We need a new national mythology, one that makes room for all of us. Everyone needs to be able to see themselves in America’s origin story. We need to all be able to take pride in where we came from and how we got here.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison get to form our origin story. In truth, the people who enabled them to have the time, wealth and energy to pursue such things were the ones who did all the hard work and only received punishment and pain in return.
After visiting Monticello at the age of 8, I became a confirmed Thomas Jefferson fangirl. Then, I started to learn about the guy.
My feelings for Jefferson? They became complicated.
And then, they got downright ugly.
Elected officials in Amsterdam are considering issuing an apology to the people of Suriname for the actions and legacy of slavery. And that’s not an outlandish thing to ask for when you consider that the Dutch West India Co., the corporation that oversaw and ran the Suriname colony, wasn’t just based in Amsterdam, but funneled much of the wealth that powered that city’s Golden Age. What if the U.S. followed suit?
We are our stories, and our stories don’t just deserve to be told, they need to be heard. It’s more than a shame that so many of these stories were never heard during the time their storytellers were alive. But we have a chance to hear some of them today.
Right-wing alarmists complain that political correctness runs amok. Imagine their despair to learn the Amsterdam Museum banned the phrase “Golden Age.” The reason: the golden years weren’t golden for everyone. But terms like “Golden Age” make history more accessible, and god help us, we need to talk about our history more if we want to change our future.
History doesn’t belong to any one person or group. There’s no single narrative to it. Everyone alive contributes their own kaleidoscope view to history, and each time we get a chance to glimpse another one of them, we get a truer picture of what history really is.
Evidence from the Jewish cemetery of Oudekerk and in the local Sephardic records show people of African descent were part of the Portuguese Jewish community. Some were slaves, others as servants and some were free. All were Jews. But none were given the dignity they deserved.
In 1596, 100 Africans arrived in Middleburg, Zeeland – the first black people known to set foot in the Netherlands. The city fathers declared them free, but the ship captain who wanted to sell them as slaves objected. Within months, they were on their way to the Caribbean to be sold as slaves. Why is this story relevant today?