I’m walking backward from the present as I try to understand the black heritage that I’ve inherited here in the US. I am mourning losses as I trace the origins of the transatlantic slave trade and its devastating effects on the world, but most especially on the enslaved.
I had heard murmurs about African slaves being sold to Europeans by African leaders of the time, but I have only recently seen this piece of information in writing. Yes, Europeans fomented wars between African nation-states intending to obtain slaves for labor. Yes, Europeans created a demand in African nation-states for goods that they exchanged for slaves. But in the end, African leaders did sell their own people into slavery. No wonder some of my African-American friends have told me that they think Africans hate them. This is not true. Not true.
On behalf of Mother Africa, I extend my deepest apologies to African Americans for the part our shared ancestors played in their enslavement. I acknowledge that no apology or reparations could ever lessen the severity of your grief or bring back in significant measure those things you lost—family, home, culture, heritage.
There are no words. I mourn with those who mourn. I mourn because slavery fueled the racism that has poisoned the well of the American melting pot. I wonder whether our ancestors had any inkling of the mistreatment their kin would face in slavery. Depths of loss.
I search for hope, for silver linings. Because life without hope is merely existence. We can’t go back in time and change the past, erase the horrors and atrocities that enslaved Africans endured. But here we are, alive in the present and carrying this massive history in the fabric of our lives. We must move forward—forgiving. Forgiving all ancestors—black, white and everyone in between. We must forgive contemporary racists, while yet taking an ongoing stand against their divisive words and actions. Because everyone should know better in this age. There never has been an excuse for racism, but especially in this era, there is absolutely no excuse.
I find it immensely hopeful that African Americans survived slavery and lived to tell the stories. Hopeful that beautiful people were born of those dark times—the many influential African American lives we celebrate during Black History month. Beautiful things—like jazz, one of my favorite forms of music, arose from the African American and Afro Caribbean communities. Music and songs that reflect depths of beauty.
Let my song burst forth on a major note,
Check the minor lilt in the negro’s throat.
But how can the negroes play their harps,
With sorrow for intervals, pain for sharps?
With a knife in the wound, and tears on the face,
Should the song be quavered in treble or bass?
Though the tempo is kept by the shining stars,
Notation is writ on prejudice bars.
When God gives no sign when we reach the refrain
Have we the courage to start again?
With conflicting fugues and odd times to keep,
It’s a wonder we laugh as well as weep.
It is a most marvelous wonderful thing
That in spite of all this, the negro can sing.
~Gladys May Casely Hayford