By Brian Browne
Over 20 Enslaved Africans Auctioned In Jamestown Virginia Remembered!
The body of the enslaved may be broken yet his heart unblemished; the body of the enslaver may go unmarked yet his soul forever scarred.
Much of the world recently commemorated the 400th anniversary of the importation of over 20 enslaved Africans to the English North American colony of Virginia. This sad event is being observed as if it was the start of the transatlantic slave trade in North America. As with most historical events that officialdom inserts into popular lore the claim that this event launched the slave trade soil is wholly inaccurate.
Spanish conquistadors brought with them to Florida in the 1560s a complement of Africans as human pack animals, more than a half century before the forlorn enslaved Angolans were auctioned in Virginia’s Jamestown. I guess the English speakers of North America and the United Kingdom believe that they must be considered the authors of everything that is important, no matter how contemptuous that ting might be. Even while purporting to attack racial prejudice they cannot help but reveal their brand of supremacism.
Here, I must tender an admission before proceeding further. I write this piece somewhat reluctantly; I had convinced myself not to broach this subject. Yet, in reading much of what was being broadcasted for public consumption about this commemoration, I noticed something vital was missing. There was little human content in the discussion of what is perhaps the most protracted evil in the annals of human history. This great misery was being treated as a historical abstraction, as something that happened too far in the past to really belong to our consciousness of the present.
The subtle theme underlying the commemoration has been that today’s world, because it eschews legalized slavery, is morally superior to that of the past. To a certain degree, this assertion is unassailable. We have moved away from much of the past’s barbarity. However, we must also acknowledge that we and the world we occupy are children of that past. Even after four centuries, the evil then wrought has not yet run its course.
It is unfortunate but true that the effects of any good we do are constricted in space and time. The good we perform barely survives the day. While the evil that man performs outlives him. It erects strong monuments difficult to overthrow.
We cannot separate ourselves from the past by deeming ourselves morally superior to it. To think such folly is to entice ourselves toward new and additional evils; few things are more dangerous than the self-righteous man who sees good in his every thought and action, no matter how devious or cruel. For instance, how could one of the most notorious slave vessels of the 16th century be christened Saint John the Baptist? These peopled were blind to the horrid incongruity of naming their barge of degradation after the herald of the Messiah who, incidentally, came to earth to set man free. John baptized with water to wash away people’s sin. These men sinned by baptizing Africans into abject misery. Yet, the times baptized the hypocrites into immense wealth and power such that they not only lived their own heaven on earth, bit that they would be able to steer their ship to heaven in the afterlife as well. Few slavers went to their death beds with regret or remorse in dread of the awful thing they had done. They felt accumulation of wealth signaled the manifold blessings of their Creator. That their wealth was stained with the blood and tears of others seemed not to matter. They regarded God as a merchant and heaven as a location where plots were for sale to the highest bidders. In this as in many other regards, we are children of the lies of the past and no its truths.
Enough about the slaver! He did as he wished and thus has received his reward. The more compelling account is to find out what became of the enslaved who was forced to suffer what he must. I am of this stock; thus, I shall speak for him as a means of speaking for myself.
I was taken from this continent but I know not the exact locale of my forced departure. I know not the date or season in which my trip begin except to surmise it must have been a sad occasion. One would think the date for such a momentous trip would have been registered in the family album. Herein, lies a problem. I know not the name of the family from which I came. Had they a family album, I know not what became of it.
Forget the album, I don’t even know what happened to my family. Fared they well without me? Did they lament? Who comforted my crying mother? Who explained things to my puzzled my father? Did they parent another child to take my place? Were they also taken? Perhaps they came to the plantation just down the road or in adjacent county. I don’t know the answers and I will never know them. Slavery and time have erased those things that normally connect a person to a special place and unique people.
I was stripped of my native clothes and all outward signs of human dignity. In the process of the slavers taking these things from me, I discovered I did not need them to be who I am. They wrenched my heritage from me. Yet, I did not sink. I created another heritage from the scraps of food and chards of wood I was allowed. The enslaver’s greater physical power and penchant for unspeakable brutality may have dictated what labors I performed at his violent behest. But he could not dictate who I was. I defined myself regardless of the shackles on my leg and arms.
Every time he whipped me, my skin broke as did my spirit but only for a moment. The pain was such that no human can long suffer it without pleading for the deluge of blows to end. When the sense of death is imminent, thoughts focus solely on survival and you will surrender to say what the enslaver wants you to say when you are suffering under the duress of the whip. The forced confession they beat out of you is by its nature a false thing but it still damages your sense of self that they would made you say that which you don’t want to say. You feel as if you lost a bit of yourself, as if a piece of our soul was cast upon a cruel wind. However the next hour, the next day, the next week, the next something, your spirit and mind repair themselves unto defiance. You think once more of freedom.
Slavery has done many things to me. Some I will not tell because ugliness makes them unspeakable. However, slavery has taught me a valuable lesson. The rich and powerful can amass fortunes and arsenals but no human can own my soul, no matter how lowly I might be. Thus, every lash of the slaver brought me closer to an inner freedom than no mortal hand can steal.
My freedom was preordained by the very dynamics of the evil system set against me. My task thus is not to seek vengeance or retribution; the architects of this evil system surely met a much higher form of justice than I could render. My greatest task is to keep in constant recall the harsh sensation of being on the victim’s end of the cruel lash even when I am no longer subject to the lash. I remember its sting not in anger but as the call of justice and compassion.
Let me always remember this thing so that I am never tempted to subject another person or people to what happened to me. My enslaver gave me an unintended gift, a sense and love of humanity he will never know or understand because this thing I hold is born of long suffering.
