My World

The world according to me!

…To Forgive, divine.

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

I understand why Alexander Pope said that because sometimes, it’s hard to forgive, to turn the other cheek. Sometimes it’s so hard to rise above the nonsense, but you have to try.

I wonder sometimes how to process history and not become upset. How to ingest what happened during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and not feel hatred. To learn that a lot of what you were taught in primary school and high school were lies, and that even at the university level there are lies.

I had to do a history course for my degree; it was Caribbean Civilization, a foundation course. The lecturer was a distinguished history professor, who I quickly discovered was racist. Or was he? Professor C spent a lot of time in the class trying to show us how the African influence in many cultures were hidden.

I remember him going over King Tut’s features as represented on his sarcophagus. Professor C was adamant that King Tut was black, that his features were distinctly African. “Look at his nose,” he said, “Look at his cheeks, those are African features.”

King Tutankhamun

King Tutankhamun

But when the National Geographic commissioned 3 reconstructions of the Egyptian pharoah’s face, each  group came up with a more Aryan Tutankhamun than some expected. The National Geographic Society admitted they used a mid-range colour for King Tut’s skin, and that forensic reconstruction can’t determine the shape of the nose, the ears, or the colour of the eyes and skin.

The same debate can be had about the race of Jesus, Celopatra and Nefertiti. And as you can see here, some of the opinions on the topic can be nasty.

I must say though, I hate it when people trivialise the issue by saying race doesn’t matter. Obviously that’s not true, it mattered enough for there to be a question mark about the race of important historical figures. It also plays a significant part in the social structure that ties race, class and wealth in practically all of the countries that were affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade. So let’s be honest, race does matter.

But learning history as a black person can be difficult. When I first heard about Saartjie Baartman, I was shocked. I’d never heard about the Hottentot Venus before. Then I learned how she became infamous, and it upset me.

Saartjie or Sara was the more famous of the at least 2 but possibly more Khoisan women who were displayed across Europe. Why were the Khoisan women so facinating? Their large buttocks (steatopygia) and elongated labia. Saartjie was objectified until her death in Paris at 25.

What drew me to the story is that I see the same thing happening today, especially in rap videos. In them the most celebrated models are the ones with extraordinary physical characteristics, who are willing to be limited to body parts on the screen.

Saartjie was paraded as an example of African hyper-sexuality and the superiority of the Aryan race. Rap video models are doing the same; well at least the former if not so much the latter. I have to ask, why use the limited access black women have to the  mainstream media to perpetuate such a stereotype?

Saartjie Baartman died December 30th 1815, but her remains were still being displayed as recently as 1985. Inspite of what had happened to her, it  took France a while to consent to returning Saartjie’s remains to her country. Instead they lied and tried to cover up their involvement in her abuse.

I find it hard not to be angry. I also find it’s becoming harder not to remain angry. How do I prevent myself from becoming a racist? It’s so tempting to fall into thinking that everything is a conspiracy designed to oppress black people.

So where does the issue of forgiveness comes in? How do you forgive the unrepentant abuse Saartjie faced? How do you remain confident in the laws of fair play, when it seems issues that are important to one ethnic group are continuously ignored and disrespected?

For me, I know the truth is that you have to forgive. You have to release the hate in order to move on. Easier said than done, I know. Contingency plans work for me. I consider solutions and alternatives to distract me from the situation I feel angry about. That way I can create a positive situation, and find my way to forgiveness.

About race, history and lies. My solution is knowledge. Find out all you can, and then do what you must to spread it. Academics need to broaden their areas of research. As do reporters, documentary film-makers and teachers. Hiding the truth helps no one.

But I still wonder if historians, especially black historians struggle with racist feelings because of their reseatch.


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