More than a decade ago, when the young Nigerian writer Chimamanda
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the premiere of the film “Half of a Yellow Sun,” based on her novel, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Ngozi Adichie was struggling to get her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” published, an agent told her that things would be easier “if only you were Indian,” because Indian writers were in vogue. Another suggested changing the setting from Nigeria to America. Ms. Adichie didn’t take this as commentary on her work, she said, but on the timidity of the publishing world when it came to unknown writers and unfamiliar cultures, especially African ones.
These days she wouldn’t receive that kind of advice. Black literary writers with African roots (though some grew up elsewhere), mostly young cosmopolitans who write in English, are making a splash in the book world, especially in the United States. They are on best-seller lists, garner high profile reviews and win major awards, in America and in Britain. Ms.
Adichie, 36, the author of “Americanah,” which won the National Book
Ethiopian-born novelist Dinaw Mengetsu in 2010, when his book “How to Read the Air” was published.
Critics Circle Award for fiction this year, is a prominent member of an
expanding group that includes Dinaw Mengestu, Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Teju Cole, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Taiye Selasi, among others.
There are reasons for the critical mass now, say writers, publishers and literature scholars. After years of political and social turmoil, positive changes in several African nations are helping to greatly expand the number of writers and readers. Newer awards like the Caine Prize for African Writing have helped, too, as have social media, the Internet and top M.F.A. programs. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, black writers with recent African roots will make up more than 10 percent of the fiction students come September. Moreover, the number of African immigrants in
the United States has more than quadrupled in the past two decades, to
almost 1.7 million.
Coming to the Tableprovides leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery. CTTT addresses the legacies and aftermaths of slavery through 1) facing history; 2) making connections; 3) healing wounds; and 4) taking action
In February 2014, America’s Black Holocaust Museum convened a Gathering for Racial Repair and Reconciliation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After listening to national speakers, the audience met in small racially diverse groups with trained facilitators. They considered this question: “What might the process of racial repair and reconciliation look like in Milwaukee – one of the most hyper-segregated cities in the USA)?”
As each participant shared, common visions emerged:
Integrated neighborhoods of blacks and whites living, studying, and working together in harmony;
Cross-cultural dialog and understanding; and,
Equal access for blacks to the opportunities and assets available mostly to whites.
The Welcome Table at the William Winter Institute creates a safe space for diverse community stakeholders to form healthy relationships via open, honest communication. Now in 11 communities in Mississippi and beyond, it is one of the Winter Institute’s signature programs, garnering international attention and partnerships from reconciliation organizations as far away as Northern Ireland and South Africa.
The participants struggled, however, to see exactly how to work toward those goals.
This exhibit presents a short explanation of a complicated topic. It also provides examples of processes for repair and reconciliation used around the country. Here you will find resources for deeper understanding and action. Click on the gold-colored links in the captions of the logos to your right. These logos represent a few of the many organizations working toward these goals.
What Is Racial Repair and Reconciliation?
Repair and reconciliation have been practiced in many cultures around the world for thousands of years. The process generally involves three elements:
Building trust and establishing regular communication between individuals or groups in conflict;
Understanding and accepting the others’ truths, points of view, and feelings; and
Applying remedies to repair the damage to individuals and society.
1. Building Trust and Establishing Communication
True friendship involves trust, caring, compassion, respect, and acceptance. African Americans – who have endured a traumatic sixteen-generation holocaust – tend to be understandably wary of white people. Americans of European descent as a group have benefited, directly and indirectly, from black Americans’ past unpaid labor and present disadvantages.
There are individuals in each group – particularly the young – who are able to form genuine friendships across our country’s racial divide. To a large extent, though, black-white relations remain superficial or nonexistent. Yet many Americans on both sides of the colorline yearn to change this.
Race Forward advances racial justice through research, media and practice. Founded in 1981, Race Forward brings systemic analysis and an innovative approach to complex race issues to help people take effective action toward racial equity. Race Forward publishes the daily news site Colorlines and presents Facing Race, the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice.
To do so requires courage, persistence, and the willingness to handle discomfort. Many whites must overcome denial, fear and guilt; many blacks must overcome internalized oppression, rage, and shame.
