I don’t have a problem with the annual memorializing of 9/11. But last month marked the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in the US, acknowledged only by some segments of the press and small memorials here and there. It would have been easy to miss it entirely. It makes me wonder what we commemorate and why.
I’ve been listening to the White Lies podcast, which is ostensibly an investigation into the murder of the Reverend James Reeb, beaten to death after joining the movement for voting rights in Alabama. But really it’s an examination of the South, and culpability, and how we lie to ourselves in order to absolve ourselves of responsibility. It’s not just the South that excels at this. Our country loves to forget the horrors we’ve committed. Unless we’re turning our crimes into victories, which is a specialty of the South. As is the “memorial as fuck you.” Not just Confederate statues deep into the 20th Century, but a statue of the Klan’s first Grand Wizard a week into the term of Selma’s first Black mayor. In 2000.
Perhaps this makes sense to you. A country doesn’t want to rest on its mistakes and crimes, it wants to celebrate its achievements. It wants to encourage pride and patriotism. So we remember “good” things we’ve done and times when we were victimized, but not anything for which we were responsible, in which we fucked up. But I keep thinking of Germany and the ubiquitous reminders of the Holocaust. There is another way to do things. It might help our understanding of history and mitigate our arrogance if we acknowledged African slavery and Indian genocide in the same way.
Of course, Germany made reparations to Jews. I don’t know if they could memorialize if they hadn’t. How would we feel in this US if we were constantly reminded of those crimes against humanity, while simultaneously recognizing that the structural racism and oppression continue. Someone might want to do something about it. Who knows where that could lead.
Then again, right wing racists are on the rise in Germany, too, so maybe nothing does any good.
Now I’m in a bad mood.