“The long memory is the most radical idea in the country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going but where we want to go.”
For Christmas, I bought myself a test kit from AfricanAncestry.com. With a simple cheek swab, I can learn about my African roots through my inherited genetic lineages. Like many Black folks who are descendants of enslaved African Americans—peoples who survived hundreds of years of their families repeatedly torn apart, cut off from their roots—I want to know where I’m from. Learning about my roots is a radicalizing journey; the word "radical" means “to the root.”
The Akan tribe in Ghana have a word, Sankofa, symbolized by a bird with its head turned around to take an egg from its back. The Sankofa heron illustrates a Twi proverb: se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi. Translated, it says, “It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten.” I've adopted the practice of spiritual reconnection with my ancestors to heal intergenerational trauma, because we cannot heal and grow at the same time. I read books on whiteness and on Black history, a history for which there is no national standard or curriculum, to better understand how I got here and imagine where I want to go.
One thing I’ve learned is that at the core of white privilege is the entitlement to amnesia and ignorance. To forget that America was founded on stolen land, stolen labor, and genocide, and that we live in a society structured by this history, is to embrace an identity rooted in a false innocence and a flight from truth and healing. This is the rot at the root of the nation.
Before his inauguration as the 46th President, Joe Biden memorialized 400,000 U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, saying: “To heal, we must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” So my prayer is for myself, as well as for this country at a crossroads:
May we remember the wounds of the past that bleed into the present so that we may heal and grow into the future together, whole and wise. May we remember and be free at last.