The good news is that human beings are born with a strong desire to trust and connect with other humans. There are now many projects providing emotionally safe methods for addressing outdated beliefs and feelings. These projects help us all to connect as Americans, as one people who share one future.
2. Acknowledging and Accepting Others’ Truths
Every cultural group has “sacred” stories and symbols that explain its way of life. The ideas these stories pass down shape humans’ ways of seeing the world, our beliefs, our truths.
BitterSweet: Linked Through Slaveryis a working group of bloggers who are members of the non-profit group Coming to the Table (CTTT). We call ourselves “linked descendants,” people who have a joint history in slavery–a pairing of a descendant of an enslaved person with a descendant of his or her slaveholder, who have found each other and who are in communication.
Seeing the world through the eyes of a different cultural group is one of the biggest challenges faced by people who wish to reconcile. It’s like asking fish in water to imagine the airy world birds live in. It is especially hard for groups in conflict to see – let alone accept – the truths of the others’ experiences.
Black people generally “see” white people better than whites “see” blacks. During slavery and Jim Crow, blacks had to carefully observe and accommodate whites’ behaviors and expectations to avoid punishment – or death. Whites in those times could act as they wished toward blacks without fear of censure.
Today, economic, social and political power in America remains largely in white hands. This, along with segregation in housing, work, worship, and schooling – and prejudicial portrayals in the media – means that few whites really “see” black people.
The profound relief that comes from truly being seen and understood is an important moment in the reconciliation process. Listening with care and being able to speak honestly – without fear of recrimination – helps us acknowledge and accept others’ truths and our own.
To heal, we must re-examine our American “creation stories” and re-learn American history. America’s Black Holocaust Museum, the virtual museum you are visiting now, presents some of the many stories left out of our school books. Here are just a few examples to get you started:
3. Applying Remedies to Repair the Damage and Heal the Trauma
Facing History believes that the lifeblood of democracy is the ability of every rising generation to be active, responsible decision-makers. And we believe that inspired teachers and innovative methods are the key. We work with educators around the world throughout their careers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as their students’ academic performance, historical understanding, and civic learning.
The most challenging part of racial reconciliation is discovering what will make the victims of racial injustice whole – and applying that remedy.
Some Americans feel that establishing honest communication between white and black individuals is enough. Others believe that white people must acknowledge the factual details of slavery. Only then will black people feel genuinely seen and heard.
Still others believe those remedies are not sufficient, because they address individual bigotry without changing the injustices built into our institutions and way of life. These people search for ways to eliminate the economic, social, and political disparities between the black and white communities. Some Americans – black and white – are part of a long-running movement for reparations to African Americans for slavery.
Reparations: Didn’t Freed Slaves Get 40 Acres and a Mule?
The word “reparations” means “making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.”
The idea of reparations is basic to American law: those who have been wrongly injured can sue those who caused the injury and recover money from them. The government of the United States has made reparations payments to wrongly injured ethnic groups within our borders, including native Hawaiians, Native Americans, and formerly interned Japanese Americans. More recently, the federal government granted reparations to the surviving families of the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. And to victims of Hurricane Sandy. It was complicated to work out exactly how to compensate victims for their material and emotional losses. Still, the government did not hesitate to try.
The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. The YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin teaches an Unlearning Racism course and publishes links to many valuable resources.
In fact, reparations were made to a very small number of formerly enslaved people at the end of our Civil War. In 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15 to “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations” and cope with the masses of newly freed and homeless people. Around 40,000 of the four million freed slaves were settled on 400,000 acres (1,600 km²) in Georgia and South Carolina. Sherman granted each freed family forty acres of tillable land. The army also had a number of unneeded mules which were given to these settlers.
After Lincoln was assassinated, President Andrew Johnson reversed the order. The land was returned to its previous owners. In 1867, abolitionist Congressman Thaddeus Stevens sponsored a bill for the redistribution of land to African Americans, but it did not pass.
