Image courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew. Shared via a Creative Commons license.
With just the right conditioning I could have been a pole dancer; or a terrorist. Chances are I was better prepared for the latter. I say this because as a young woman in my early 20s, I was consumed with righteous indignation; the kind that could have fomented to hatred. You see, I resented the fact that Black people had suffered great injustices for centuries and had not reciprocated or retaliated to rectify the situation.
My profile was just right. I was young, quiet and thoughtful. I had grown up innocently, with the impression that humans were perfect beings, more or less; and became incensed when I began reading on my own and understanding words like exploitation, expansionism, imperialism, partitioning, colonialism, enslavement and what the Berlin Conference was all about. I began to see human beings in a different light.
I saw injustice; and people going about their day as if nothing had ever happened. I heard people casually saying the word “slaves” without realizing that they were actually talking about “people;” people who were captured, shackled, whipped into submission and shipped out of their country like cattle. Or saying that God did not create slaves.
If it is true, as some people believe, that ideally the goals of education are righteousness, justice, balance, truth, character and integrity; then it’s easy to be “radicalize” when someone comes along with an eloquent discourse on righteousness, justice and integrity.
Further, when that someone expresses moral anger about the wrongs and the value of adhering to biblical teachings; for example, Leviticus 24:20: “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him,” common sense tells us what’s next.
Indeed, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
I was lucky. I was spared from negative influences and matured with malice towards none. I did not kill or maim anyone in my desire to reciprocate, retaliate or rectify the injustices of the Great Enslavement. I am much older, much wiser and much convinced that the true heroes and healers of our world are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela.
I’ve realized that humans are imperfect and predisposed to ignorance. Imagine, a human being not being capable of distinguishing another human as human, simply because they do not look exactly alike! Or think alike! Or belong to the same religion! Dogs behave in a similar fashion. Wisdom does not come early or easily. One has to live a while to learn not only how to make good use of the life we are given, but to realize that human beings come in all shapes, sizes and colors and are mere products of their environment.
When I was a little girl I was sent to mass every Sunday, but I did not pay much attention to the mass, which was mostly in Latin. My interest was drawn to the ceiling of the church where there were hundreds of paintings of pink-faced cherubs, angels and saints. There was not one black face on that ceiling! I deduced that black people did not go to Heaven. I was a child, how was I to know that those paintings were some artist’s depiction of The Great Beyond?
I was also fascinated with characters from books, movies and stories: Cinderella, Snow White, Santa Claus, Superman, Batman, Four Little Women and the Tooth Fairy, to name a few. I was not fascinated with Black Sambo or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
I learned from the Holy Bible that God had a Chosen People. And, alas, I was not one of them. In high school I learned a multitude of facts about a multitude of people, including the Greeks and Romans. I learned nothing about people who looked like me. I felt cheated; no, non-existent.
I now know that humans come in three categories: good, bad and indifferent. I know that reciprocity and retaliation can’t make the bad good. But I am still concerned that an apology for the Great Enslavement has yet to come forth. I know that the enslavement of my ancestors cannot be erased, appeased or rectified. But an apology would be nice.
I feel a great love and longing for the countless human beings who were captured; who died on slave ships and in crossings, in cane fields and cotton fields, and on Massa’s plantations trying to escape. I love them; I feel their spirit; I am their child.
I acknowledge that there are times when I believe that humans have improved and are improving; but the feeling does not last long. Some hater somewhere raises his ugly head and begins be-heading innocent people.
I admit that I too have learned to go about my day as if nothing had ever happened. But I have learned to live in quiet memory of my beloved ancestors, knowing there is nothing I can do but strive to improve my own humanity, the way (I think) they would have wanted me to.
DAISY HOLDER LAFOND was born on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. A former V.I. Daily News editor, her writings have appeared in various publications. She owned and published The V.I. Voice magazine and was The Caribbean Writer’s 2012 winner of the Marguerite Cobb McKay Prize. She is a mother and grandmother and lives on St. Croix.