All history is partial – a product of the writers and the times in which they live. Retrospectively, it seems reasonable today to acknowledge that all of our country’s history, that we all have been taught to-date was/is one-sided – partial and exclusionary in a way that has been very much to the disadvantage of our fellow dark-skinned citizens of our community and country.
One persistent example are writers who regularly point to Jefferson’s writings as an example of his sincere anti-slavery sentiments. Undoubtedly, for many laudable reasons, Jefferson is well deserving of our honor and respect. However, Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and did not “free” them until he died.
Jefferson lived nearly 40 years beyond the founding of our country. He had ample opportunity to use his notoriety to serve as a meaningful anti-slavery example. However, he did not. Quoting his words, without noting his actions, gives us an incomplete and distorted view of the man and the complexities of his times.
History will likely never tell our story perfectly to everyone’s satisfaction, but in a democracy, it should try. Ideally, the value and purpose of our history is that it gives each of us an explanation – a story that offers content relating to who we are and how we got here, how we fit into the fabric of the community and culture that we live in today.
The problem today for our dark-skinned citizens and community members, is not that their land was stolen, their culture and spirituality decimated or cash bounties were placed on their heads. The problem is not that their ancestors were kidnapped, enslaved, lynched, raped and systematically dehumanized for 400 years.
They have already proven they are strong enough to have survived all of that.
The problem today for our dark-skinned citizens is that their families’ and ancestors’ experiences which were each and all, a real and true part of our collective human experience in the founding and building of this nation, have deliberately not been included in the formally studied history of our nation. This deliberate and gross omission/demission does two very, very destructive things to the social fabric of our nation and community:
First, it does not provide a safe and legitimate space for dark-skinned citizens in our society. If you’re not part of our collectively known story, the unwritten coded message is you don’t belong. Belonging is a fundamental need of the human experience.
Growing up dark-skinned, you gradually come to realize, the entire culture tacitly agrees - you don’t really belong. The story of your people remains unspoken and unacknowledged in our collective history. This silent racism produces a natural but unspoken blanket of depressive sadness and anger that becomes an integral part of your everyday life. Collective exclusion has a deep and lasting human cost.
Second, similarly, the deliberate omission of dark-skinned citizen’s history does not allow white-skinned citizens to intuitively know and accept dark-skinned citizens as full and equal members of our society.
If “those people’s experiences” are not formally and honestly studied as a legitimate part of our collective story, that’s code talk which says: we don’t need to honor, acknowledge or respect “them” as “one of us.”
The story we tell ourselves is surprisingly powerful, both in what it says and doesn’t say. A partial and exclusionary history silently creates an exclusionary, unequal and unfair culture and society.
The hotly debated trend of banning books which some complain “rewrite history” is simply a long-over-due scholarly effort to present a more full and honest history – correcting an error we all already know exists – an error which itself is a part of our history. Education in a democracy doesn’t ban – it debates.
And from these well-considered arguments our collective understanding evolves, and we move toward “a more perfect Union.” True patriots are well-aware this is what our Founding Fathers intended.
The first step in healing any relationship is acknowledging what actually happened, in all its sordid emotional and political detail. We can do better.
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