While Good Morning America and Yahoo News were trying to convince Americans that a Black man visiting the plantation where his family was once enslaved and having dinner with their slave master’s descendants was “heartwarming”, another Black man was murdered by police. #AltonSterling, a 37-year-old man was shot dead in cold blood outside of a convenience store, after being wrestled down to the ground by two Louisiana officers in Baton Rouge.
The entire ordeal was recorded by a citizen journalist who could be heard screaming in horror on the footage and has sparked protest in the city.
These competing narratives offer a glimpse at the two different realities in which American live: one fictional world of color blindness and reconciliation (despite no recognition) that many white people continue to believe and the reality of hardship, inequality and brutality that black people must endure. Why should Black people find it “heartwarming” that a Black man visits the place of his ancestors’ enslavement — a plantation inherited by Robert Adams, the descendent of slave owners- – while the only thing the Black man has inherited is strife and struggle?
It is not.
This type of logic vigorously underscore the problem with White America and its constant attempt to not only diminish Black struggle — but also force forgetfulness in the place of true reconciliation. For the Black man pictured above and his family, true reconciliation would not look like a family dinner of smiling faces. It most certainly would not sound like this quote from Nkrumah Steward (the Black man pictured above):
“Robert [the plantation owner] is a descendant of people who owned my family. He didn’t own anybody,” said Steward. “I am a descendant of slaves of that his family owned. I have never been a slave. This is about history. This is about family. There is nothing he can do or I can do that can change the fact that I have relatives who may have died on that plantation.”
“And now 181 years later, after almost two centuries, my mother and father, my two sons, my wife and myself sat down in that very house and broke bread with the descendant of those who owned members of my family,” the post continued. “We are cousins by blood. And tonight we took the first steps together towards also becoming friends.”
True reconciliation would mean addressing inequality. Like, for example, the fact that the Adam’s family profited from free labor to build and maintain the plantation that would later be handed down for generations? The Black man whose foremothers and forefathers toiled, some of whom lost their lives to do so, on those lands walks away with no claim to it — just as his ancestors did. And somehow this is fair?
Black people inherit a history of hardship and struggle and white people inherit the benefits of those hardships and struggles. For this reason, Black men like Alton Sterling are shot dead in front of a convenience store while selling CDs to make ends meet. He was not giving tours of the land upon which another was enslaved. Or hosting dinners for the ancestors of those enslaved people. He was acting in the context in which history placed him. A history of enslavement, Jim Crow, mass incarceration, drug wars and crime wars.
A history that does need to be reconciled, but cannot and should not be without acknowledgement and the righting of past injustices.