Reparations Under International Law
America Healing is an effort by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to put the belief in a false human hierarchy based on physical characteristics and the racial and structural inequalities it creates behind us, by first putting it squarely in front of us. America Healing is a strategy for racial healing toward racial equity, and is designed to raise awareness of unconscious biases and inequities to help communities heal. Here you can create a Resource Guidefor healing and racial equity tailored to your community.
Bringing a claim for compensation/reparations for human rights violations is considered a basic human right. Many countries have paid reparations.
Germany paid reparations directly to the individual Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust as well as to the State of Israel.
New Zealand returned lands, factories, fishing rights, and boats to the Maori people.
Canada provided compensation to First Nations children who were taken from their families and mistreated in boarding schools.
During every Congressional session for the last forty years, Representative John Conyers of Michigan has proposed HR 40, a bill to establish a national commission to study the issue of reparations for slavery. The bill has never passed the House, so no such commission exists.
Recently the idea of reparations has again entered the national conversation, largely due to a thorough and compelling magazine article and televised interviews of its author, Ta-Neihisi Coates (see video below). How to accomplish reparations raises complex questions. Nevertheless, Coates – and other thinkers black and white – believe that ways can and must be found.
Dr. James Cameron founded this museum to help Americans better understand ways that slavery powerfully shaped our country’s way of life. He preached the importance of forgiveness. He looked forward to the day when all our society’s peoples would heal, enjoy equal places at the table, and reconcile – the day when America will finally achieve her promise of liberty and justice for all.
Further Reading and Viewing
There are many resources in this museum that can help you think through this subject, form your own opinions, and take action. The gallery of logos down the right side of this page takes you to some of the many organizations in the USA doing research, convening dialog groups, conducting anti-bias trainings, and working for racial equity.
If you would like to support the work of ABHM, please
(Your receipt will show the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation as recipient of your donation. The Legacy Foundation is the non-profit organization that operates this museum.)
The “Book of Negroes” mini-series is based on a bestselling historical novel of the same name. The Book of Negroes itself is an actual document kept by the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Aunjanue Ellis and Cuba Gooding, Jr. star.
Principal photography for Clement Virgo’s much-anticipated film adaptation of author Lawrence Hill’s award-winning bestseller, “The Book of Negroes,” is complete, as the project now moves into the next phase of the production process, with a MIPCOM premiere in Cannes set for Monday, October 13 as the opening night gala. (…)
Boasting one of the strongest female characters in recent fiction, the novel’s synopsis reads:
Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.”
This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own.
Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey. Aunjanue Ellis stars as Aminata Diallo, while Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lou Gossett Jr. play Sam Fraunces and Daddy Moses respectively.
Gooding’s Fraunces is a freed slave from Jamaica who runs his namesake tavern (Fraunces Tavern), participates in several historical events, and later moves to Mount Vernon to run George Washington’s household.
Meanwhile, Daddy Moses is Moses ‘Daddy’ Wilkinson or Old Moses, an African American slave, and Methodist preacher in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Though blind and crippled, Wilkinson led a band of runaway slaves to freedom in 1776.
Also Lyriq Bent is playing Chekura, who, as a young boy, made the crossing with Aminata when she was sold into slavery, is separated from her, and later reunites with her when they are adults, and have a child together.
Allan Hawco is Solomon Lindo (a Jewish man Aminata is sold to), Ben Chaplin is Capt. John Clarkson (a young British naval officer recruiting black settlers to move from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone); and Jane Alexander plays a Maria Witherspoon, the matriarch of a white family that Aminata leaves her baby with, for safety, during a series of riots that break out as the city she lives in is attacked and black men and women are lynched. She later returns to the Witherspoon’s home to claim her child, only to learn that they’ve left with the baby.
The adaptation of the novel will be a 6-hour TV mini-series.
In 1961, 19-year-old Howard University student Hank Thomas embarked on a journey that would change interstate travel forever and inspire the birth of other movements. Thomas made a quick decision to join the Congress of Racial Equality’s Freedom Rides to travel from Washington, D.C., to the Deep South with several other young African Americans and whites.
