Juneteenth, and MLK Day. Black History Month. Women’s History Month. Pride Month.
There is a mindset and a school of thought that takes these commemorations as an affront to American history. Rather, a kind of invasion or takeover of American history. But until we acknowledge and embrace that all of the events of the past are our history, we cannot move forward.
Our shared past contains dark episodes of wars, repressions and genocides, and their effects remain with us today. Why? Could it be that the very denial of harsh truth keeps us from moving past it? We have examples of nations that made an effort to understand, not hide from their history. By isolating the events around the Holocaust, attempting to understand them, Germany confronted and moved from the darkest point in its history in only a few generations. In Germany, and in any other nation that is trying to move past a horrific history such as Rwanda and South Africa, the chosen approach is Truth and Reconciliation. The attitude is “this happened, it was awful, and we are not like that anymore.”
In America, we look at our past genocides, our legacy of slavery and repression, and we say “this must have been awful, but I didn’t do it, I wasn’t there, and I don’t want to hear about it.” There have been legal attempts in some states to move towards teaching school children that “this never even happened.”
How can we get to “we are not like that anymore,” in this case?
It is imperative to understand what happened and why it happened. We can do this while also understanding that the worst of the atrocities are indeed in the past and we are and should be trying to do better. But this history will never be in the past if we don’t name it and put it there.