The African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan has been called “the most important historic urban archeological project in the United States.” Yet I had never heard of it. The site was re-discovered in 1991, having been covered over by a landfill and then development for over 200 years. My last year of school was 2000, which means I attended school for 9 years and this never entered the curriculum.
We continue to literally bury our past rather than teach our children our true history. This isn’t an isolated incident. Here’s another example. And another. I’ve spent the day reading up on this and similar stories and it’s a maddening rabbit-hole of information that has been excluded from our educational system.
Our white privilege allows us to cover this over, forget about it, and move on like it never happened while others suffer the consequences of our buried history. Those in power, that wrote the history books and owned the printing presses, had every motivation to hid as much of this as possible. Their power and fortunes were built on the backs of those they crushed and buried in their back yards. Realizing they were on the wrong side of history, they told a narrative they could be proud of, rather than the truth.
As I’ve mentioned before, I continue to struggle with how to engage with my privilege without perpetuating it. Whether I like it or not, I have benefited from this hidden part of our history. However, I know that the first step is to get over my shame and set aside my worthless white guilt. Then we have to keep our eyes open so we can catch glimpses of things in our blind spots, like this one. We have to educate ourselves and our children and learn to listen to those still affected.
Only then, from a place of knowledge and understanding, can we go about rebuilding our country in a way that acknowledges our past and rejects the systemic racism that was born when we labeled some as “other”, used them for our own gain, and then tossed them out with our garbage.
Then we can “Make America Great”. Not “again”, but maybe for the first time.