Explaining Slavery to a Six Year Old...

Kids pick up everything.  I was listening to an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on his new book "Between the World and Me" on Democracy now when they went to break playing the song "Slavery Days" by Burning Spear.  Penelope my daughter turns to me and says "Dad... Do you remember the days of slavery"? (Which happens to be the chorus of the song.)

I answered "No, I wasn't alive back then, but my great grandparents were slaves and indentured laborers". 

"Dad, what's a slave?"

"A slave is someone who is forced to work for others but is not paid for the work they do"

"That's not right".....    "Dad, If I had slaves I would pay them!"

"Then they would not be slaves, they would be workers"


Our little dialogue tonight, brought up a lot of pain as I thought of all the Black people killed at the hands of our society recently.  I say society rather than police, because we as society sanction this.  We sanction it with our subliminal messages in media, we sanction it by ignoring the news stories, we sanction it with our silence.  Most tellingly we sanction it by paying the police with the collective's money.   This is the legacy of slavery of African Americans.   It will continue until we as a society own it.  Look it square in the face and say what is.  We must confront our shadow.

Slavery has not ended.  It has merely changed form.  It looks like predatory lending by Bank of America. It looks like higher rates of school loans for minorities. It looks like the millions of women and children trafficked for the sex and pornography trades.  It looks like those picking my organic strawberries.  It even looks like my beloved iGadgets that I am writing this blog on.   The legacy of slavery lives on in all the recent deaths.  God rest their souls, they have took on too great of a burden in this life.

Chances are pretty good that my daughter will become a slave.   Struggling with paper shackles that are quickly becoming digital ones.   Unless of course, we act.  Unless we conquer our thoughts of complacency.  Unless we "Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" we shall not be free of the burden of enslavement.

I think the Lakota concept of "Wasichu" explains the mindset of slave holders. (Takers of the Fat, the nickname the Lakota gave to Whites because of their propensity to take the best cuts of the buffalo rather than giving it to the women and children as is the norm in traditional Lakota Culture)  It is this constant taking of the fat that leads one to the mentality that their life has greater value over others.  Once I elevate myself (or my people) any number of things may be justified.

I just got back from spending time on the Pine Ridge Reservation with my Lakota family participating in the Sun Dance.  It is hard to miss the remnants of the unspoken genocide that has occurred on this soil.  You are not forgotten by me.  I see you.  I hear you.  I bleed with you. The medicine to heal fat taking lives on in the Dance.  Maybe the prophecy will be true, people from all corners of the earth will come together and learn Lakota medicine and it will save the world.

For it is this fat taking consciousness that is destroying the world.  It lies behind global climate change.  It lies behind white collar crime.  It lies behind empire.  We have a sickness, a mental disease.  We take for ourselves with no thought of what the future of our children will be as a result of our actions.  We must stop taking the fat of the land.  We must stop consuming our children.

I hope to see the real promise of America in my lifetime by seeing appropriate cultural recognition of the legacy of the genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and the grinding generational poverty it has produced, and the rectification of these wrongs.  I hope to see global healing of our mental disease.  I am actually crazy enough to think it can happen and that we can and will reach that tipping point in my lifetime.  I believe we can heal, there is no pill for this.  We have to work and work together.   We have no other choice.  So let's have these conversations that are hard.  We will become closer, more intimate as a result.  Let's learn to love one another and our differences.  Let's celebrate the global wealth of human knowledge that lies in other cultural practices.  Let us stop being Wasichu's.