We should stop talking about it…
We should stop talking about it.
That’s what my coworker said. “We should stop talking about it.”
The subject of his disdain? The mistreatment of colored people in the Americas.
How we got talking about this topic in the first place is the fact that this particular coworker and I always meet up to discuss history, current events, social shifts, and whatnot. And when we get talking about history, I generally like to mention the formation of the Americas, its peoples, its languages, and norms, however odd. He likes to talk about an ancient ‘sea people’ who destroyed an Egyptian empire and ancient Norman peoples who dominated most of western Europe.
This coworker of mine is categorized in my headspace as a part-conspiracy theorist, part-erudite extraordinaire. A temperament that bounces between hyper-awareness and hyper-vigilance when asked to answer something about himself.
He reigns from a remote town in the middle of nowhere British Columbia and whenever we get to talking about First Nations peoples he makes an ignominious comment, “Well, let’s not forget. Where I’m from, we weren’t very nice to them. You know. To those people.”
I’m never sure what it is I’m to do with that bit of information. If it is an incomplete confession or virtue by distance, meaning, he is glad that he is far from the place that treated First Nations people poorly.
I don’t recall him ever using the word ‘racists’ or ‘bigots’ but he always refers to his native town as people who ‘weren’t very nice to them.’
Either way, this coworker of mine prides himself in being able to trace his family line back four hundred years. There was never more information passed on other than the fact that he can trace his family back that far. Whether they were slave owners, slave traders, abolitionists, or refugees seeking refuge from persecution in Europe, I may never know. But that he prides himself in the longevity of his family name and how far he can trace it all back to, that goes without saying.
But he is greatly offended when we’re on the topic of First Nations peoples because he just doesn’t know what to call them.
“Are they First Nations people? Aboriginal? Native Americans or Native Canadians? Native Indians? What do they want me to call them!”
In my mind, I answer his question with, “Just call them by their name.” Or, “Just ask them.”
But I’m very suspicious of people who get angry about what other people decide to call themselves. If one group prefers First Nations peoples, then we’ll call them that. If another prefers Cree, Metis, or Muscogee, then so be it. My ignorance of people should not lead to my being angry at not knowing what to call them. This should lead my curious mind to the fount of knowledge, Google, to better educate myself on who is what and where and why.
But I rest my case.
Willful Amnesiacs by Benefit
The pulp of today’s article surrounds a small but resilient group of people who I will call willful amnesiacs by benefit.
WABs, as I shall call them, are individuals who benefit from dismissing or outright condemning conversations about how colonial and later imperial peoples mistreated First Nations peoples and Black people. And this all along the Americas. I am not limiting my conversation of this issue to North America alone. We all know, well, everyone other than WABs, that colonial rule ravaged the peoples of what we know as Canada down to what we now call Argentina.
WABs like to dismiss history for various reasons. Either it didn’t happen the way we’re discussing it, perhaps we don’t have all the information, it happened a long time ago, the victims and perpetrators are long dead, or no one is innocent of wrongdoing in history so we shouldn’t look to what our ancestors did in the past as wrong.
These denouncements seem innocuous at first but they’re dated tactics WABs use to avoid conversing about the painful history that gives them the social capital they now wield with prejudice, willfully avoiding all conversations that make them uncomfortable.
Having the power to control what is talked about and when and how much is a form of capital not everyone can afford.
So, first, I want to tackle each assertion WABs make to avoid discussing history.
It didn’t happen the way you think it did.
I seldom entertain this line of thinking because this person falls under the category of Holocaust Denier. No matter how much evidence is produced, no matter how many anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and other professionals are consulted regarding this topic, the person will not budge.
You can offer them a corpse with the coroner’s report, case, and conclusions and the person would still say that the documents in front of them have been forged.
These types are unwilling to accept that their ancestors, immediate or distant, were responsible for any kind of wrongdoing.
The consequence they’re afraid of most is being associated with someone or some group that committed mass murder, genocide, or anything like it. Because, to them, to admit that their family or countrymen were part of some kind of criminal activity, tarnishes their view of their heroes. It is one thing to love your great-grandfather. It’s another to find out he was a high-ranking member of the Nazi party and an even higher ranking member of the Nazi secret police, the Gestapo.
All those previous conversations you sat through where grandpa chided and degraded immigrants, blacks, and Jews all make sense now, don’t they?
Imagine spending hundreds of dollars on gene studies acquainting yourself with your family history and attaining their beautiful coat of arms only to find out that three hundred years ago your family partook in the genocide of several tribes in the same area you now live in with your family. The land you believed simply passed down from one generation to the next cost the lives of innocent and nonbelligerent First Nations peoples.
This is too costly a reality to accept if all you love is your family, your land, and your nation. If your identity is solely based on these things then anything that is revealed about it in a different or negative light will affect your understanding of the pride you hold so dear and near to your heart.
When someone claims that the razing of villages and their villagers along with them did not happen, it is because this person is too unwilling to confront the demons of their past, some who they called pa, grand-dad, or some reputable family member whose pictures hang on their walls or letters sit in an air-sealed pack in their office desk.
