Restorative Justice and the Legacy of African-American Slavery (1619-1865)
January 21, 2014
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Last week in class the legacy of the African-American slave trade was briefly mentioned. Does the United States (government, society and/or people) remain responsible for reconciling the vast human rights atrocities that occurred on US soil and continued for over three centuries through the oppressive Jim Crow and the Civil Rights eras?
This weekend I was listening to an NPR piece (part of the series “The Race Card Project”) that related the story of a woman in search of her slave owning family’s past. The woman explains her guilt and disintegrating pride in her family history. “At first this seemed OK to me because it was OK to her [the woman’s grandma],” the woman said. “But eventually I understood that the domination of another person’s free will was unacceptable.”
The piece prompted me to investigate issues of restorative justice as related to slavery in the US. What does the US owe generations of slave decedents or the children of the victims of Jim Crow lynchings and Civil Rights violence? What healing is needed and in what form (formal, informal, etc.) should such healing and reconciliation occur? How might this healing improve current race/society issues?
In investigating these questions, I came upon an interesting research paper by Michael F. Blevins of the St. Thomas University School of Law (2005). Blevins seeks to investigate the question, “Is it a strategic time to move forward with renewed commitment to ascertain more fully the truth about the realities and effects of slavery in the United States?” Blevins sets the complexities of the history of American slavery in current race and social theory, and religious and cultural movements. Perhaps worth a read for those interested in restorative justice within the US (and questions regarding the temporality of this type of justice).
(On a related note, the recent award winning film, 12 Years a Slave, has highlighted many of these questions, and sparked an onslaught of socio-political articles on “movies about slavery” and depictions of American slavery more generally. While the film itself could be considering an act of truth-telling and healing, it has also sparked heated conversations regarding the legacy of slavery, “white guilt,” etc. My readings brought me to this one conversation posted in Sojourners, a faith meets social justice community site. Many of the accounts are very personal and opinionated providing a first-hand look at how members of various communities (faith, race, and otherwise) struggle with the implications of an unresolved past.)