Without clear and compelling reasons, no one wants to reopen an old wound — especially one so deep, painful and shameful.
So, why dredge up the past instead of pressing forward?
While Blacks and Whites avoid the topic for vastly different reasons, our long history of racial subjugation through violence still afflicts us all. Our national wound is badly infected. It festers and cries out for healing.
Here’s how facing the past can shape a better future for all:
1. Honor the victims of extralegal execution and generations of Black communities terrorized by this unpunished violence. This preserves their memory and acknowledges the African American struggle for freedom, equality, justice and peace. Honoring victims who were treated as subhuman affirms the dignity of today’s Black community.
2. Be honest. Untold history is still history, and these wrongs that terrorized millions of Americans are worth remembering. We’d rather forget our violent history, but self-deception is a poor bandage for a festering wound.
3. Buried wrongs cannot be turned away from. To learn from and not repeat our mistakes, we must stop glossing over difficult aspects of our history. Presenting a glorious and romantic picture of our history is neither truthful nor helpful, and it discourages honest self-reflection of our present.
4. Silence implies consent. Silence about past and present expressions of White supremacy implies consent and reinforces systems that discriminate against people of color. Dr. Beverly Tatum says it’s like standing still on a moving walkway at the airport.
Doing nothing actually reinforces a system of discrimination. To challenge it, we must actively move in the opposite direction. As Edmund Burke wrote: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”
5. Lynching was neither acknowledged nor repudiated by White America. We must acknowledge this evil for the first time and take responsibility for it. Facing the truth can lead to honest reflection and humility according to the pattern through which Rwanda and South Africa found healing: lament, confess, repent and reconcile. An honest look at the past can lead to an examination of ways that White supremacy still infects our culture.
6. Truth brings fredom. America desperately needs to be liberated from the White supremacy that divides and wounds us all. Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson said: “I am not interested in punishing America with this history. I want to liberate us. I think we have never truly sought truth and reconciliation. We are not going to be free, really free, until we pursue that.”
7. Be a courageous example. Model for our children the wisdom and courage of facing hard truths, connecting history to the present, and reimagining a path toward unity, harmony, reconciliation, trust, friendship and cooperation across the “color line.”
8. Be reconciled. Build bridges of reconciliation between Whites and people of color, transforming oppression into friendship. We need each other and are mutually impoverished in multiple ways when we accept segregation.
9. Express solidarity with the oppressed. Empathize with our neighbors for whom the legacy of racial violence casts a crippling shadow in addition to ongoing discrimination.
10. See and oppose today’s racism. Exposing explicit racial violence shocks us into seeing and interrupting ongoing expressions of White supremacy, such as discrimination in education, housing, voting, employment and the criminal-justice system.
— Keller is communications chair of the Volusia Remembers Coalition. All are invited to join in the organization’s events, which will be announced at www.volusiaremembers.org and www.facebook.com/volusiaremembers. You may also contact steering committee co-chairs Sharon Stafford and Grady Ballenger at email@example.com.