In August, 1619, a ship docked in Fort Comfort, Virginia. “Twenty and odd Negroes” were sold for food. It marked the beginning of the slave trade in the United States. This past weekend, there were many ceremonies to commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery. They were not celebrations because how can you celebrate that human beings were considered chattel – to be used and sold. But they were vital events to recognize the role of slavery in so many lives.
Take a minute to think about this concept. How would you feel if you were considered someone’s property? You could be bought or sold, forced to work long hours, beaten and raped. Your children could be taken away. All because of your color, nationality, or gender.
The legacy of slavery includes the Civil War, Jim Crow, lynching, race riots, segregated schools and housing, the school to prison pipeline and the deaths of innocent black boys and men. It touches each of us regardless of our color – black, brown, yellow or white. “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
In Columbus, the Spirituality Network (an organization that we have longed worked in and sponsored) hosted a programs called 400 Years – Africans in America: I Am an Answered Prayer. Each presenter provided some insight in how slavery touches the very DNA of each person and our country. If one is taught that he/she is not valued, in fact, not even fully human, is it surprising that they would struggle to value their own lives or the lives of others? Or that others – immigrants, LGBTQ, or individuals with disabilities – would also be treated as less valuable? Entire communities are treated as not deserving of clean water, clean air, quality education, safety, et cetera because of their color.
So we have reached a cross-road. Which way America? Will we agree to face the last 400 years, recognize what we have done and are doing to others, acknowledge our own white privilege, and recognize the humanity of all people? Will we help young black and brown children who think their future is to be poor reverse that vision? Will we continue to perpetuate Mafaa, the great tragedy, that stereotypes people of color and enslaves them in hopelessness?
Frederick Douglass once said “The white man’s happiness cannot be purchased by the black man’s misery.” It’s time to stop the misery of all people of color.