The advocacy work that I was to do showed up. I had written to a leader that my husband respected, asking what I could do to help, and he responded. What I could do was to help in the effort to establish a globally-recognized collective identity for the descendants of America’s slaves. Even though I had seen the devastation experienced by Native Americans and now was seeing it in the Black community where I was living, I hadn’t given thought to the significance of identity or self-perception.
I read and studied, and a short while later joined the team of leaders and advocates and began traveling to the UN in Geneva to help get the point across: the forced removal of an individual’s identity, i.e. language, culture and spiritual belief, does not go away over time.
We can see the effect of this clearly in the case of Native Americans who endured a long-lasting concerted effort to destroy their language, culture, beliefs, and inherent knowledge. This was combined with genocide, systemic racism and individual punishment and degradation. Today we understand that forcing Native children away from their parents and into Christian schools, far from home, where their language and culture was beaten out of them, was a calculated, destructive, criminal act upon a People.
A new People: I participated in a 15-year long effort to bring together under one identity the millions of scattered Afrodescendants who had ended up in the western hemisphere not by choice. What happened to the concept of assimilation, one might ask. Why is this necessary? Shouldn’t they all have assimilated by now?
At its origin, the U.S. was an experiment in assimilation, bringing together various Western European cultures, and eventually Eastern European. After a few squabbles, all of the white Judeo-Christian people worked themselves in pretty well, others with brown complexions and a different religion did less well, but still they assimilated. So why not the slave descendants and Natives?
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