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Celebrating the Survival of the Enslaved and Praying for Change in Human Understanding

Although I was an immigrant to the United States, this has been my home for many years.  I survived the shock and all the learnings it takes to understand the game of race in the U.S.

I close my office to honor the day and always make jokes about the fact that I am not crazy enough to pretend this day doesn’t have significance in my life.  I tell my team, I am not oblivious to the fact that but for all the work of the freedom fighters and all those involved in the Civil Rights movement, I’d be sitting in the back of the bus, and becoming an attorney would be but an elusive dream.

At the same time, and for everyone reading this, from every side of the equation, this celebration doesn’t have to cause stress.  In my view, it doesn’t have to be about shame, blame, guilt, anger, or resentment.  It is, in my view, about acknowledging the growth and change in human consciousness. It is well known that since recorded history, humans had been enslaving each other, and believing it was fine and normal.  In fact, it is still a practice in some places to this day.

However, the transatlantic African slave trade was unprecedented in many ways.  It involved a specific race; it lasted over 350 years; and by some estimates it involved as many as 30 million humans from the African continent. It was without doubt very barbaric, but that wasn’t new to us as a species. We have had, and unfortunately continue to have, lots of practice in barbarism.

Although I refer to myself as a person of African descent, I’m not exactly sure what this means anymore.  Most of the descendants of the enslaved from the transatlantic slave trade rarely “only” carry DNA from the African Continent. Additionally, and to be clear, Africa is not a country, it is the second largest continent on the Planet, with a land mass three times that of the U.S., and with a population which is three times that of the U.S.  

My own DNA results indicate ancestry from multiple countries on the West Coast of the African continent, as well as multiple countries in Europe. Yet, convention in the U.S. does not dictate I would be labeled “European”. 

Yes, it is ironic how the enslaved labeled as sub-human, inferior, and unclean where regularly involuntarily impregnated by their “superior” owners. We crazy humans right? . . . But I digress, I want to address the situation from a macro perspective and examine our behavior as a species.

Before I go on, let me make it very clear that despite the attempt at sarcastic humor, the horror of this human tragedy does not escape me.   I cannot “imagine the kind of human who survives the months of the transatlantic journey from the West African coast tied up in the bowels of a ship,” For the Love of My Father, Page 83.  It is difficult to imagine the stench of the unbathed humans stacked on top of each other; their urine and waste falling on each other; the blood of the women from their monthly cycles just flowing without care; and the decomposing bodies of those who didn’t make it (before they were thrown overboard.)  

This, followed by the indignity of being dragged out of the bowels of the ship into light, naked and shackled to be displayed as dirty as you became after the months on the ship.  Then to add insult to injury, whether male or female, to be sexually assaulted at the whim of your “owner”. I’m sure I don’t need to go on to describe the events.  My question though is always: what kind of human survives this?  So, I am always grateful that whoever needed to survive so I would be born, did it . . .

Most of the time, the descendants of the enslaved point the finger at the Europeans as the reason for their plight.  I don’t deny the European responsibility, and even the cruelty.  However, my sense of the situation is that the natives of the countries on the West Coast of the African continent who participated in the trade bear a great deal of responsibility for this human tragedy. 

Those natives in power on the West Coast were just as cruel as the Europeans involved.  In fact, it is known, that in many cases, the Europeans would not have been able to capture humans without the help of the local natives.  

In certain cases, if a tribe was at war, they would capture their enemies and sell them to the Europeans.  I believe there is more than enough responsibility to go around. But, at this point, apportioning blame is not necessarily helpful.

In the meantime, in one of my posts on social media, I mentioned the fact that humans of “African” descent in the Americas who are descendants of the enslaved “Africans” should consider not only forgiving the Europeans, but the natives of those West Coast African countries who are known to have participated in the transatlantic slave trade. That statement met with little response. . .

Based on my life journey, I found certain things helpful.  One is to learn to find the truth about things and see them for what they are—things are what they are . . .

If we pretend and don’t acknowledge the truth, there can be no healing, because you cannot heal what you don’t acknowledge as an issue. Once you grasp the truth, you can move to forgive, and lighten your load.  I have found no way around this in my life.  

From a macro perspective, the fact America abolished slavery in 1865 represented a massive shift in human consciousness. It is noteworthy that although the United Kingdom abolished slavery in the colonies in 1834 and France in 1848 (slavery never existed in either country as a legal system); the abolition of slavery in the United States of America was key for a world which was beginning to look at the U.S. as an emerging leader and powerhouse.

There were other countries in the Americas who abolished slavery both before and after the U.S., but this shift in the U.S. signaled a change in the belief of a significant number of humans across the world that slavery was just fine and dandy.

Yet, as we look around the world today, we see we humans still have a lot of work to do.  Although in America, and some other places around the world, the transatlantic slave trade seemed to center on the color and/or race of the enslaved, when we take a macro look we see it is really not about that at all.  It was just that in that round of human barbarism it was easier to divide people by the difference in color and/or physical appearanc.

What it has always been about is humans in positions of power and authority seeking more of the same, by taking advantage and abusing those beneath.  This applies to both the Europeans and the natives of the countries on the West Coast of Africa.  

This kind of barbarism cannot occur unless there are humans who believe this is the only way live and maintain control.  The question for each of us then is: when will this change?  My belief—when enough of us come to understand—this is not the only way for us to exist in the world.

I began to understand the level of our unconsciousness and our misunderstanding about certain things in life, when I learned that in certain places around the world and throughout world history, it was common for freed slaves who “made it” to acquire slaves themselves.  Life had taught them this was the way to be . . .

In the U.S., even down to this day there is more irony with this drama, particularly in some places in the South. There are some there who inexplicably remain angry at the descendants of the enslaved and still seek to make their lives difficult.  No one has offered a rational explanation for their reason for being angry at the descendants of humans who were involuntarily brought to the U.S., subjugated and abused in every way possible, and then freed with no resources to heal their lives.  

This phenomenon remains one of those unexplained mysteries, where the anger is misplaced and directed at the ones perceived as weakest.  Perhaps the anger is really intended for those who created this whole drama to begin with, but easily dropped at the feet of the less powerful.

There is so much human insanity and irony wrapped up in the transatlantic slave trade in America that it would take volumes to address them all.  One that often widens my eyes is how church-going men of “high society” often had consensual and non-consensual sexual relationships with humans, males and females, they clearly believed were inferior, while claiming to be respectable “God-Loving” humans of a civilized society.

Despite all of these things, I believe that little by little humanity has advanced and we are evolving to see that if you are in a position of power, abuse is not the only option to retain that power and to “manage” those beneath.  Recently, I was reminded of the saying:  When you are powerful, you must be merciful.

Since I believe forgiveness is key to transforming our lives, on this celebration day I suggest, it is important to consider forgiving all involved in this human tragedy . . .

I continue to be grateful to all the ancestors who survived so I could be here today.  At the same time, I am hopeful for the day when enough humans come into the awareness that the only options are not either we are on top, or we are on the bottom.—OSB

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