May 24, 2018

May 24, 2018

Slavery. American style chattel slavery. The ugly truth of American history was that millions of people, mostly with African heritage, and some who were Indigenous people, were held in bondage with no hope of gaining freedom, and subject to the brutality of the institution of captivity and the goals of a profit-driven economy. Millions of people lived without the right to become educated, though some defied the laws and learned voraciously; without the right to make their own living, though some successfully gained their independence and did very well for themselves; without the freedom to choose whom to marry, when and how many children to have, and how to raise them.

We seem to be at a cross roads in coming to grips with this ugly history. There are some common narratives around the issues. One narrative says something to the effect of “let it go, it’s in the past and we can’t change it.” Another narrative says we need to know the history or else we are doomed to repeat it — and perhaps perpetuate it since slavery hasn’t ended, but rather it has evolved. Another narrative says, the concern about it is overblown and, besides now that we no longer have slavery, everyone is equal and it no longer matters. We do not yet have a developed cultural narrative that goes something like this “for Truth and Reconciliation to be real, we need to own our part and our forebears’ part in giving birth to the institutionalized racism and sexism that is still impacting modern society.” Until we honestly own our responsibilities for creating and perpetuating the institution of American chattel slavery, and its many descendants (Jim Crow, Red Lining, Voter Suppression, Lynching, Death Penalty, Mass Incarceration, etc), reconciliation is not going to happen. This is my goal for “Owning Slavery: A Personal Reckoning.”

My forebears created this and I need to own up to that. My ancestors held people in bondage as property in colonial Massachusetts, they also contributed to the colonization of Indigenous people. Furthermore, my forebears also owned businesses that profited from slavery in the American South after slavery was abolished in New England. (I’ll be more specific about that in future posts.) We seem to have amnesia about how and when slavery started on this continent. Massachusetts was among the first legal jurisdictions to sanction chattel slavery (in 1641) in this land that we now call the United States of America.

For now, I want to say a few things about what I aim to do here and why. I am calling this blog “Owning Slavery: A Personal Reckoning” and I will share updates as I write them and as I continue to excavate my family history as it relates to these human rights abuses that has continued for hundreds of years and that cost millions of lives. I only discovered this information in my genealogical research two months ago and it made me sick to my stomach. The blog’s name is meant to convey MY individual quest to know and acknowledge the harms of slavery that my forebears created. I am doing this on my own time, with my own resources, and for my own reasons. Anything I write now and in the future will be on my own terms — I am not doing this on behalf of my family members or anyone else.

Second, I am doing this to move the cultural narrative closer to an authentic reckoning with genuine accountability. When I was a kid my parents taught me to own up to it when I did something wrong. In that tradition, I offer this journey publicly to help own up to it because I can. My ancestors continue to speak through their wills, their businesses, their deeds, birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, etc. And, in the spirit of wholeness, I will also write about my ancestors who were abolitionists and who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Third, I am not trying to usurp the issue of institutionalized slavery as “mine” and take it away from people whose lives have been impacted by it in ways different from, and more painfully than how my life has been impacted. As a European-American woman, I have inherited from my ancestors’ advantages and entitlements that I did not request, and that I do not condone. Many scholars and activists also draw the roots of their social justice agendas back to American chattel slavery and I am not trying to step on those toes. This beast of institutionalized slavery is big enough for all of us to fight and confront in our own ways. I do not see my offerings here to be competition for those important movements. I hope for it to be complementary to those preceding and concurrent movements.

This summer I am going on a journey — excavating my genealogical roots. As I discover new bits of information, I plan to offer reflections on this information. The first few posts will offer some of what I have already discovered. I am not the first to look into my genealogy for this reason… in fact, my reason for doing this now is because I am affiliated with a non-profit organization called Coming To The Table (though anything I write cannot be attributed to that organization). I have long loved historical research, and I have also been keenly aware that our modern world is the product of deliberate choices made by our predecessors. And our future can only be the product of the deliberate choices we make now that our progeny will inherit.

The Iroquois believe in the Principle of the Seventh Generation — that we should make choices today that will improve the world for our children seven generations from now. Looking back, my 5th Great Grandparents choices impact my life today. My 5th great grandchildren’s lives will be impacted by my choices today. I hope they are better off for it.

So, welcome to my blog. Thank you for reading this far. I hope you will come back. Respectful comments are welcome. Rude and offensive comments will be ignored. Threatening comments will be kept on file and reported as needed.

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