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Shining Light on Humanity

A Call to Reckoning with Black History in the U.S.

by | Feb 6, 2022

“True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

My body lives every moment in remembrance of the history that is only allowed breath once a year. Black history in the U.S. is one of torture, oppression, and systematic criminalization. From the moment Black bodies were introduced to this fledgling nation, they have been under surveillance, control and domination. The longer we collectively whitewash this aspect of our national history, the longer we will remain divided, and the deeper and wider that chasm will become. 

We need to reckon with this history if we are ever to reconcile with each other — and with ourselves.

Dr. Charles Chavis spent over five years researching and investigating racial-terror lynchings on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which led to the creation of the first of a series of short documentary films on PBS, “Hidden in Full View.” In collaboration with other organizers from Maine Recovery Advocacy Project (ME-RAP), I will be participating in a screening and discussion of the documentary on February 19th. The film is only about seven minutes long, but it’s sure to initiate much meaningful conversation about race and violence, as well as how racialized violence is simultaneously accepted as normal and decried as horrendous.

With all the tension and contention around the topics of race, racism and oppression, people on all sides of these issues are weary. Black and Brown people are tired of explaining their history of suffering and teaching well-meaning white people the thoroughly documented history of torturous human-rights violations perpetrated by the “Founders” of this country. White people are tired of feeling guilty for the crimes perpetrated by people who looked like them from generations past. 

We’re all tired, but that’s no excuse to disengage. Shutting down doesn’t solve the problems. It doesn’t heal the wounds that still fester beneath the fragile scab ripped off with each modern-day lynching of an unarmed Black person. Only when we engage in uncomfortable dialogue are we able to attain meaningful growth.

Peace is not a static thing. It is not a goal that, once attained, becomes the “new normal.” Rather, peace (inner and outer) is dynamic, ever-changing. It must be maintained through constant effort and attention, cultivated and tended like a garden. Yet, as anyone who’s created a garden knows, the ground must first be dug up, cleared of turf, rototilled, and properly nourished. The same is true of cultivating peace in the U.S.

We need to fearlessly dig up the horrible truths of our collective past, clear away the false narratives and victor’s history, turn over and wrestle with the facts as they are, and finally tend to the traumas that have been passed down from generation to generation in Black and Brown families. A first step is to acknowledge that, whether we like it or not, the United States of America was built on a foundation of slavery and the brutalization of Black bodies. That’s an ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless. 

Once we come to grips with this, we need to face the fact that the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were put in place to maintain a legal form of slavery in the wake of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which still contains the Exception Clause: slavery is still legal “as a punishment for crime.” If we can make it that far, then maybe we can come to terms with the uncomfortable truth that we have all been conditioned by this history to believe, to some extent, that Blackness is somehow dangerous, deviant, and/or resistant to pain.

These are the dark corners and foundations of our history that remain “Hidden in Full View.” If you are at a place in your life where you are ready to engage in some of this necessary reckoning work, please join me, Dr. Chavis, and my colleagues and partners on February 19. E-mail me at the address below and I will make sure you receive a flyer with instructions on how you can join in this conversation, either in-person or virtually. Together, we can begin the process and journey of reconciliation and cultivating peace, beginning with the uncovering of truth.

 

Leo Hylton is an incarcerated graduate student at George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. His education and work are focused on Social Justice Advocacy and Activism, with a vision toward an abolitionist future. You can reach him at: Leo Hylton #70199, 807 Cushing Road, Warren, ME, 04864, or leoshininglight@gmail.com. 

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