Part of the problem with the discourse on this subject is that there is a gap in knowledge. Since none of us were alive during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, we have to imagine what it was like. For example:

“By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginning of modern Western civilization, as the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.” – Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States

I wept when I read this. To think of all the families torn apart. The echoes we still hear and see today. And the generations of people have been ripped apart.

The natural questions that comes next from this type of information are:

How do you begin to repair something like this?

Should reparation be involved, and if so how should it be done? Is money the answer here? Is money even enough? What else could be done?

The countries that participated in the slave trade became extremely wealthy, what is the responsibility of these countries to make amends that benefitted from such egregious acts? How do you raise the floor for others?

How do we grieve and honor the victims? Or does this deplete our moral energy for the present?

How can we fix the narrative so that future generations can get a more accurate view of history? After all, we still celebrate Columbus Day, and not that many years ago, I was taught in elementary school that he was a hero, not a mass murderer.

History teaches us that the lines are blurry. It isn’t always clear who the “good guys” were. What is right or wrong. What people were thinking or how desperate they were. We don’t have a complete picture (even today). And we certainly can’t distinguish what is good for humans in the short run or the long run. (After all the advances and comforts of capitalism, can we actually say we are happier? Is the planet on an irreversible course to be destroyed?)

All tough questions with no clear answers. And this is why we must not accept the narratives we are given but instead use the compass we can develop to navigate tough challenges ahead.

There are no easy answers but I think we can ask the tough questions to begin the conversation.