“There is nothing we forget as eagerly, as quickly, as the wickedness of man.”Abraham J. Heschel
The last few years I have been learning about our hidden history. From the way conquerors came to this country and colonized it by brutalizing and attempting to eliminate the indigenous people, to the Tulsa Oklahoma massacre of black citizens. None of this did I learn in school. In fact, we were taught in such a way that it seemed this land was a wilderness just waiting to be settled by people from Europe. And we knew there was slavery, but not the horrors of what that meant to people. And there was this way of teaching us that implied that slavery had happened so long ago we didn’t need to concern ourselves with it, and besides, there was the emancipation proclamation that made everything better — right? Wrong.
The book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann opened my eyes to the civilizations and thriving populations of our country before the conquerors arrived. The discovery of the historian Howard Zinn opened my eyes to A People’s History of the United States. This book showed me history from the bottom up, not the way the winners of history present themselves. For it is the winners who get to write history, and the dead have no voice. Celebrations of Juneteenth, our new federal holiday, are opening our eyes to ongoing racial injustice even as we celebrate the liberation of slaves in Texas two years after the emancipation proclamation.
Now people want to ban what they are calling Critical Race Theory. They do not want history to be taught in a way that reveals the inherent racism that exists in our country. They want to keep sanitizing our history, covering up our sins. But I say that people have a right to know the truth of their history.
If we cannot accept our past we cannot know what it means to seek truth and justice in our present. The way our history has been covered up clouds our future and means that misunderstandings persist and cannot heal. We must face the stark realities of our history with a penitential memory or we cannot reach understanding.
Every act of violence from our past distorts our future unless we repent, turn away from that violence, and determine to do better. We cannot break the cycle of violence unless we face reality.
There is a portion in Abraham Heschel’s book on the Prophets that says, ” There was a moment when God looked at the universe made by Him and said, ‘It is good.’ But there was no moment in which God could have looked at history made by man and said: ‘It is good.'” (See The Prophets). Attempts to sanitize our history are wrong. We need to face history with a penitential mindset. We can do better. God is calling us to do better.
Instead of pursuing justice and truth our country has chosen to silence those who have been victimized, oppressed, and exploited. Our conflicts are hidden and not resolved and when most of us are silent about the truth of things, this silence leads to complicity with sin. We cannot heal.
We are all tempted to let the past be past, and not talk about it, but this is not healthy and we cannot move forward into a better future. I want to hear the true stories of our past, I want us to heal, to be free to move into a better future.
My beloved ones in Christ, do not be afraid of the truth for the truth will set us free.