Gather at the Table by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas DeWolf
Part of Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is that "One day" the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood." While we have a long way to go to fulfill his whole dream of equity and peace, visionary folks on both sides of the racial divide are courageously fulfilling that prophecy. Prominent among them are Thomas DeWolf and Sharon Morgan. They met at COMING TO THE TABLE, an organization with the mission to fulfill King's dream, traveled together the long trail that slavery cut across America both historically and in their personal families, and then co-authored the book: Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of Daughter of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade. Imagine the depth of conversation, reflection and emotion that must have happened for both Thomas and Sharon in taking such a journey.
Imagine their vision for America in co-creating such a book! Through their book, they invite all of us to gather at the table with them. Do we have the vision, courage, and stamina to join them on their journey? Only if we have the guts to look squarely at our past and our present perversions of nature, do we have a hope of co-creating a healthier, more equitable, and less violent future. So let's look.
Where does atrocity begin? What created the conditions for us to build a culture and economy dependent on something as grotesque as slavery in the first place? What allowed us to believe and enact a "manifest destiny" of white supremacy over all the indigenous peoples of the world?
The answer is hard to fathom for people embedded within a Western mindset caught in its conditioning, or brainwashing, regarding the nature of reality. This conditioning has been enacted throughout the depths of our history and has hypnotized us into a belief system that is killing our Souls, our brothers and sisters, many species, and the planet upon which we walk. It has been superimposed on our indigenous way of being human and lauded as being "civilized." We are conditioned to "know our place"--higher than some, lower than others--and believe that we are only safe from chaos and beastly nature if we keep our place.
This conditioning is the foundations that led to slavery. It amounts to a highly hierarchal power structure with God at the apex of the power followed by church (morphed into modern corporations, banks"i.e., modern day landowners), kings and queens (government), the rest of us human beings, and lastly the rest of the planet, which serves as a resource for all of the above. If we accept such a tightly hierarchical structure as natural and/or "ordained from above", it is a small step to accepting that some humans are higher up the ladder and can "use" those lower down as resources too.
History is perceived, written, and taught from the perspective of the conquerors. It is grounded in the philosophies developed in ancient times that we continue to carry within us today. It is His-story, not her-story (heresy), their-story, or our-story.
Do we arrogantly believe that we are better than our ancestors and have risen above their morally despicable acceptance of slavery? Where does our treatment of migrant workers, belief in "illegal aliens," and dependence on child labor in China fit into this myth? What of our arrogant displacement of whole tribes of people to "harvest" their rain forest homes? Are our unemployed, ghettoed in our inner cities, freer than the Jews ghettoed in World War Two Germany? How do we place the profits of investors above the basic human needs of workers? Are corporations better "people" than the workers they exploit simply because they are wealthier and more powerful? Can we take voting rights away from flesh and blood people and sell them to the highest bidders?
Not in a just world, but, yes, in the world we currently accept and maintain. We are deeply wounded to believe such inequity is substantially superior to slavery. We are inured to violence, starvation, imprisonment, and work-as-servitude being "just the way things inevitably are. Our "education" and privilege have blinded us to the conditions of everyone else lower than us on the status ladder. Indeed, they have blinded us to our own servitude. We are vulnerable to repeat patterns, so long as we accept and maintain such blinders.
We have been carefully taught. Who are the textbooks written by if not employees of the 1 - 5%? We need to look at history in a more critical way in order to identify what epistemologist Gregory Baetson refers to as the "pattern that connects."
Let us take off the blinders with which psychological and spiritual conditioning afflict us. By looking at past history and present practices through newly opened eyes, we can tell ourselves a different story and, thereby, change the story of our future. We shall acknowledge the Truth that will set us free at last.
In their effort to confront the past for the sake of transcending the pattern the past has laid for us, Thomas and Sharon have taken some bold steps. They have refused to stifle both personal and national history. They have had the courage and persistence to journey beyond the boundaries (chains) that have doomed us to repeat the old patterns. They have visited the places, heard and grieved the stories of human suffering, and owned the legacy of slavery in our midst that lie beyond the textbook history we are taught in school. They have faced their own and each other's paranoia, rage, and tears and moved past them to deep compassion, respect, and friendship.
The kind of deeply honest and painful healing that Thomas and Sharon are engaging needs to happen. Not just for their sake, but for all of our sakes. In a trailer for the book, Sharon says "it's going to take a lot of work, for it took a long time to get here." They invite you to the table where a former son of the slave trade and a daughter of slavery sit down together to talk.
I would add we have a long way to go in confronting the depths that drive practices such as slavery. I fear, as do Sharon and Tom, that if we do not, we are destined to repeat that horrid past.
In line with Sharon and Tom's fear, I often feel much angst and worry that the primary drivers to slavery and the slave trade aren't truly gone. They lurk right under the surface of our civilization. Slavery has morphed into the slightly lesser evils of migrant work, outsourcing, union busting, pay decline and the end of "benefits" such as health care. Work more for less appears to be the corporate Mode of Operation in regards to those that slave in order to line their pockets!