The U.S. Supreme Court had struck down racial segregation on interstate buses in 1946 and expanded that decision in 1960 by outlawing segregated waiting rooms, lunch counters and restroom facilities for interstate passengers. However, both rulings were largely ignored in the Deep South. Freedom Riders risked their lives by traveling on buses through the South and, by doing so, challenged the federal government to enforce the law. Freedom Riders were beaten, lynched and arrested for the sake of justice. Thomas’ experience as a Freedom Rider was no exception.
Being a Freedom Rider isn’t Thomas’ only claim to fame, however, and his rebellious spirit isn’t by happenstance. The great-great-great-grandson of an outspoken slave, Thomas also played a part in working toward Freedom Summer’s goal of registering black people to vote in 1964.
Thomas, now retired at 73, owns two Marriott hotels and lives in Atlanta. He recounted to The Root his experiences as a Freedom Rider, the importance of remembering significant events like Freedom Summer and what black people should be doing to build upon progress already made.
Left of Black interviews poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander about how young people are coming to poetry through their experience with hip-hop, and what it means that more poets are winning prizes and recognition.
Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal is joined by Elizabeth Alexander to discuss the black art aesthetic, growing recognition for black poets and whether hip-hop is poetry. Alexander—the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of African American Studies, and a professor of American studies and English, at Yale University—was chosen by President Barack Obama to compose and read a poem for his 2009 inauguration.
Firefighter Jordan Sullivan, who recently saved two children on his first ‘real fire’ call
By N. R. KLEINFIELD, nytimes.com
In his 96 days in the field as a firefighter, a probie out of the Fire Academy — the Rock, as it’s familiarly known — it had not happened. Around the firehouse, the veterans continually swapped fire stories. That was how they both taught and regaled one another, and the stories were good ones. He could not contribute. He hadn’t had a fire.
Sometimes a probie goes on the maiden run of his career and, bam, a fire. Usually, in New York, it happens during the first few tours. Maybe it takes a week or even a month. But 96 days — nearly triple digits! That was ridiculous.
Probies take a lot of ribbing, part of the subculture of being a probationary firefighter, and it was a running joke about how Jordan Sullivan could not catch a fire. The others would say drolly, “Well, I know I’m not going to a fire tonight, Jordan’s here.”…
FIREFIGHTER SULLIVAN had wanted to become a wrestling coach… Then Sept. 11 happened, and soon after that incoherent day, he decided he wanted to become a firefighter. It was something he had never before contemplated, and he could not explain his reasoning. He knew he had stood on a Brooklyn rooftop and watched in disbelief as the towers fell. And he knew it felt right to want this.
Sullivan sits and grins on the firetruck for Ladder Company 105.
He took the next Fire Department entrance exam, in 2002, receiving an 89. Seemed decent. Then he got his call number, where he stood among the 17,850 who took the test: 6,048.
Firefighters he spoke to told him it was a dead number, try again. He checked. The next test was in January 2007. He would be 29, and by department age limits too old to apply. Ultimately, the wounded department reached deep — its ranks thinned by the loss of 343 firefighters who died on Sept. 11 and the stampede of retirements in ensuing years — yet they still hit only 5,646 on the call list.
So that was that. He was disappointed, but moved on, didn’t just carry around the dream. Soon after, he got a job with the city comptroller, starting as a clerk and working up to claims investigator. He was not unhappy.
In 2007, he heard on the news about the lawsuit. The Justice Department had sued the Fire Department after the Vulcan Society, an association of black firefighters, complained that the entrance exam was biased against minority applicants. At the time, the department was 90 percent white.
He hadn’t personally felt the exam was unfair to him as a black man. He found the suit curious but irrelevant to him, figuring, “I’ll be 50-something years old before it’s resolved.”
Things went quicker. In July 2009, a federal judge ruled that the 1999 and 2002 exams discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants. Under court-ordered reforms, promising black and Hispanic candidates not appointed from those tests could take a newly created one, regardless of their age, and would receive priority in being hired.
At the beginning of 2012, a full decade since he had that first urge, he was among hundreds of black and Latino candidates who heard from the Fire Department that they could sit for the new exam. He was amazed and unabashedly grateful at this stroke of providence.
