The sheer pain of slavery

Trauma, reparations, and God’s transforming love–Part IV of a series

By Rev. Rick King

The first step in the process of racial reparations and reconciliation is truth-telling. Only when we look unblinking into the details of harms done to African American and Indigenous people can we begin to grasp how urgent and important this kind of amends is. Until then, white supremacy in America is a sad story people would rather forget and silence.

We don’t like the discomfort of hearing and seeing the trauma of slavery and genocide in our nation and the damage it’s passed on to subsequent generations. That’s why a vocal minority in this country wants to prevent social studies at all school levels from teaching the history of ALL our people; that’s what anti-Critical Race Theory sentiment is all about.

But there can be no true healing without opening the half-healed wounds of racism in America, cleaning them out and properly bandaging them. Without this painful process, we are stuck with the situation Israel was in when the prophet Jeremiah said, “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11).

In a New York Times article two weeks ago, columnist Jamelle Bouie writes of the large amount of quantitative research begun in the late 1960s by Philip Curtin, who wrote a book called “The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census,” which in part involved computerizing a list of slave voyages for the 19th century, Bouie writes. This, and all the data collected since then, can be found on the Slave Voyages database, the latest installment of which is titled “Oceans of Kinfolk.”

But Bouie also notes how slave demography and statistics make people into abstractions. We also need to hear the stories of Black slaves and Indigenous American Indians—even how the two groups were pitted against one another, as Barbara Krauthamer chronicles in her book “Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South.”

In a follow-up article, Bouie recounts how central the profit motive has always been to human trafficking, which in part accounts for why white supremacy and systemic racism are so resistant to eradication.

We ought not to shy away from the pain of these stories, nor from the sheer weight of the numbers: an estimated 12.5 million people who made the voyages largely from the shores of western Africa, of whom about 10.7 million survived the journey to reach the so-called New World, which was already inhabited by millions of Indigenous people.

Healing the wounds of genocide and slavery requires truth-telling and truth-hearing before there’s any hope of healing.