In the retelling of U.S. history, there is an incomplete and frequently inaccurate story of African American history. At best, it has been the auxiliary exhibit, with slavery a disconnected footnote in the larger tome of our nation’s story. Descendants such as me, who were lucky to grow up knowing the names of their ancestors, know these stories. But most Americans have not been taught to see and embrace African American history as part of their history as Americans. Indeed, in the telling of American history, we have failed to fully grapple with the reality of slavery and its lasting hold on society. This has consequences.
We find ourselves in a nation bitterly divided in a year that feels oddly out of step with the time. It would be simplistic to suggest that in understanding our past we will find all of the answers. But I do believe that without deeper reflection and engagement with our history — in all of its complexity — we will not have the foundation of understanding and respect on which progress can be built. Without it, we remain trapped in a vicious cycle powered through complacence and ignorance.