Dallas county commissioners unanimously passed a Juneteenth resolution on Tuesday that appeared to be another routine proclamation, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. But the resolution went further by including a list of injustices, and then stating in the final paragraph that blacks’ suffering should be “satisfied with monetary and substantial reparations”.
Commissioners admitted afterward they hadn’t read the resolution before voting, according to The Dallas Morning News. About an hour after their vote, commissioners complained they hadn’t received copies of the resolution beforehand.
The meeting agenda made no specific mention of reparations, but the resolution was read aloud by John Wiley Price, who introduced the measure and is the commission’s only black member.
The vote is nonbinding, so no reparations, through payments or other means, will be made.
During Jim Crow, black men were often jailed for “shiftlessness” or other trumped up “crimes” like failing to step off the sidewalk for a white man. These “criminals” were put to work in factories, plantations, and mines owned by white businessmen.
Price said he wrote the resolution after reading an article making the case for reparations. He noted that Native American and Japanese Americans are among the groups that have received compensation for past mistreatment.
“We are the only people who haven’t been compensated,” Price said.
Other commissioners didn’t debate the merits of reparations, and instead expressed frustration at not seeing the resolution before the vote.
“I am leaving my vote the way it is,” county judge Clay Jenkins said. “This is the body’s expression of support for unity towards people, a recognition of Juneteenth.”
He later added, “I want to encourage staff to make sure that all of the commissioners have the opportunity to actually read what they are voting on before that vote in the future.”
This date in 1793 celebrates the birth of Anna Kingsley. She was a African plantation owner, abolitionist, and former slave in America.
The owner’s house on the Kingsley Plantation
Born Anna Madgigine Jai in Senegal, she was captured in her native country in 1806 when she was 13 years old. She was brought to Florida, then a Spanish colony, where she was sold to Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and a maritime merchant, and she worked on his plantation in northeast Florida.
Kingsley married her and allowed for her freedom in 1811. They had four children. She became the manager of the plantation and held the position for 25 years. Anna Kingsley became a slave owner herself. Her husband was on record as saying that she “could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself.”
After Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819, life grew difficult. The U.S. laws concerning freed Blacks were far more restrictive than those of Spain. Kingsley’s status as a freed slave and landowner were threatened. Plus her interracial marriage was unacceptable in the new U.S. state of Florida. The Kingsleys fled to Haiti, where they ran another plantation and created a colony for free Blacks. After her husband’s death in 1843, Kingsley returned to Florida, where she fought the courts to claim the land left to her and her children in his will.
After a difficult court battle (some of his white relatives had contested her claim), Kingsley won the right to her inheritance. Her skill at running a plantation and her battle for property rights made her a celebrated and influential figure in the free Black community of northern Florida. Anna Kingsley died in 1870.
The country’s complex history with race gains the spotlight as the World Cup attempts to address the recent wave of racist attacks against black players.
Before teams representing their countries from around the world arrived in Brazil, the country’s president, Dilma Rousseff, took the opportunity to label 2014 the “anti-racism World Cup.”
Brazilian soccer player Neymar stated that he had never encountered any sort of racism in his life because he is not black even though he clearly looks black.
The declaration came after a wave of racist incidents in soccer around the world targeting black players, many of whom are Brazilian. While it’s a well-intentioned gesture and a particularly important one for a World Cup being hosted in the country that’s home to the largest population of people of African descent outside of Africa, Brazil has a complex past and present when it comes to race.
That complexity can perhaps best be illustrated by the fact that many black Brazilians don’t think of themselves as black. Brazilian soccer star Neymar is a great example. Asked during an interview in 2010 if he had ever experienced racism, his response was, “Never.” He added, “Not inside nor outside of the soccer field. Even more because I’m not black, right?”
This denial of blackness may seem confusing to many Americans, because despite his long, straightened and occasionally blond hair, Neymar is clearly black. But for Brazilians, being black is very different from what it is in the United States.
“The darker a person is in Brazil, the more racism she or he is going to suffer. Light-skinned black people don’t identify as black most of the time,” says Daniela Gomes, a black Brazilian activist who is currently pursuing a doctorate in African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas. “A lot of people choose to deny their blackness. They don’t believe they are black, but they suffer racism without knowing why.”