Formally launching and disseminating this Report is an active response to UNESCO’s Global Call against racism. It will inspire the world to learn from the histories of slavery, acknowledge the harms of structural injustice and institutional racism, and promote inclusion, pluralism and intercultural dialogue.
Watch the recording of the UNESCO Launch event here:
In this A Narrative of Love conversation, the UNESCO Slave Route Project Advisor, Dr Joy DeGruy, explores what it feels for black African Americans to negotiate the multiple challenges of living in a racist society, including internalised racism, the learned helplessness, and structural dehumanisation. Dr DeGruy also highlights key elements that can move the society towards healing, at both personal and collective levels.
More importantly, Dr DeGruy offers pathways that individuals, organisations, and governments can embark on to repair, rebuild and restructure our common habitat through partaking in the mutuality of shared humanness. Thus we can all Be the Healing.
This is a must-read and provides illuminating ideas in terms of how we might understand the significance of healing the wounds of collective historical trauma such as trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery.
Supported by the UNESCO Slave Route Project, the GHFP has completed a Desk Review aimed at mapping meaningful approaches to healing the wounds of slavery.
The Desk Review draws on a conception of healing wounds that perceives the wound of trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery as systematic dehumanisation. This in turn highlights the imperative of healing as addressing dehumanisation through four processes:
Process One is directed at dehumanising acts per se;
Process Two is directed at the traumatic effects of being dehumanised;
Process Three is directed at the dehumanising relationships; and
Process Four is directed at the structural conditions that enable and have enabled institutionalised dehumanisation.
In reviewing the relevant literature and case studies, the Desk Review has mapped out some of the key practical approaches to healing. Understanding the significance of collective healing and taking practical steps towards healing are amongst the most powerful ways to eradicate racism.
In her review of Toni Morrison‘s book “Beloved”, Dr Scherto Gill suggests that one of the book’s features be that it allows us to remember the unremembered, and reminds us of the need to face the oppressed collective memories of slavery. Without embracing these memories, the unremembered continues to hold our societies, and we live simultaneously in the present and in the past.
Dr Gill says:
Clearly, the unremembered is never forgotten, and they wear different guises today in racism, poverty, and violence, the three evils of structural oppression identified by Martin Luther King Jr.
That unremembered demands to be remembered, is because memories can imprison but also liberate. By remembering, the formerly enslaved can re-acquaint with their bodies once so violated by brutality and torture, and can return to their community, a community from which they once ran away, because it identity was associated with commodity and utility.
Dr King calls this new place of belonging our Beloved Community, built on dignity, mutual respect, and compassion. For Morrison, this Beloved Community must start with listening to unremembered past … because she knew only too well, it is in the remembered that lies seed of forgiveness, redemption, and healing.
“We know why Covid is killing so many black people.”
In this New York Times Opinion piece, the author Dr Sabrina Strings, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine, concludes, drawing on scientific research, and analyses of African American people’s health, that
“obesity — and its affiliated, if incorrect implication of poor lifestyle choices — should not be front and center when it comes to understanding how this pandemic has affected African-Americans.Even before Covid-19, black Americans had higher rates of multiple chronic illnesses and a lower life expectancy than white Americans, regardless of weight. This is an indication that our social structures are failing us. These failings — and the accompanying embrace of the belief that black bodies are uniquely flawed — are rooted in a shameful era of American history that took place hundreds of years before this pandemic.”
Epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that can switch genes on and off. Recent epigenetic studies have shown that stress, socio-economic deprivation, racism and other traumatic experiences of our ancestors can play a part in turning on or off certain genes in our DNA. That is to say, for instance, the trauma of slavery can be passed on transgenerationally. See an example in the work by Professor Ariane Giacobino.
Professor Benjamin Bowser and others also urge our societies to pay more attention to how education might continue to perpetuate such trauma, and likewise, new approaches to teaching and learning about trans-Atlantic slave trade and slave history may contribute to healing and cultural transformation.
Coming to the Table is a national organization whose vision for the United States is of “a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past – from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned.” It started its work in 2006 from the efforts of Susan Hutchison and Will Hairston, both descendants of European heritage enslavers who had formed bonds with descendants of people their ancestors had enslaved.
The name of the organization comes from the “I Have a Dream” speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King. The mission of Coming to the Table is to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” Coming to the Table promotes four approaches to achieving its mission.
Coming to the Table holds National Gatherings every two years. There are also local groups around the country. Another national but virtual component of Coming to the Table are its working groups, such as the Linked Descendants working group.
Through the Coming to the Table website, anyone may have access to a set of recommended resources. STAR, Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience, is a workshop. Transforming Historical focuses STAR on the trans-generational transmission of harms done by injustice and inequity. Other resources come from the domain of Restorative Justice.
Kellogg Foundation‘s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) enterprise has initiated a national process aimed at addressing centuries of racial inequities in the United States. TRHT seeks to advance racial healing in communities across the country to create environments where everyone can thrive. It is based on the understanding that the roots of slavery is the belief in a hierarchy of human value, and by jettisoning such a belief, and transforming our collective consciousness, we can re-envisioning a more humane, equitable and loving society.
The Design of TRHT focuses on changing narratives, enabling healing and relationship building, developing more systemic transformation through law and economy. For more information on the TRHT, please read:
Entitled “Healing the Wounds of Slavery: Towards a Mutual Recovery“, the Symposium is co-organised by the UNESCO and GHFP, and hosted by the Berkley Centre at the Georgetown University, Washington DC. on 18-19 Oct. 2018.
This dialogue amongst carefully selected multidisciplinary experts is envisioned to address the root causes of racial prejudices, racism and discrimination derived from slavery, past and present. In particular, this symposium