I learned about slavery years before I learned about Hitler, concentration camps and genocide. My mother taught me about slavery when I was four or five.
As I grew up and absorbed more of life’s complexities, that awful reality grew with me. It never shrank in size, never became less awful, or more acceptable. I never went numb on slavery. It has never been something which could be shrugged off or shoved into a corner of history, or qualified and diminished by political movement.
My knowledge turned into a passionate cause, a ferocious empathy for anyone who is helpless under the absolute power of another. It causes me as much agony now as it always has. I couldn’t mute it if I had the tools to do so, and wouldn’t mute it even if I had.
For me, compassion is a physical organ, like skin. I couldn’t survive without it.
You might believe I was too young to be taught about slavery. You might believe my mother traumatized me; you might swear you’ll never do that to your kids.
Well, what did my childhood “trauma” do to my adult sensibilities? It drove me to learn more and to think about and act on what I’ve learned. I couldn’t love this country without knowing its complexity and I can’t know its complexity without knowing what I loathe about it.
I’m almost finished with Ron Chernow’s magnificent biography, Grant. Given Grant’s life span (1822-1885) and his improbable, wildly variable life, the book is also a taut history of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the murder of Reconstruction by white Southerners, the KKK and other terrorist gangs.
I had to read that part, about the Southern restoration to white supremacy, very slowly, only a few pages at a time, because it was so dreadful. During the 1876 presidential campaign, John Roy Lynch, a Black Mississippi congressman, said of the Southern Democrats bent on grabbing back absolute power, “Every Southern state [they] propose to carry as they carried Mississippi last year…not by the power of the ballot, but by an organized system of terrorism and violence.”
And that’s what they did. Chernow details many horrible massacres of freed Black people who tried to, wanted to vote. Massacred.
It happened, over and over again. Don’t you call it Critical Race Theory. Your children need to be taught it because it was and is American history. History.