The ruthless brutality which humankind has been known to unleash upon their fellow humans throughout history seems unrelenting and in fact almost unbelievable when considered in hindsight. For example, the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears, the Middle Passage, and the Great Purge – all events of historical significance, centered around a human ethnocentric desire to prove that their particular race (or idea) is better than another. What seems even more startling is the fact that such events are usually not talked about – and are even more rarely thought about. It almost seems as if we make a subconscious effort to push our knowledge of these events far away so we don’t have to think about them or consider the tragic outcomes. I know I have. However, recent events forced me to dredge up my knowledge of man’s inhumanity against man and reconsider those who have been forced into submission and now…..silently wait.
While out for an afternoon drive, a bumper sticker caught my eye because of the message it carried. Stuck on the back of an old dark blue Chevy, the sticker read “Terrorizing Native Americans Since 1492.” Jolted, in my mind’s eye I was transported to another era. I was forced to consider the implications of those words and how much Native Americans – and indeed Native people of many lands – have been terrorized. America was a place inhabited by many peoples who – long before America was “discovered” in 1492 and any earlier expeditions – had established their own systems, languages, cultural knowledge, and expectations. However, their way of life was slashed, ripped to shreds after the discovery of the “New World” ushered in the era of colonization which somehow resulted in the Native people playing the role of ‘slave’ while the colonizers played the role of ‘master.’
My trip back through the horrors of time continued when I stumbled across a portion of “USA Today” (a newspaper) and flipped through it, planning to throw it away when an article entitled “Recognizing Slave Burial Grounds” caught my eye. Essentially, construction crews clearing land for other purposes have stumbled across numerous ‘slave cemeteries’ – some of which have been horribly desecrated. For example, in areas where plantations once stood and in regions where sugar was grown and harvested by slaves, constructions workers have found remains of those who were never properly buried – their lives never respected nor admired nor really talked about.
The silence is understandable. No-one wants to know what happened to all those people who bore the brunt of human brutality. Justice is blind (and apparently mute and deaf as well) – it is far easier to ignore the traumas of history than face them. After all, before this newspaper article and before catching sight of that bumper sticker, I had never spared a thought to what happened to the people who were slaughtered senselessly in the Holocaust, to those who were worked to death on plantations and covered with dirt until their remains were buried under landfill only to be happened upon years later, to those who dropped during forced marches, or executed in concentration camps. What happens to those people – their memories, their children, their way of life…… and when the horrors they were forced to endure are unveiled by accident, what happens to history?
Jervis, Rick. “Recognizing Slave Burial Grounds.” USA Today 14 February 2012: 3A. Print.