by Vicki Lott
Pax Christi USA National Council
Ed. Note: This article is part of our continuing series of posts in support of the Pax Christi USA Statement of Principles for the 2020 Elections. To read more about the 2020 elections, visit our Elections 2020 – #VotePax webpage.
In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis reminds us that just as “we cannot allow present and future generations to lose the memory of what happened” in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or Auschwitz, “neither must we forget the persecutions, the slave trade and ethnic killings…They need to be remembered, always and ever anew. We must never grow accustomed or inured to them.” (Par. #248)
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL does a wonderful job memorializing the legacy of enslaved Black people, “people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” (www.eji.org)
Beyond acknowledging the atrocities of the slave trade, this country must minimally undo the lingering economic, educational, and psychological, harm done by what Joy DeGruy calls Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. In other words, the inter-generational trauma that still permeates society today is perpetuated by the poor and marginalized being excluded, exploited, oppressed, and under-served in systems and institutions, including banking, health care, education, law enforcement, housing, transportation, employment, and the church.
“A readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.” (Fratelli Tutti, Par. #20)
Using the ancient parable of the Good Samaritan in a contemporary context, Pope Francis points out that “…caught up as we are with our own needs, the sight of a person who is suffering disturbs us. It makes us uneasy, since we have no time to waste on other people’s problems. These are symptoms of an unhealthy society. A society that seeks prosperity but turns its back on suffering.” (Par. #65)
Pope Francis also points out something that we often overlook: the Good Samaritan parable begins after a robbery has taken place. (Par. #72) In the context of the Middle Passage, African men, women, and children were stolen from their native land. Separated from their friends and families. Robbed of their dignity and heritage. Ripped from their property and possessions. Forced into free labor for generations.
We too often fail to connect the dots between the racial inequity and social injustices that linger today, and the prequel to the “robbery.” In other words, we don’t talk often enough or go deep enough into the rich and noble history of Ancient Africa. That omission happened by design. This country’s historic portrayal of Africa as the “Dark Continent” filled with primitive and ignorant people ( Lerone Bennett, Jr., Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America 1619-1964) is an example of Internalized Racial Superiority (IRS). The negative depiction of Africa manifested itself in Black people as Internalized Racial Oppression (IRO). Malcolm X described it this way:
“We didn’t want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans. In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves, without even realizing it. Because you can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree. You can’t hate your origin and not end up hating yourself. You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.” (https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/8947996/amp)
Because “destroying self-esteem is an easy way to dominate others,” (Fratelli Tutti, Par. #52) intentional focus on overcoming IRS and IRO are key components in undoing institutional and structural racism and achieving racial equity. It entails transforming the public image of African Americans and strengthening self-esteem.
Restoring that self-esteem requires telling the true stories about African Americans’ ancestors from the great empires of the Sudan and the Nile Valley in Africa. It requires acknowledging that rather than being a “Dark Continent,” Africa is regarded as the place where humankind first received light (fire). More than 600,000 years ago, Africa and Africans led the world and specialized in agriculture, weaving, and smelting iron. Religion, art, music, and dance were integral life expressions. (Bennett)
Europeans and the slave trade robbed Africans of so much! Let us work as a collective Good Samaritan to restore all that was stolen by first telling the truth about pre-slavery African History. That is an important first step in healing the nation’s wounds, and achieving racial equity for all.