The Right To Be Free of the Past
Was the Indian Removal Act terrible and inhumane? Was slavery also so? Absolutely. Were either in any way justifiable? Absolutely not. The level of arrogance inherent in any people who think they have the right to another people’s land is abhorrent, the right to another's body just evil. However, I think we need to be honest about humans and human nature. If we continue to look to the sins of the past, of our ancestors, we may think we are better able to address problems of today but what if all we’re doing is subconsciously deflecting. Of course, we need to look at the past, call out what was wrong, take steps to not repeat history’s mistakes. But if we become obsessed, we run the risk of bitterness and I’m would argue that maintaining bitterness is unhealthy for our own souls.
I question the trend of contempt shown for whiteness on two counts. One, should white people really live in such shame for their ancestor’s sins and identify so strongly with them that they denounce a part of who they are? They were born white. Was that just an unfortunate accident? Does it make them less worthy of love? Is racism inescapable? Are whites destined to be racist due to their race? If so, what hope is there?
For many years, I hated it when people would point out that Blacks in Africa sold their own people into slavery. Aside from the specifics of that, itself, I found it to be akin to the statement of, “all lives matter”: beside the point and not particularly helpful. Yet, lately, as we live in tumultuous times, examining ourselves in relation to the world around us, I have found that it is relevant. Not relevant in that it excuses what was done by whites or Americans but significant when looking at the bigger picture of humankind. Human nature can be a very ugly thing. It was and it is. From the beginning of time, people of all races and creeds have struggled to be merely decent. As a Christian, this seems obvious. I don’t know how unbelievers explain sin. For me, it’s not about sharing the blame or pointing fingers, it’s about acknowledging the need for all of us to do better. We have fallen into a trap of grading sins. We all do it. I do it. That’s human nature, too. The pedophile is worse than the bank robber is worse than the shoplifter. We need to do this to maintain a justice system that makes any kind of sense. And yet, if we can look at people as a whole, in regards to sins of the past, we can see that we’ve all come along way and we all have a long way to go. I doubt that the Native Americans of the past were all members of peace-loving tribes before our arrival. I also doubt that they were as ritually violent and at war with each other to the extent that we were taught. Too often, we tend to see things in extremes. We act in an extremist way, we think in extremist ways and we judge others on an extremist scale. I think most of our problems could be better addressed by acknowledging that there are gray areas in motives, the retelling of history, and in actions committed. Thank God, we have become a more enlightened people in some ways. I do tend to worry that we are simply more civilized in our brutality, if that makes sense. But the point remains. We wouldn’t tolerate half of the stuff that happened “in the old days,” in this day and age. And that’s good. We shouldn’t. Just as we would find it disgusting to engage in slavery in America, we would also find it barbaric to find entertainment in gladiators. But if we carry all of the shame for all of the sin, we not only weigh ourselves down to the point that we will not be able to rise but we also rob others of the necessary act of acknowledging their own truth. It may seem convenient to simply rewrite history. We have been guilty of doing this and we are still guilty. If before, we erased our own sin in the history books, it makes no more sense, to now take it all. Who’s to say what would have happened to the Native Americans or the Africans if we had minded our own business. We should have. Certainly. We should have seen the land as occupied, returned to Europe and left well enough alone. But we didn’t. And so here we are. I understand that in light of that, many people believe there is now nothing redeemable in America. I think that is a very mistaken notion. The Bible says that what satan meant for harm, God used for good. Please, please, please understand me. I am in no way saying that it was better for the Native Americans that we took over or that it was better that Africans were kidnapped from their native homes and treated as cattle. I am saying that possibly, God saw what was happening; saw an evil people (as He had been witnessing evil for millenia) and hated what they were doing and despised our actions but that nonetheless, He didn’t abandon any of us. He forgave those who sought it. He did not smite America. I believe God grieves when He saw slavery in the past and He grieves current day slavery. He grieves the sex trade, forced child labor in Haiti, forced labor in Thailand, bride-buying, debt bondage in India, labor camps in North Korea and China, and the slave trade in Libya. “...according to U.N.’s International Labor Organization...there are more than three times as many people in forced servitude today as were captured and sold during the 350-year span of the transatlantic slave trade.” So, to fixate only on slavery in North America in the past is somewhat self-centric. We fail to see what’s right in front of us and what we can do right now to make the world a better place. Sadly, we cannot change what has happened in the past but we can make a living amends. For sure, we need to look at racism that still exists here and work toward eradicating it but we also need to be honest enough to admit that no one in America really has it so bad when we put things in perspective. By putting things into perspective we are not denying the suffering that exists here. We are, however, allowing ourselves the opportunity to take what we’ve been given and use it to help those who still have not been freed in actuality or otherwise. There is also a certain conceit that exists in judging ourselves more harshly than any other. I have been guilty of it. I used to say that the white man was more to blame for their behavior (specifically, western culture) because we should know better. With all the advancements we have made, there is no way we can excuse our brutality. Yet, doesn’t this in a way undermine the abilities and intelligence of others? Who are we to say that more is to be expected of us?