This year, as the nation attempts to address the history and experiences of Americans of African descent, the focus has been primarily on healing and commemoration. On June 19th, there was a call for a national day of healing and drumming, a scheduled Congressional hearing on reparations, and a rally to declare Juneteenth a national holiday. Later this summer, in August, activities are centered on marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of captive Africans to the English colony of Virginia.
These are all necessary, yet we also must promote an acknowledgement of the shared experience of the Middle Passage throughout the Americas and all that occurred during the thousands of trans-Atlantic ocean voyages filled with terror and violence that delivered millions of people into a world of forced servitude, brutality, and exploitation. As a nation and as human beings, we need to demand that the complete story of enslavement be included in all schools’ curricula. There would be no Juneteenth, no need for reparations, no effort to encourage healing from the trauma of bondage if enslavement and all the social, cultural, economic, and legal buttresses had not been established throughout centuries in this country to prevent the truth of this history from being known.
We should take steps along a path that commemorates our ancestors’ ability to survive and endure. There must not be a reticence or shying away from truth. We have lived so long with historical lies and half-truths. When speaking about the Middle Passage, some people call it the Maafa, a deliberate and systematic genocide. It continues to this day. While celebrating and commemorating our ancestors and all the related events scheduled to observe this history this season and beyond, we cannot cherry pick. The complete time line, from beginning to end, has to be incorporated for context and understanding. Beginning with the Middle Passage and slavery to the Civil War, to abolition and emancipation, to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement there are ongoing challenges related to people of African descent: humanity, equality, and justice.
As we drum and ring bells for healing, as we advocate for reparations and reconciliation, as we commemorate ancestors, as we celebrate and observe accomplished milestones, we also must remember that there is a beginning – the Middle Passage – and so long after, almost five centuries, the light of truth in the tunnel at times is still so hard to see.