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Think. Discuss. Act. Racism

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Review: The Long Shadow Of Slavery

J. Alter. (December, 1997). “The Long Shadow of Slavery.” Newsweek, pp. 58-63.

Jack E. White. (January, 2000). “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Time, p. 49.


(Download Long Shadow of Slavery overview as a PDF)

The article “The Long Shadow of Slavery” addresses different thoughts on what we are doing and what we should be doing about America’s past wrongs of slavery.

According to the article, Jesse Jackson says, “America has never come to grips with slavery. It is a hole on America’s soul because it is such an institutional shame.” Some would say that we should forget the past because it only brings pain and stirs ill feelings between the races. Robert Woodson, a black conservative says, “You can’t win by constantly thinking about your injuries”, and “What are the lessons to be learned that we haven’t been told over and over again?” And Troi Cain says, “When I think about slavery it just makes me mad…I get mad at white people for doing that to us and makes me think all white people are bad, but I know they’re not.”

Jack White, in his article, “A Confederacy of Dunces,”  suggests that the presence of the confederate flag waving over the statehouse in South Carolina is just a part of the historical whitewashing in order to rewrite the past shame of slavery. Is the flag there “to commemorate the Civil War Centennial,” as is claimed, or is it a sign of resistance to civil rights? White says, “It’s white politicians in South Carolina who’re making fools of themselves by claiming that the Confederate battle flag doesn’t have anything to do with slavery and segregation.” He adds that “Everybody knows that until Martin Luther King, Jr. came along, the so-called Southern Way of Life that the flag symbolizes was based on keeping black folks separate and unequal. Pretending otherwise is ridiculous.”

Steven Spielberg, in his film “Amistad” believes that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, or at least not be able to get past it. If slavery is “‘bursting at the seam of our historical memory,'” as Michael Dyson says, then we need to somehow relieve the pressure. One way is to straighten our history by movies, plays, and books-especially history books. Dyson continues, “There is a lot of catching up to do, beyond the classroom, most Americans have been shielded from its harder truths.”

Some think that an official apology from the U.S. President will help. Most think it won’t help, like John Hope Franklin who says, “You can tell me you’re sorry, but it won’t make me feel any better, it won’t get me a better situation in life, a better job, an extra month in school.” Some people want to make a memorial on the Washington Mall as a reminder of the past. Ellis Cose says, “I am not persuaded that a monument on the Mall will lead to a massive reawakening of American consciousness, however the past matters and it is right to search for ways to remind us of that.”

Eric Foner says, “Apologizing is the easy way out. It could be seen as a substitute for something more substantive.” Some even think that African-Americans should be compensated for loss of freedom, much like the Japanese-Americans were after World War II. But the Japanese-Americans were directly compensated; African Americans would be paid for the wrongs done to their ancestors. It is more persuasive to argue that society owes an indirect debt to African-Americans, like affirmative action.

Jack White makes a plug for The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, by Randall Robinson “which makes the case that white America is suffering from a massive case of denial about the impact of slavery and discrimination.” White cites the example of the fact that there is a “deliberate effort to white-wash all that ugly history.” He also reminds us that our national Capitol in Washington is built out of quarried stone blocks by slave laborers and “The Statue of Freedom the figure of a Native American woman warrior that stands on the dome, was cast in bronze by slave laborers in 1863 and hoisted up there.” Mr. White calculates that “the due bill for slavery could be as much as $24 trillion.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Do you agree with Jack White that America owes reparations to African Americans? If so, how much, and how can we take practical steps today towards that end? Can anything be done to correct the past wrongs this country has done because of slavery? Would an official apology from the president help? Is it a superficial covering to the problem?
  2. Are there better ways to “right our wrongs” than through affirmative action? Give examples.
  3. Do you think a “Slave memorial” on the Washington Mall would stir the American conscience?
  4. Can the Confederate flag be waved and depict the honor of “Southern heritage” and mean nothing more? If the Confederate flag is believed by some to honor slavery and segregation, then should it be flown?
  5. Why is remembering the past and making compensation so hard for America?


  1. We need to seek the truth about history of slavery and correct the thinking of those whom we teach. There should be a deliberate effort to remember our ugly history and to honor those who lost their lives, families, and dignity, only to bring comfort to white society.
  2. It is imperative that we admit to the part we play in tolerance for white supremacy and stop it. We must be diligent in our quest towards racial sensitivity–and to ending racism.
  3. Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it or never move beyond it.
  4. There are hurting people who need us to understand the pain of the past and the oppression of today; listen to them.

James Randy Richardson and Patricia Mitchell

© 2018 CYS

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