, courts, military, politics, and various major systems and institutions we rely upon.
The fact that most modern day lynchings (Look up: Trayvon Martin, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, for three instances among a devastating sea of modern day lynchings) go unpunished with no real or lasting accountability and justice for victims, is more glaring evidence that the slavery mindset is alive and well.
Another sign of slavery in the US is the widespread use and justification of slave wages (and a minimum wage that is a slave wage that has been upheld by a dominant race and political party), which now subjugates a wide range of people in the country. Yet another sign that slavery wasn’t quite abolished in the US is the fact that illegal immigrants are used for free or slave labor by many businesses across the country; and those immigrants have no real safety, healthcare, or way to protect themselves from crime. In addition, is the reality of underground operations that use slave labor and actual sexual slaves, also known as sex trafficking.
No, we cannot say that US slavery was ever truly and completely faced, addressed, or abolished. More proof? We still have the Electoral College.
I started this article with the link to Wanda Sykes’ sharing of the Now This clip of Congresswoman Cori Bush speaking. For Black History Month, I say, if we do nothing else, let’s listen to her truth, sit with it, and respond. Look at the truth that Congresswoman Cori Bush is speaking. Listen to what she is saying, and see the discrimination and harm she is facing (and others along with her are facing) from fellow representative Greene, and those who back up people like Greene.
Look at the corrupt actions of many Republicans and the two women elected to office who follow the insane cult following that is Q (or ideologies that align with the Q anon cult, if they say they are done with it), which is simply a modern reiteration of the “Know Nothings” and other hate groups of our past.
Congresswoman Cori Bush had to move her office because the elected representative for Georgia (Taylor-Greene) seems to be riddled with the same corrupt, slavery and genocidal based values that our country’s systems have been shaped around.
Part of facing and addressing racism right now means holding those who are actively encouraging and supporting it accountable.
Marjorie Taylor Greene (representative for Georgia) and Lauren Boebert (representative for Colorado) need to be removed from office for encouraging and supporting the attack on the Capital, and for making sure that the domestic terrorist attack was successful in breaching security. What they did was facilitate and support violence, attempted murder, and insurrection. Next, the Trump administration and all their enablers need to be held accountable for inciting violence, discrimination, and hate, as well as for so many criminal acts (including treason, conflict of interest, nepotism, corruption, ecocide, murder due to negligence regarding the pandemic, etc.) that is hard to keep track of all of it.
If the latter isn’t completely possible, then many, many laws need to be changed and adapted to prevent this kind of corruption and abuse from happening in the future.
Our country is always so ready to idealize and gloss over our history, without teaching and presenting the realities of our past and all of its complexity. For instance, good old Abe Lincoln is rightly honored for abolishing slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, he also was equally responsible for having many Native Americans hanged, and he persisted in a definite hate and discrimination towards Native Americans that was translated into policies and other brutal, long term effect actions.
Building upon this complexity of Abe Lincoln is the fact that even though he made all slaves free through the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1st, 1863, he also stated that he didn’t believe in equality between races, and furthermore, he held on to white supremacist values. For more on this, see Amber Ruffin’s powerful segment called, “How We Got Here” on her show, The Amber Ruffin Show:
Amber Ruffin explains “How We Got Here”, and why there should be a white history month: https://twitter.com/ambermruffin/status/1358037733684355074
Our country hasn’t done a good job of providing a more just and complete history through education. Knowledge actually is power. It is important that people and children are told and understand our complex history from the start. Like how those perceived heroes of history are also known to have been vehicles of harm to certain peoples and/or in certain ways. The negative effects that President Abraham Lincoln unleashed upon Native Americans is not widely known, nor is it brought into places of government, policies, treaties, learning, or the public forum in a meaningful way.
When I think of reparations that need to be made, I think of the need for our President, and all of our political leaders (present and future) to create policies and ceremony that introduce: new legislation, education, and concrete actions that apologize for, and make amends for, the treatment of Native Americans, Black and African Americans, people of color, and immigrants that have been brutalized and traumatized by their fellow Americans, by the government, and by other US entities (churches, businesses, corporations, institutions, etc).
Reparations for the children at the border and their families needs to begin happening now. And, it seems that the current administration is taking first steps to do so.
The reparations should include putting the decision making for new policies into the hands of respected leaders who are: Native American (all Nations and Tribes), African American, people of color and immigrants who have been harmed for generations. Maybe that means that our symbols, monuments, history books, and approach to education, housing, accessibility, wages, and economy all need to change. Probably, and it will be for the better for everyone. Reparations are an incredibly powerful and good decision.
Reparations are necessary. Reparations ensure that a true healing can occur, and that we can begin to co-create in a collective health that is enriched and informed by right action and welcomed diversity. Reparations take our country on a better path, one that benefits all. Reparations must start with the children immigrants separated from their families currently, and then, first and foremost, for Native Americans and African Americans, each with their own time of reparations and ceremonies for concrete change. It simply must come to be.
But first, we need to face and swiftly address the virus that has plagued our country from the beginning, and that has gotten so much more traction with the Trump administration and media that encouraged it.
We need to put an end to the sickness amongst some of us, mostly white people. The sickness, the virus isn’t unnamed…there are many names for it: hate, discrimination, corruption, cruelty, greed, genocide, and ecocide. What all of them have in common is a disregard for the inherent value of life, and the birthrights that belong to all people, regardless of their: race, gender, identity/orientation, abilities or disabilities, class, job, fluency, or location of residence or homelessness. How do we dismantle this systemic sickness?
There has to be a huge shift in our goals, focus, and values.
We have to prioritize emergency action towards accountability and restorative action on all fronts.
Everything that the government has done to instill racism and other discrimination into our way of life needs to be undone.
But, most importantly, it needs to be replaced with restorative measures that ensure that it is undone for good, with: restorative justice, reparations, restorative agriculture, and so on.
This country will thrive and fulfill its greatest dreams by casting off the putrid legacy of hate, genocide, religious and cultural assimilation, and slavery. This country will only fulfill its greatest potential by embracing diversity and a humanitarian focus, reparations, restorative justice, and right action for those most in need.
I do believe that we are moving in that direction. But, that is all I know. I have a passion for justice, but I also have so much to learn.
For the rest of the month, I will simply be listening, and only responding when it is appropriate and possible for me to do so. I will be honoring the legacy of Black History in this country, and the inspiring Black people who rose up with dignity and shared tremendous gifts and benefits for all, despite the sickness of hate woven into the fibers of this country. I invite you to do the same.
Originally published at https://chandrasherin.blogspot.com on February 3, 2021.