Their only salvation is removing their identity from that past and placing it on something or someone transcendent, which then gives them the courage to tackle history without unraveling their current self.
We don’t have all the information.
Limited Informationists want to convince people that somehow what we know about what colonialists did is not all that happened. Namely, that the taking of lands, the contracts signed, the letters penned, the constitution documents ratified, armies designated, slaves numbered, ships dispatched, hay bales and anchors of brandy measured and sold, whigs purchased, criminals sentenced, admirals honored, buildings erected, fields purchased and then re-purchased, state lines lined, and a plethora of other things on top of these, were not enough to help us formulate an idea of what happened back then.
“I will stand hand in mouth claiming, through frothy spit and drool, that the information we have was derived from Marxist revolutionaries who hate America or North America, for that fact, and want nothing more than to see the collapse of the white race…. of capitalism so that communism or strong socialism takes its place.”
Some people do not want the truth, they want comfort.
The only solution for individuals stuck in this time loop of intellectual cowardice is to ask them how much information would be enough and then ask them if their life story has the same level of information required to believe their own story.
If a person’s arguments cannot be applied to their own life, say, if they do not live by the same line of reasoning, then they’re unwilling to confront the truth.
It happened a long time ago so what gives?
I find that people who distance themselves from the atrocities of the past are the same ones who hound family members and friends for the money they’re owed from months, if not, years ago. Embittered and purple with anger about not having received back the dollars they lent out, well aware that time does not solve all things. Time does not heal all wounds. Something must be done to rectify this loss of money and wasting of time. Broken trust.
The WAB disciple will go the distance to claim that what happened so many years ago, dozens, they will say, hundreds, they offer, of years ago are matters no longer worth considering.
They dismiss the whippings because those whips have since disintegrated. They’ll disregard the ink on paper that sold people into lifelong bondage because both the ink and the paper have since disappeared, even though the contrary is true; check the archives and you’ll find that I am right. They will dismiss the conditions within the ships, the tight quarters, the stench of feces, urine, disease, and death. They will go as far as to dismiss even the scent of fear, hopelessness, and misery.
They claim those things are difficult to confront because they happened far too long ago.
What of those things? Why consider them when we cannot do anything about them?
Ah. We cannot?
Why then do we solve cold cases as if they were at one time warm, lukewarm, perhaps? We presume we’ll be able to clear the name or names of innocent men incarcerated by mistake, determine where a body went missing and that we might lay it to rest, and finally, hopefully, prayerfully and lawfully, time allowing, apprehend the perpetrator of the murder, of the homicide, the patricide, the matricide, the femicide, infanticide, the killer, the serial-sequence killer, the murderer whose hands and conscience is topped with blood and guilt, is finally tried and convicted for the crime.
It is our duty, even if a body is never found, and even if the perpetrator is long gone, rotting in some known or unknown location, to bring about, if not for the victims then for our benefit, the conclusion of the case.
Is it not our responsibility? Should we give up on the dead because time, this convoluted concept has moved its invisible hand over the face of the earth?
What is the acceptable number? When should we give up on homicide cases? When does a trail grow cold? Detectives will say forty-eight hours. They even have a show about this window of opportunity to apprehend offenders before their leads, and their case with them vanishes.
Is three weeks the appropriate time to give up and shut the doors of hope for justice? How about five years? Should we stop looking for a killer then? Say, twenty-five years? The killer might as well be dead. If alive, they might be in prison, serving time for another crime. Perhaps they’ve had a change of heart and took up a new identity and remarried, moved to Oregon, and now manage bike shops or some other inane business to avoid suspicion.
What then is the appropriate length of time that must pass for us to go from caring to not caring anymore. And when we cross over the threshold of focus and pursuit, at which point do we have a change of heart? At midnight? How about 2 P.M. the next day over a cup of tea. Do we spend the night before weeping for our long lost dead, wallowing in misery, tears, snot, and blubber as we pounce from wall to floor to bed, praying for a miracle only to lift ourselves up from the scene, fix our trousers and straighten our wrinkled shirts to then go on about our day, suddenly changed by the times and also by the social necessity of being fine in light of the opposite?
What of closure? What of justice? What of righting wrongs no matter the cost?
Nonsense. Time has passed and we ought to let bygones be bygones. Who cares for the shrieks of pain heard in the black of night as women and children suffered the ravaging of their bodies at the hands of so-called Christians.
Who cares? Not time. It only passes and everything left behind loses its value.
WABs will celebrate the glories of their ancestors a thousand years, if but to avoid the discomfort of the horrors they committed, even for a few minutes.
Every victim and perpetrator is dead so why bother?
This is an excuse, not an argument, really, because to them the dead have no value, therefore, deserve no argument, so that what is produced is a mere desire to produce fluff to avoid the subject altogether.
Again, this excuse is used by the one whose heart has grown callous in the sight of evil. In our case, it is not the sight of evil that thrusts the hearts of men and women from caring to absolutely disrepair and cold, it is merely the thought of it.
You see, when faced with evil, the evil in front of us, we are paralyzed if we’re not prepared nor trained for such an occasion that we have no choice but to look upon that which happens before our eyes.
