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American author: 'I thank God my ancestor' was taken a slave

Keith Richburg.
Keith Richburg.
Wikimedia-Commons, Public Domain.

"I watched bulldozers scoop up black corpses, and trucks dump them into open pits."

As the old saying goes: "You'll never move forward if you're always looking at what's behind you." Of course, retaining and celebrating aspects of out own cultural heritage is important. Unfortunately, despite the media fueled hype that with the advent of Barack Obama on the national scene, he would undoubtedly go down in history as The Great Uniter for the entire nation.

Who better? On his father's side, Obama is a member of the Joluo ethnic group which spans a wide swath of East Africa ranging from the steamy rain forests of Tanzania to the scorching sands of The Sudan; to his mother's side that includes English, German, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Swiss, and French ancestry. Let's not forget that Obama was also culturally raised for a number of his formative years as an Indonesian.

Sadly, quite a few Americans (of all hues) have seen the opposite come to be. Race politics have become the normative in the Age of Obama. More than a few whites want to know why his Administration blows off Black Panther intimidation of whites at polling places; more than a few blacks and Latinos want to know why his Administration is willing to drop billions of dollars for illegal alien children while kids in the Inner Cities continue to live in rat-infested gangland battlegrounds.

But I digress...

All this talk of race politics reminded me of the old stereotype of hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers pledging to literally being worked to death, just so long as it led to a better life for their kids and grandkids.

Look at the Chinese. Here's a group that started in America with a pick in one hand, a shovel in the other. It goes without saying the discrimination and overt racism they faced was some of the worst this country could have produced. But the Chinese didn't wallow in self-pity. A full 25 percent of American PhD recipients in fields related to science and engineering are ethnically Chinese, while 51.8 percent of all Americans of Chinese lineage have attained at least a bachelor's degree.

Another prime example would be the Irish. Not that long ago in the history of the American Republic, newspaper want ads would often have NINA printed as the last word. For those that don't know, NINA stands for "No Irish Need Apply." Let's not forget why there weren't any African slaves purchased to mine coal in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, or the region that eventually became West Virginia. Coal barons were noted for purposefully shying away from using African slaves in the notoriously dangerous coal pits. As the rationale was at the time, "Slaves are expensive. If we lose a few hundred miners, just get another boatload of Irish ... they're free."

That reminded me of something a read many, many years ago. Reporter Keith B. Richburg of the Washington Post penned his 1995 book: Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa. Richburg details his eyewitness account on Tanzania's remote Rusumo Falls bridge as "dozens of discolored, bloated bodies floating downstream..." Richburg also relates experiences that the average American is not only ignorant of, it's a good bet if they were aware, they'd simply be apathetic. "I felt it in Somalia, walking among the living dead of Baidoa and Baardheere -- towns in the middle of a devastating famine. And I felt it again in those refugee camps in Zaire, as I watched bulldozers scoop up black corpses, and trucks dump them into open pits."

It was in the following paragraph, especially the last sentenced, that in a word, simply stunned me by it's contradiction of simplicity and complexity: (emphasis mine)

Somewhere, sometime, maybe 400 years ago, an ancestor of mine whose name I'll never know was shackled in leg irons, kept in a dark pit, possibly at Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, and then put with thousands of other Africans into the crowded, filthy cargo hold of a ship for the long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Many of them died along the way, of disease, of hunger. But my ancestor survived ... one of his descendants somehow made it up to South Carolina, and one of those descendants, my father, made it to Detroit during the Second World War, and there I was born, 36 years ago. And if that original ancestor hadn't been forced to make that horrific voyage, I would not have been standing there that day on the Rusumo Falls bridge, a journalist -- a mere spectator -- watching the bodies glide past me like river logs. No, I might have instead been one of them -- or have met some similarly anonymous fate in any one of the countless ongoing civil wars or tribal clashes on this brutal continent. And so I thank God my ancestor made that voyage.

Keith Richburg "gets it."

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