The U.S. failure to understand, acknowledge and resolve the continuing catastrophe of slavery is holding the country back, said Canadian history and global human rights professor Bonny Ibhawoha, director of the Centre for Peace Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
The author of “Human Rights in Africa,” Ibhawoha urged the U.S. to look to Canada, which created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to document the history and impact of the country’s residential school system on indigenous children and their families.
For more than 100 years, Canada tried to resolve its ‘”Indian problem” by separating children from their parents and forcing them into schools where they were often undernourished, physically and sexually abused by teachers and forbidden to use their own languages, Ibhawoha wrote in The Conversation.
Canada’s commission released its findings in 2015 and it followed up with calls to action to aid reconciliation, covering child welfare, education, health, language and culture, justice and equity for Indigenous peoples in the legal system.
The U.S. needs broad public recognition that the country’s original wealth was derived unjustly through slavery, Ibhawoha said. Without acknowledging that deliberate post-emancipation efforts perpetuated the social and economic gulf between white and Black America, there can be no justice or healing, he said.
Ibhawoha suggested that America could look to South Africa and how its Truth and Reconciliation Commission addressed its long history of apartheid and legal institutionalized racism. The commission gave victims of apartheid an opportunity to publicly address their oppressors and gave the oppressors a way to apologize.
“The process included heartbreaking televised testimony by victims whose families had been shattered by violence and brutalized by their own government. By bringing the issues into the open, the process allowed South Africa to come face to face with decades of apartheid atrocities and their devastating impact,” Ibhawoha said.
U.S. politicians and other leaders can choose to begin the difficult conversations now, or kick the can down the road again to the next generation, Ibhawoha said.
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