It is difficult to turn one’s gaze away from the man whose body swings from the noose, from the head that rolls like an unripe pumpkin as it creates distance between itself and the guillotine, where its owner’s body rests. It is nearly impossible to avert one’s gaze from men jumping from bridges or men jumping from towers that stand ablaze after planes fly like missiles through the skyscraper.
It is difficult to look away from evil when evil is so attractive and repulsive. But when it happens before you, when the violence is laid bare before the innocent eyes of a child, neither they, in horror, turn away.
But the mention of it, the mere discussion of decapitated women, babes burned at the stake, men hung by their privates from a bridge, and of stock markets plummeting and with them, family men from building windows, cause too great distress even for the most traveled soul.
The revisiting of evils, namely, for the purpose of this article, and for what it seems, the purpose of my life, is to bring back to memory that just because the dead are long gone it does not mean their voices have stopped crying out to God from the ground.
Their blood speaks from the African plains, from the Guinea coast, from the depths of the Atlantic, and the shores of the Carolinas.
Their blood speaks from Brazil up to Barbados and Hispanola and then North America.
It is not fear nor pleasure that compels one to look at evil and from then on discover ways to combat it. It is disbelief, unquenched doubt, and absolute apostasy from reason to believe that we treat one another with whips, chains, spear, noose, and bullets. We cannot, within our sane minds look upon such horror and take it as is. That is why we are visited time and again at night by visions and ghosts of glass-eyed faces, speaking to us words that we are forbidden from hearing.
Look and see what has been done to me.
But the distance we are afforded at the mention of the same horrors allows us a luxury of dismissal.
We shall not talk about that. We will not discuss these things. I demand you shut your mouth!
We, too, are in disbelief but we haven’t seen the horror, only heard of it, therefore, we want to believe that we are better, more civilized, more capable of love and duty and honor, because, just look at how far we’ve come.
There is no possible way we could have ever developed into such an advanced society had we come from brutes, rapists, and murderers could we?
As the living, we must, at all costs, redeem the memory of these poor souls who perished, and at the same time, in the same breath, without hesitation, we must condemn every act of evil committed by the perpetrators involved.
Evil is evil, even when evil becomes the norm. They were not merely men of their times. They were evil men in desperate times.
Everyone did something wrong so why bother?
This position is the most disastrous one to take and it is the one my coworker took. It is this position, this mindset, this particular reasoning that allows, under the right conditions and circumstances, to lead ordinary men to commit unspeakable and unimaginable horrors.
Men who postulate that evil is something we have all done, as if the evil that was dashed out upon unsuspecting and undeserving peoples was just a consequence of the time then and should it happen again, then it will be simply a consequence of the time again.
Evil then, evil now, what gives?
If everyone was involved in evil, then, why challenge anyone? If everyone raped, why condemn the evil act? If everyone pillaged, why not take a few jewels for yourself? If everyone stole land, why not go out and take land now? An acre or two would do.
If everyone does it, if everyone is guilty, or was, then no one is guilty. Right?
This shifts the conversations from battling evil with good to battling greater evil with a lesser evil or not battling evil at all.
The men and women who shy away from condemning evil wherever it is found are the ones most dangerous to the sustainability of peace. The reason why is that their ambivalence and hesitance are the very fuel that lights the fire of genocide. What I mean is that when soldiers march the streets, dragging innocent people by horse or vehicle behind them, it is the silent and complicit bystanders who are just as responsible for the crime and whose cowardice allows evil to flourish.
When neighbors stand idly by, as a woman is battered by her husband or boyfriend, they are equally complicit in the beating. When she screams from the top of her lungs for help, begging for her life, and is then silenced by a kitchen knife to the stomach or a bullet wound to the chest, it is the neighbors who held the blade in hand and fired the shot.
Their willful silence, their hesitance, their cowardice or callousness is what leads people to believe that the evils they’re committing are an accepted behavior that will go unchallenged because no one will challenge them publicly.
Too often we have come to believe, and this because evil victors have been writing our stories, is that we must, under all circumstances, always pick the lesser of two evils as if there were no other option.
No other choice at all, other than the only two we are made to think we have.
Be wary of men who push the idea that there are two evils and you must pick the one most convenient for your survival.
They are well versed on the types of evils and which ones are best for you but speak very little, if at all, of the goods still out there in the world that are left undiscovered and unsought.
Everyone did NOT do evil or wrong. And wrongs committed are not acts deserving of genocide.
So we must look back and weep.
The people most hostile to the past are the ones most likely to partake in the same evils should circumstances allow… again.
When I look into the eyes of people who avert their gaze when dismissing the horrors of yesteryear… the horrors of yesterday… I know they are the same ones who will avert their gaze were it to be me being carted away by some nefarious agent, to my public execution.
But I know that at least while I am up there, several feet above the ground, hanging from the noose, eyes red and bulbous, I will see them looking at me, looking past me, to my ghost, which haunts to their last breath…
Look and see what has been done to me. Look and see.
Will you believe now? Will you believe now?
Will you be silent?
Featured Image by Tasha Jolley.