Slavery is in the past: don’t “get over it,” rise above it

I just returned from a trip to the southeastern USA — it was my first time in that part of the world since I was four years old. The south has a well-known history of slavery based on the values of the Confederates during the civil war, and is often considered to be more racist than the rest of America even today.

Well, I can’t speak for the state of racial equality in the area, since I only travelled there for about 8 days. However, recently, when black people talk about slavery in the context of social justice movements, there’s often a frustrated response saying “get over it already!” The logic is; it’s in the past, hundreds of years ago, and doesn’t affect you now, so stop dwelling on it. In some sense this is quite understandable because the history of slavery is often used to justify affirmative action policies, as if white Americans are somehow responsible to pay for the sins of their ancestors.

But to look at it another way, it’s kind of insensitive to tell black Americans to just forget about slavery and shut up about it. It’s like asking Jews to just stop talking about the Holocaust — sometimes, traumatic events become part of a person’s racial and cultural identity.

I was at a museum in Georgia, and I saw actual chains that had been used to bind a black slave:

Nearby, they had collected and copied snippets of newspapers, advertising human beings for sale and offering rewards for the return of runaway slaves, as if these people were cattle. A black family was beside us in the museum and I wondered how they must feel when looking at the ugly truth of how black people were dehumanized and exploited in a young America.

The USA really was founded with an undercurrent of white supremacy. Under federal law, slavery was legal from 1776 to 1863 (the end of the civil war). A state founded on principles of human rights, justice, and equality, would have outlawed this institution from the very beginning. The violence, coercion, and abuse of black people cannot and should not be forgotten. The ugly past of the United States should not be hidden. I will not say to “get over” slavery.

But I will say — rise above it.

The USA, as a country, has radically transformed their society, laws, and cultural values, so much that they elected a black president. Such an event would have been absolutely unthinkable at the time of the country’s founding, yet it became a reality. Even comparing the state of racial equality in the 1950s with segregation and Jim Crow laws to the America of today, we can see a huge shift in society.

Under the law, black Americans now have full and complete equality with white Americans. That’s something to be celebrated.

Despite injustices of the past, black Americans have survived and withstood tremendous persecution, hatred, racism, and violence. Nowadays they may still face prejudice in society albeit not nearly to the extent that their ancestors experienced. However, all of this goes to show that black people are powerful and capable to take control of their lives and achieve their goals. They fought for their rights and earned them — they are no longer victims but conquerors; who, along with allies of other racial backgrounds, played a key role in transforming hearts, minds, and ultimately institutions in America.

Black people don’t need affirmative action. They don’t need extra help or condescending sympathy from white people. What matters most is whether or not they have the will within themselves to use available resources to their advantage. I realize that everybody comes from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and I am not suggesting that there should be no help provided to those who need it, but I am saying that black people should not blame all bad circumstances on racism and external factors. Perpetuating this kind of victimhood sets a poor example for youth rather than encouraging their ambitions.

Don’t “get over” slavery, but don’t focus on it either. The past happened and no one can ever change that, but we can build a better future by affirming that all people are agents who have control over their actions and their responses to life circumstances.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.