Food for Thought
As we enter the holiday season, let’s take a moment to really be thankful. Not for material goods, or even life, health and strength. Let’s be thankful that we were born in the time we were, that our experiences in life have been what they were. May not have been perfect, may have even been downright horrible at times but I am thankful for the opportunities I had and those who came before me to insure I had these opportunities.
A funny thing happened while watching the Soul Train Awards last night. Gladys Knight was receiving a legends award. She thanked those who came before her, starting with those enslaved on ships being brought over from African. The audience had an awkward moment of silence. She then thanked those who fought for Civil Rights and got massive applause for that. It bothered me greatly that we (by and large the African American community) could be massively thankful for the Civil Rights leaders who fought for equality and justice, but we aren’t thankful for those whose shoulders we stand on? Those who toiled in the fields and worked tirelessly in the houses, and built this country? We can’t give a round of applause and honor their memory as well?
For many of us today, we don’t have what it takes to endure what the slaves went through. Yet we lack the courtesy to honor them for their sacrifices. They gave their lives so that we could live in this world…not theirs. Things may be far from perfect and sure we aren’t holding hands singing songs of togetherness, but we have our freedoms. Of course, some may argue that as African Americans, we really don’t but when you look at it, yes, yes we do. By constantly ignoring and pushing to the side the lives of those who were enslaved, we offer them zero thanks. We stop history at the Civil Rights era and move forward because we don’t want to talk about “that”. This is why I take the interpretation of slave life to heart. I don’t want to be a part of the crowd that doesn’t applaud. I want to be one of the loudest ones clapping for them, remembering that without them I wouldn’t stand where I am today.
Instead of being bitter because someone NOT of African descent wants to tell the story of slavery, let’s be thankful that someone wants to talk about it at all. Let’s be thankful that we don’t have to spend another 150 years wondering when the conversation should begin and that the conversation about slavery’s legacy on this country has started. Let’s be thankful that we can get involved, share our thoughts and opinions and start to see the wheels of change turn. Hell, it may be another 150 years before there is a noticeable difference in how slavery is being taught, talked about and portrayed, but can we please be thankful that in this moment some of us have been brave enough to face it? Can we be thankful for historic sites who talk about slavery, even when they don’t have an African American on staff? Can we be thankful that they even approach the subject without having a “face” for it?
Can we be thankful for those like Joseph McGill, whose Slave Dwelling Project has brought much needed attention to still standing cabins around the United States? And that from his project, various communities are now looking at their history a little differently and recognizing a past some didn’t even notice existed? Or how about Thomas Norman DeWolf, who, along with members of his family, has traced the steps of his slave trading family (the largest dynasty in US History) and confronted the horrors that his family participated in, acknowledged those horrors and is now using that knowledge to not rejoice in their wealth, but to create dialogue so that the conversations can begin? Let’s be thankful for interpreters like Miss Kitty Wilson-Evans, who has dedicated the past 10+ years of her life to ensuring that the lives of those enslaved will never be forgotten.
Most of all, let’s be thankful that we have the chance to really talk about slavery, what it was, what it has done and what we can learn from it. Let’s stop shying away from its interpretation and start facing it head on. We should not look at it with guilt or shame just a thankfulness that there were those who endured it, for without them , many of us would not be here.