UN Slavery Memorial Crucial In Modern Fight Against Racial Injustice
International community reaching out to next generation of leaders with monument
New York City teaching consultant Damond Haynes says many of today’s minority students are ashamed of slavery.
Not angry. Not sad. Not moved to petition governments for a redress of grievances.
They’re “embarrassed,” Haynes said in an interview with Loop 21.
“They don’t feel a connection to the ancestor like Jewish children do,” he said. “They want to forget.”
As a veteran instructor for the Schomburg Center’s Junior Scholars program, Haynes sees value in attempts to make the global legacy of slavery relatable to growing generations, whom he says struggle in public schools to connect the dots.
Last week, a United Nations committee continued its effort to bring a permanent memorial to the transatlantic slave trade. The committee held a concert in the General Assembly Hall to raise money and awareness.
The event, themed “Honoring the Heroes, Resisters and Survivors,” highlighted a coordinated effort by Caribbean and African nations to place the memorial in a prominent location on the UN’s New York complex. With thousands of school students visiting the U.N. every year, the committee hopes it will broaden the global understanding of slavery.
Haynes didn’t take his Schomburg students to the concert, but they did attend an event around an International Day of Remembrance in March.
He says selling the importance of the slavery is tough.
“Why are we studying this? We weren't slaves!” Haynes said of some students’ reaction to the topic.
“It’s not their fault. They express raw emotions, like 'White people sucked back then,'” Haynes said. “Very superficial. But if you (asked), adults and children would answer the same; no one really knows or cares to know.”
Recently, that sentiment has played out for an African American middle school student in Rochester, NY. Not among her peers, but among her adult educators.
In March, Jada Williams was harassed by her teachers for writing an essay on former slave Frederick Douglas and his life as an abolitionist. Williams’ teachers were not pleased with the conclusion she came to in her essay.
“Most white teachers that I have come into contact with, over the last several years of my life, has failed to instruct us even today,” Williams wrote.
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Although she won an award for the essay from the Frederick Douglass Foundation of New York, Williams’ parents were forced to move her to another school because of the teachers’ harassment.
Haynes said Williams’ experience is indicative of an approach to slavery that isn’t grounded in holding its perpetrators accountable. Any lesson on the transatlantic slave trade can’t superficially acknowledge that kind of evil, Haynes said.
“If you started a business with 200 years of free labor as your foundation, I'm sure Apple would have nothing on you,” Haynes said. “Make it interesting, but not watered down.”
“But then what?” Haynes continued. “They need the tools to be able to recognize and change any institutional residue left over from the transatlantic slave trade, and to know that the U.N. is doing that too.”
The U.N. recognizes the disparity between the information available and what is actually taught in schools, particularly in North America.
“Too little is known of the transatlantic slavery,” said Jamaican Ambassador Raymond Wolfe, who chairs the committee to build the memorial at the UN.
“The international community, as represented by the 193 members here at the United Nations, had never previously acknowledged the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery,” Wolfe said.
The day of remembrance is a step in the right direction.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has been instrumental in providing materials to schools trying to teach slavery in a more comprehensive way, Wolfe said.
For more information the planned UN memorial, click here.
Contact Loop 21 staff writer Aaron Morrison at 347-855-3140 or firstname.lastname@example.org.