This brings us to what Martin Luther King sought when he spoke of integration. For him, integration was not just some mechanistic legalism where members of different races could frequent the same diner or hold the same jobs. Integration was not simply for black people to enter mainstream society with no questions asked other than can we attend the same movie theatre. Something is materially off kilter with a society that enslaves millions of people for centuries then, for good measure, places them for another 100 years under a system of racial oppression that served as the blueprint of apartheid.
King believed that the formerly enslaved black American was not to join society, seeking merely to act like whites in black face. Blacks had something precious to add to soften the ways of a hate-filled, herrenvolk society. We had our memories of the lash and what it was to be oppressed for no legitimate reason. America had grown to be the most powerful nation but it lacked the soul and humility required to temper and restrain that great power so that it would be placed to the best use. Black people were to inject into American society the higher morality born of the lowly slave, according to King.
For a time, this seemed to happen. Black America was the most anti-war, socially progressive segment of society. We raised our voice against injustice at home and afar. Then something happened. As black leaders were allowed into the mainstream power structure, they forget the lessons of the lash. During the past few decades, black leaders have become indistinguishable from rest of the power structure in their passion for war and dismantling weaker nations populated by dark-skinned people.
They have surrendered high principle for the scent of power amidst personal advancement. Money and influence have afflicted them with amnesia regarding their own history. No longer fearing the lash, they now rejoice in setting it against others. Unless this group of leaders change heart, King and those like him have died in vain.
For them King is nothing but a nice poster to view in fake reverence when ordinary people are watching but to quickly ignore when in the gatherings of power. These black American leaders protest against racism at home only because such demonstrations profit their individual ambitions for higher office. However, they remain silent to the imbalances of American foreign policy regarding black people in Africa and the Caribbean. They care nothing for black people abroad because those blacks cannot vote for them. This reveals their concern for black Americans is not one of love but of utility, much the same way one is concerned about the fidelity of the hammer he wields while trying to drive a stubborn nail. Once the job is performed, one does not give the hammer a better home. It is merely returned to its original place. Once they cast their votes, black Americans are similarly handled.
In large part because of the venality of our leaders, black Americans have lost ground the past two decades. Black elected officials have gained more prominence but the average black family has lost wealth over the same time span. These two facts appear inconsistent but they are of the same accord. Consumed by their pursuit of personal riches and glory, black politicians can countenance the doing of any evil that profits them, even if that evil befalls their own brethren. Fine watches and jewelry now rest where gruesome manacles once were. Yet these purported leaders are more slavish than their ancestors ever were. Unlike their ancestors, they did this to themselves. They forfeited their souls for a title, for membership in an exclusive club, and for a chance to appear on CNN. They have little right to celebrate 1619; today, they function more like the children of the enslaver than the children of the enslaved.
Because of their abdication of duty, black America no longer restrains the martial impulses of their nation. America has become more warlike, endangering itself and much of the planet in the process. With armed troops stationed in over 100 countries, it currently is fighting several wars and seeing to start new ones on at least two different continents. King and his ilk would have railed against such wanton bellicosity. Today’s black leadership revels in it, lending their voices to the lust for war.
This is why a black president could be persuaded by his hectoring, self-absorbed secretary of state to war against Libya although that African nation presented no threat. When towns inhabited mostly by peaceful black Libyans were decimated by the terrorists they supported, neither that black president nor any other black leader raised an eyebrow. Instead, they turned the blind eye. They abetted the transformation of a once stable nation into a modern day slave market of black Africans yet have not lifted a finger to correct this wrong they committed. They fail even to acknowledge this travesty. They dare feign sober commemoration of slavery 400 year ago when they are the engineers of African slavery in the here and now. Currently two black senators are campaigning for their party’s presidential nomination. Not one of them has the courage to speak against the machines of war. Even if they win the contest, they have lost something greater.
Enough with these black enslavers. I save my last and better thoughts for my ancestors. I write to them through time under the assumption they have learned how to read and are not prohibited from doing so where they now reside.
“They robbed me of your name and the name of your people in hope that I might forget you. Their game failed. I remember you every day and thank you for having the resilience to survive the long ordeal; without your fortitude, I do not exist. Any shame you felt at being enslaved and forced to suffer untold suffering is misplaced. I, along with millions, wear you proudly.
I often imagine us sitting at kitchen table or under a tree. So many things I have to ask you; but first I would simply ask your name that I may address you with the respect that you have earned. You would recount how you were taken from home. I could hopefully comfort you by letting you know that they very idea of you was what led me to return to Africa of my own volition. Together, we form an unbroken chain that has come full circle. In fact, we have broken what tried to break us.
This would be quite a family reunion! But it will have to wait awhile; there are things I have yet to achieve in this life before I deserve such a sitting with you.
If I could somehow amass and lay at your feet all the riches of the world to compensate for the depravations suffered, it would not begin to repay what I owe you. You likely would gently chastise me and not accept such a gift anyway because you know the pursuit of great riches is often the producer of even greater evils. Indeed, the debt I owe you is not to forget. I remember you for it gives me the courage to stand for that which is right and good no matter how widely disdained. I stand away from that which is wrong no matter how powerful or popular it might be.
From you, I have learned the world can try to intimidate me with hate and the rage of hate yet I have the innate capacity to remain unmoved by the onslaught. The love of my people and all that is good in humanity is powerful indeed. Hate and evil may win the battle even for what seems to be the longest time. But, ah, if we hold true to what is best in us, we have won the war from its very outset despite the hardships that may follow.”
To me, this is how to commemorate those who were enslaved. We do so not by some sterile official pronouncement quickly made, then more quickly shelved but as a living memory that nourishes and guides us come what may.