It was Sir Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister during the World War II era, who said: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. If he was right, then a review of history in its rawest sense and in its utter completeness would be the only way to achieve such an avoidance.
Medical practitioners can never arrive at accurate prognoses with censored, redacted, abridged or subjectively skewed diagnoses. In another and much broader respect, healing from societal ills can never be obtained through sanitized historical data.
This was something that South Africans realized after the demise of Apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa in 1996 after the end of Apartheid. It was authorized by President Nelson Mandela and chaired by Bishop Desmond Tutu.
The commission invited witnesses who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations to give statements about their experiences, and selected some for public hearings. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
Some Republican governors here in the US have taken a different approach by trying to sanitize or excise the unpleasant history of racism in this country. Even our courts have sought to do so with a “race neutral” approach to jurisprudence. But how can the nation truly heal by employing such questionable methods?
How fair is it for those who began the argument of race and racism to change or to end it because it suits them? How fair is it when victims say, “We want to talk about what you did to us, and how what you did continues to affect us, and how you can help us to heal”, only to hear their abusers say, “That happened so long ago. Why are you harping on that? That is not healthy. Why are you showing us your scars? Why are you recounting racial epithets that we allegedly cast at you? Can’t you see how awful they sound? Can’t you see how negatively such things are affecting us mentally and emotionally? We don’t want to talk about such things! Please, cease and desist such bile! Have some consideration! Don’t be racist!”
How does one recount the indelicacies of racism and of oppression, how does one make references or provide quotations from their proponents with the delicacy of diplomacy? Is there a more positive way to say, “Nigger”, or “Negro”, or “Native”, or “Monkey” — all used as racial epithets against me and my kind — even now? Come on, somebody, please tell me! Would a “redacted,” a “sanitized,” or a more “euphemistic” narrative of history still be up to the task of accurately and of cogently recounting the shame, the disgrace and the brutality visited upon my forebears and, indeed, upon my contemporaries? Who are the victims in this case? Who are, really, the ones who are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder here?
The way that some states and, in many respects, the nation has chosen to respond to the victims of racism and of other forms of bigotry perpetrated by both, counters and conflicts with what they have so proudly enshrined in law:
“All states, the District of Columbia, and most US territories have statutory or constitutional provisions that enumerate rights and protections for victims of crime. Two key federal laws also address victims’ rights. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (18 USC 3771), enacted in 2004, specifies a broad set of rights for victims of federal crimes and authorizes federal funding for programmes to assist victims in asserting, accessing and enforcing those rights.
The Victims of Crimes Act (42 US Code Chapter 112), enacted in 1984, authorizes crime victim compensation and assistance to victims of federal and state crimes. These federal and state provisions generally articulate the following rights for victims throughout the criminal justice process: to be informed of proceedings and events; to attend proceedings and be heard; to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; to privacy and protection from intimidation and harassment; to restitution from the offender and to apply for crime victim compensation; and to enforcement of these rights and access to other available remedies.
The Office for Victims of Crime supports an extensive searchable database of federal and state victims’ rights statutes, tribal laws, constitutional amendments, court rules, administrative code provisions, and case summaries of related court decisions.”
After almost 300 years of victimization due to chattel slavery — with all of its resultant psychological, spiritual, physical, social, cultural, economic and political displacements — should the issue be treated so lightly and also be allowed to be summarily dismissed? Can deep, putrid wounds be closed by the Band-Aid of political correctness — a composite of social constructs fashioned from intellectual abstractions which are divorced from the rigors and pains of history?
Can centuries old aches and pains, which have been routinely exacerbated by white society since Emancipation, be salved within a few short decades and with piecemeal political, economic and legal solutions designed to address such issues?
I say, “Fie, on modern social conventions!” I say, “Fie, on their ‘political correctness’!” None of these were considered by the oppressors of my people when, with impunity, they foisted indignity upon indignity on those who — for centuries — were kidnapped, corralled, chained, branded, whipped, worked, watered, fed and bred like animals by them! Where was diplomacy then? Where was vaunted European civility? To where did superior dignity and cultural family values flee at the sound of the bursts of muskets, and at the booms of cannons? “Fie! Fie! Fie! Fie, on ‘protocol’”! How do we speak of disgrace — gracefully?! Why, all of a sudden, this self-righteous and paternalistic call for decency and for propriety?
On the therapist’s couch, when a patient is in pain, wrestling with his inner demons and with the horrors of his past, would that be a good time to urge him not to shout or to advise him to be extremely mindful of his of words? Is his disease a deficiency of sanity and peace or one of propriety? Who thinks of etiquette when one is sequestered in a hospital bed by disease? Who asks, “Is my hair okay? How is my lipstick?” Or, “To which political party or religion does my surgeon belong?”
Is decorum necessary to articulate pain? “They called me names, but I won’t offend you by repeating them, doctor.” Nonsense! And which psychological paradigm in the field of clinical counselling advocates ignoring the full context of a patient’s life and all that simmers beneath the subconscious?
Again, utter nonsense!
The objective across the mist-covered gulf of recurrent questions, of lingering uncertainties, over mental barbed wires, through the tight crevasses of secrets, and around emotional land mines — is healing! That should be the objective of all freedom loving, patriotic Americans. And what is crucial in that resorative process is panoramic perspective! Who, therefore, gives a damn about how one should sound or about how one should look while on the path to recovery?! All we need to do is to get there! For Black people and other minorities in pain, with anger atop that beast, with its spurs dug deep into its flesh — we are still trying to throw off a misery brought on by racism which continues to be exacerbated by national insensitivity.
Since the 1800s, the word “placebo” has been used to refer to a fake treatment, meaning one that does not contain any active, physical substance. One may have heard of placebos referred to as “sugar pills”. Placebos have had some positive effects which are yet to be fully understood by medical science. But no “sugar pills”, prescribed by self-serving politicians, have ever or will ever satiate the enervating symptoms of systemic racism. No form of hypnosis or of demagogic hocus-pocus can achieve long sought-after redress, justice or healing. I, therefore, beg to differ with perspectives such as that of author Ms. Shanon L. Alder who asserts, “Lies don’t end relationships. The truth does.” On the other hand, I agree with writer Mr. Stewart Stafford when he said, that “feigned interest is worse than brutal honesty.”
Oh, for honesty, America! Honesty!