Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why does the US not remember its history of racism and slavery?

In the regional archaeological museum: part of the fence from the concentration camp in Witten.
I was just thinking about how differently the United States and Germany have dealt with the memory of the traumatic past. In the United States, we still sweep under the rug many of the racist acts that have occurred since and before our country's founding. For just one example, there are very few memorials to the thousands of lynchings that occurred since the end of the Civil War. According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, "there were 3959 lynchings of black people in twelve Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, which is at least 700 more lynchings in these states than previously reported." 

Bowls and cutlery that belonged to the
inmates of the concentration camp in Witten.
The twelve southern states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louis-iana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Stolpersteine in Bochum.
As the report by the EJI states, "Most Southern ter-ror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror. The absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence. National commemoration of the atrocities inflicted on African Americans during decades of racial terrorism would begin building trust between the survivors of racial terrorism and the governments and legal systems that failed to protect them."

Stolpersteine in Worms



Germany, on the other hand, is full of memorials to the Holocaust. There are Stolpersteine in most German cities and towns, marking where Jews lived before the Holocaust and from where they were taken away to be killed. In Bochum, there is a memorial to the synagogue that was destroyed on November 9-10, 1938. There is a memorial in Witten, right next to Bochum, of the place where a concentration was built in the city to incarcerate forced laborers. The Bochum city archive has an exhibit right now on forced laborers. There is a memorial in the city cemetery to the forced laborers who died here. As I have previously written, the regional archaeological museum, which covers history until 1945, includes a small exhibit on the concentration camp in Witten, which anyone who visits the museum will see.

Why have we not done the same thing in the United States?

Below the fold is an excerpt from the EJI report on the continuing effects of lynching and the era of racial terrorism in the US, and demand that lynchings be recognized by the establishment of memorials.



Trauma and the Legacy of Lynching
The lynching era left thousands dead; it significantly marginalized black people in the country’s political, economic, and social systems; and it fueled a massive migration of black refugees out of the South. In addition, lynching—and other forms of racial terrorism—inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on survivors, witnesses, family members, and the entire African American community. Whites who participated in or witnessed gruesome lynchings and socialized their children in this culture of violence also were psychologically damaged. And state officials’ indifference to and complicity in lynchings created enduring national and institutional wounds that we have not yet confronted or begun to heal. Establishing monuments and memorials to commemorate lynching has the power to end the silence and inaction that have compounded this psycho-social trauma and to begin the process of recovery. 
Most Southern terror lynching victims were killed on sites that remain unmarked and unrecognized. The Southern landscape is cluttered with plaques, statues, and monuments that record, celebrate, and lionize generations of American defenders of white supremacy, including public officials and private citizens who perpetrated violent crimes against black citizens during the era of racial terror. The absence of a prominent public memorial acknowledging racial terrorism is a powerful statement about our failure to value the African Americans who were killed or gravely wounded in this brutal campaign of racial violence. National commemoration of the atrocities inflicted on African Americans during decades of racial terrorism would begin building trust between the survivors of racial terrorism and the governments and legal systems that failed to protect them. 
Lynchings occurred in communities where African Americans today remain marginalized, disproportionately poor, overrepresented in prisons and jails, and underrepresented in decisionmaking roles in the criminal justice system. The traumatic experience of surviving mass violence creates “insecurity, mistrust, and disconnection from people”—psychological harms that were amplified by the dangers inherent in navigating Southern racial boundaries.

The psychological harm inflicted by the era of terror lynching extends to the millions of white men, women, and children who instigated, attended, celebrated, and internalized these horrific spectacles of collective violence. Participation in collective violence leaves perpetrators with their own dangerous and persistent damage, including harmful defense mechanisms such as “diminish[ed] empathy for victims” that can lead to intensified violent behaviors that target victims outside the original group. Lynching was a civic duty of white Southern men that brought them praise. Southern white children were taught to embrace traumatic violence and the racist narratives underlying it.

Lynchings in the American South were not isolated hate crimes committed by rogue vigilantes. Lynching was targeted racial violence at the core of a systematic campaign of terror perpetrated in furtherance of an unjust social order. Selective public memory compounds the harm of officials’ complicity in lynching and maintains the otherness of black people who have lived in these communities for generations. 
Public acknowledgment and commemoration of mass violence is essential not only for victims and survivors, but also for perpetrators and bystanders who suffer from trauma and damage related to their participation in systematic violence and dehumanization.

Formalizing a space for memory, reflection, and grieving can help victims “move beyond anger and a sense of powerlessness.” Suffering must be engaged, heard, recognized, and remembered before a society can recover from mass violence.

1 comment:

  1. They don't want to remember because by remembering they will then HAVE to do something about it, which they do not want to do. They are the most worthless group of hypocrites (religiously, especially) that I have have ever come across except for ISIS. They have absolutely NO ethics.

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