There are many good examples of countries that have attempted to reconcile after traumatic acts, like genocides, massacres and apartheid. Yet, the United States of America has not committed to the process of truth, reconciliation and justice after the original sin of American slavery.
After Germany lost WWII, not only did they denounce the Nazis and their ideology, but they extensively taught their children and grandchildren about the collective German sins.
Today, German children are taught about all the horrific things that happened in the Holocaust and how propaganda, deception and public silence contributed to the genocide of more than 11 million people of different races, religions, sexualities, abilities, and origins.
After the war, Germany immediately rebuilt itself in a way that denounced their evil past, acknowledged their wrongdoings, and continued to do everything in their collective power to fix the unfixable.
Even more recently in South Africa – after apartheid officially ended in 1994 and Nelson Mandela was voted into the presidency – had to go through its own truth and reconciliation process.
Today, museums and monuments are dedicated to the Black South African leaders who fought for equality and bravely pushed back against a racist and corrupt system of oppression.
Although the current system in place in South Africa is still far from perfect, as the end of political apartheid in 1994 gave way to a sort of economic apartheid that is still in place today, the losing ideology had to admit they were wrong and light finally shines on the difficult truth. These steps led the country to educate itself and at least begin to reconcile and heal socially.
Neither Germany nor South Africa dealt with the consequences of their systems of oppression and genocide in a perfect way because there is no ideal way to deal with racism and genocide. Still, at least they didn’t glorify their racist past and erect monuments romanticizing the loser of the war.
It is hard to understand how the bloody American Civil War was fought and won by the North (which wasn’t perfect either), yet the narrative about the war was hijacked by the Confederate states and the institutions they built to ‘preserve their culture.’ This narrative has been weaponized to defend or rationalize racist symbolism and discriminatory behavior in the United States to this day.
Not only has the U.S. not started the process toward truth and justice, but American political, economic and social institutions, and the people at the head of these institutions, have long rejected making any significant changes to their way of life because it made them uncomfortable.
Change is uncomfortable, and revolutions are painful, but they are nowhere near as uncomfortable and deadly as slavery and genocide.
I do not mean to compare what happened in the Holocaust to slavery and their traumatic evolutionary by products directly. They are two different horrific events. But it is essential to realize that these events share common links: systematic dehumanization and killing of people based on their religion, sexuality, race, or any other arbitrary discriminatory factors.
But the one extremely significant difference is that the evolutionary byproducts of slavery, like segregation and Jim-crow, led to more modern redlining, police brutality, voter suppression, and mass incarceration, and continue to kill today, while the systematic genocide that was the Holocaust is over.
This doesn’t mean that anti-Semitism has been eradicated. As a fourth-generation Holocaust surviving Jew, I am acutely aware that anti-Semitism is still around today. But still, as a white woman, I am also aware of how privileged I am in this black and white world we have been living in for way too long.
The horrific death of George Floyd exposed many white Americans and the rest of the world to the reality of the Black experience in the United States. It is long overdue that the American people demand that the government create a comprehensive reparations plan that resembles what Germany did after the Holocaust.
When people think of reparations they usually think of direct cash payments to victims, but reparations for African Americans should be much more than that.
There needs to be a comprehensive reparations plan that tackles racial inequalities on every level, and luckily Germany already wrote the playbook.
The first and most crucial part is unlearning the white-washed versions of the American history we were taught and re-learning the hard truths about slavery from the Black perspective.
The United States needs to commit to truth and reconciliation. That starts with acknowledging how America was built on the backs of slaves and continues with re-writing history textbooks to educate our young people to humanize the victims of slavery and demonize the oppressive slave owners and traders and not the other way around.
Just like Germany did with its history books. Now is the time to actively change the narrative to ‘look how horrible we (America) once ware,’ making sure Americans of all ages don’t forget how the country was founded and that the people in power actively put these systems of oppression in place
Beyond the classroom, the American government needs to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday that celebrates Black people’s liberation because that is a date that the U.S. should be proud of.
But more than that, there should be a Memorial Day dedicated to all the victims of slavery and racism. Just like in Israel, there is a Holocaust Memorial Day, which is different from the more standard Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims. Many of the protests for George Floyd and the countless other innocent Black people who were killed are already serving as events to help memorialize victims, so designating a day every year would be extremely therapeutic for a continuously brutalized community that has been suffering for more than 400 years.
When it comes to monuments and statues, there is one undeniable solution: take down the figures of the losing racist side and put up statues of people who won the war. These are people worth celebrating like Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, etc.
Thankfully, there are good anti-racist people in American history, so we should celebrate the liberators, not the oppressors. If you’ve ever been to modern Germany you won’t find Nazi statues anywhere other than museums, which is the only place they belong in. Germany has passed laws limiting freedom of expression that portray Nazi symbolism and hate speech. It is a federal crime punishable by jail time.
One of the essential parts of a comprehensive reparations package is for the American government to acknowledge its deadly and traumatic mistakes, take responsibility for its horrendous past, and formally apologize to all Black citizens, especially direct descendants of slaves, in some official capacity.
Furthermore, there needs to be a plan to make upward social mobility much easier for Black Americans. A plan that includes direct easily accessible reparations in cash payments.
Additionally, we need other structural support systems that give Black Americans opportunities to advance and take away the many disadvantages placed in our political, economic and social structures.
After the George Floyd protests, many private companies have pledged to take a stance against racism in different capacities. These sentiments, and hopefully upcoming actions, should be required on a national level.
That is the only way to start achieving real racial equality in the United States. I know this from first-hand experience because my great-grandfather, who was a holocaust survivor, received German reparation money until he died in January of 2019.
Along with his Israeli social security pension, the German reparation money enabled him to live to 95 years of age, above the poverty line, with the last five years in an old age Alzheimer’s facility.
It is essential to mention that although this money was beneficial for him, and subsequently for our entire family, the traumatic experiences of the Holocaust left him mentally ill for life, and the consequences of that chronic trauma live on in the younger generations.
Unfortunately, trauma is inherited by the younger generations. Trauma changes genes, and those genes get passed down from generation to generation. These genes might manifest in many different ways, but they are very unlikely to give the younger generation an advantage. If anything, the genes usually predispose the younger generation of trauma survivors to all kinds of negative mental and medical consequences.
So now is the time for white and white-passing Americans, regardless of their familial history or background, to use our privilege to help our Black and Brown sisters and brothers.
We need to take specific action and demand that the American government create real change and reconcile with our ugly past, just like Germany did after WWII.