For centuries, more than 15 million men, women and children were forcibly uprooted from their homes and legacies, and forced into lives of slavery.
The International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, which has been annually observed on March 25 since the United Nations introduced it in 2008, commemorates the ancestral voices and folklore of those that suffered the longest and most inhumane epoch of human history.
In honoring the lives of those who died or experienced unfathomable horrors as a result of the transatlantic slave trade, this annual memento aims to behoove us of the dangers of prejudice and other elements of otherization.
According to neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, otherization can be described as a continuum that begins with prejudice and can result in extreme destructive aggression and hostility towards an individual or group perceived to be different in some way.
Genocide is one extreme consequence of otherization.
International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, similar to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, begets our recognition and pause to raise awareness and further the historical inclusion of strong and fortuitous peoples who were victimized by tyrannous and barbarous regimes and institutions.
The prevalent and lingering consequences of slavery are especially visible today amid #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations, the disturbing reach of lobbies such as the prison industrial complex and the perpetual erasure of histories of peoples of color throughout the world.
Otherization goes beyond classification, which is simply determining who’s in and who’s out, as a conditioned process of stereotyping and dehumanizing an ‘other’ for their perceived differences and being. In regard to the Transatlantic slave trade, otherization motivated cruel and callous acts that resulted in the deaths of more than 2 million women, children and men. Furthermore, otherization helped legitimate these acts with reinterpreted biblical scripture and omen.
Yet, we have not forgotten.
“The Ark of Return,” reminds the world that the scope of the oppression and destruction of the Transatlantic slave trade, which began more than 500 years ago, continues to follow people. That past remains largely unreconciled.
“The Ark of Return,” the official memorial for International Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, was unveiled on March 25, 2015 at the United Nation’s Visitors Plaza in New York City.
Designed by Haitian-American architect, Rodney Leon, “The Ark of Return” has multiple elements and meanings.
The first element of this tripartite work, titled “Acknowledge the Tragedy,” offers a 3D map depicting the global scale and reach of the Transatlantic slave trade. The second element, “Consider the Legacy,” shows an African man entrapped in a cramped space with inscriptions of images of the ship’s interior to remind us of the horror and death that resulted from the packing of millions of African persons treated as cargo aboard slave ships.
The third and final element, “Lest We Forget,” is a triangular reflecting pool that encourages onlookers to remember the millions of women, children and men who lost their lives at sea, while traveling to a life of involuntary servitude in the Americas and Europe.
Why should we observe the International Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims and the Transatlantic Slave Trade on Friday, March 25, 2016?
I have three notable reasons:
1. In hopes of gaining solace. According to the Sankofa adage, an adage that I live by, in order to move forward, we must go forth with the fruits of our pasts.
2. To reconcile the erasure of Eurocentric storytelling. According to Dr. Ivan van Sertima and others of his stature, the Africans’ history in the Americas did not begin with slavery; the African people had been traveling by boat and exchanging materials and knowledge long before European interference. Similarly, the African American’s history was not uniform. Several persons of African descent, like Yarrow Mamout, an emancipated Muslim banker from Guinea, owned land and were prolific thinkers and professionals. A gleeful portrait of Yarrow Mamout, dated in 1819 and painted by Charles Wilson Peale, is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
There were millions of individuals and families who were taken from their homes, primarily from nations of the West African region to the Caribbean via the Middle Passage, to abet in the creation of wealth and nation-building throughout the Western hemisphere and Europe. The wealth that was built was never recompensed; these people were robbed of both their material and immaterial wealth. The wealth was instead wielded as a sustaining driver of imperialistic conquest and hegemony.
3. Education of oneself: The knowledge of the conditions suffered by one’s likeness, as constructed and reconstructed in society, is and has been a critical tenet of dignity, resilience and faith. Education encourages and strengthens perseverance and collective consciousness to endure the most heinous of crimes against humanity and cruelties. I have come to understand education of oneself as this: In order to persevere in an otherized society, one must navigate social norms and consciousness and strive to thrive withstanding prescribed confines in good company. And good company is curious.
The people, especially the youth, should be made aware of the danger of prejudice; the people should be reminded of the danger of otherization. The people should be curious to understand what causes a person to destroy another just because they are different from them; what has been lost at consequence to the destruction of griots, cultural artifacts, literature and traditions. The people should seek to discover what is not known, what history remains untold.
In honor of the 8th Annual International Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, I invite the curious to join me at the Seeds of Calabash Folklore event “Remembering Our Fallen” to enjoy a family-friendly night of commemorative reflection and learning on Friday, March 25 at 7 p.m. at the One Drop Reggae Shop & Juice Bar, 8800 Broadway Street, Suite #8816.
Let us come together in life, love and knowledge. Let us never forget so that we may never repeat.
*Top image: Gordon, or Whipped Peter, was an African American slave escapee whose whipping scars on his back were revealed upon a medical examination at a Union camp in 1863. The photo of his scars was used internationally to show the troubling reality of slavery.