I have blogged in plenty about racism and slavery. In 2016 alone, leave alone the earlier ones. How could I not? Right from the time Obama won the elections, white Republicans brought racist discourse from their closeted spaces out to the open, and it reached feverish intensity over Obama's final two years. Since the election in November, "I have a dream" has become "we have nightmares!"
It is all because we are yet to make peace with that second sin--slavery--that followed up on how we practically wiped out the Native Americans.
My favorite public intellectual on these issues, Ta-Nehisi Coates, sums it up succinctly:
We talk about enslavement as if it were a bump in the road. And I tell people: it’s the road. It’s the actual road.It was at a recent conference at Harvard. One might think that Harvard is up in Boston, far away from the South and, therefore, it had nothing to do with slavery, right?
The conference, entitled “Universities and Slavery: Bound By History” and sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, is the latest in a series of efforts Harvard has taken to confront its ties to slavery. A year in the making, the daylong event featured historians and representatives from several universities, and a keynote address by The Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. University President Drew G. Faust announced plans for the conference in March 2016.This is a significant milestone even within academia. Remember the posts on Georgetown?? Other universities looking into anything does not gain the attention as when Harvard does. It is Harvard, dammit.
In her opening remarks, Faust called slavery “an aspect of Harvard’s past that has been rarely acknowledged and poorly understood.”
“Harvard was directly complicit in slavery from the College’s earliest days in the 17th century,” Faust said. “This history and its legacy have shaped our institution in ways we have yet to fully understand. Today’s conference is intended to help us explore parts of the past that have remained all but invisible.”
|Caption at the source:|
The enslaved Renty, pictured in 1850 and used by a Harvard biologist to support theories about racial difference.
The historical connections between universities and slavery first came to the fore in 2001, when a group of Yale graduate students issued an independent report aimed at puncturing what they saw as the school’s selective celebration of its abolitionist past.
In 2003, Ruth Simmons, then the Brown University president, announced a major effort to research that school’s extensive historical ties to the slave trade. While the move grabbed headlines, “there wasn’t a single peep from another university,” James T. Campbell, the historian who led the Brown effort, recalled during one panel.
Harvard being Harvard, the research into its own past are also being shared on a website. I will end this will how Harvard's president frames it for all of us:
The past never dies or disappears. It continues to shape us in ways we should not try to erase or ignore. In more fully acknowledging our history, Harvard must do its part to undermine the legacies of race and slavery that continue to divide our nation.