Should African-Americans “drop it already” when it comes to slavery?

22 Nov

I recently read the book and watched the movie 12 Years a Slave.  Remarkable work of literature and cinema.  Left me speechless.  However, I can anticipate what some whites, even conservative Christians, might say (and have heard them say at points in the past).  “I know slavery was evil and all, but shouldn’t black folks move on?  I mean, if they really want to make progress, don’t they need to get over it.”

Such a sentiment is not only insensitive, but it is most emphatically not biblical and not conservative.

It is not biblical because present divine redemption can’t fully be appreciated without remembering past bondage.  That is, not only does God ask us to lament evil and injustice as far as the curse is found (starting with ourselves), but God routinely rebukes His people for forgetting the redemption and deliverance that He brought about in their midst.  They are rebuked for forgetting their deliverance from Egyptian slavery hundreds of years after the Exodus.  That means they were rebuked for forgetting what their great great great great grandparents, their ancestors, suffered and were delivered from.  Why?  Because forgetting the redemptive acts of God leads to forgetting God Himself, who is to be the object of their memory.  Forgetting the Lord’s acts of deliverance, from both spiritual and physical bondage, even acts of deliverance generations and centuries in the past, can lead to the idolatry of self-dependence.  So actually, progress is partly found in remembering.

Deut. 8:11-18

11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Secondly, such a sentiment is also not an expression of philosophical conservatism.  Whatever else conservatism may mean, it is at its core a philosophy which draws upon the wisdom, tradition, and experiences of the past in order to give meaning, shape, and guidance to the future of a people and society.  The past, present, and future are to the conservative knit stages, interwoven dependent components, of a society and its well-being.  Conservatism celebrates our rootedness; being rooted in a people, a culture, a language, a family, a history, a common experience.  Remembering, reflecting upon, the life and experiences of ancestral families is quite a conservative thing to do.  It is an activity about which conservatism as a political philosophy provides great meaning.  Therefore, a “conservative” expressing this sentiment contradicts himself when he objects to a progressive who wants him to “quit living in the past.”

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