The ReWhiting of History

When the guide would turn off the light my breathing would change, my heart rate would accelerate, my fingers would fill numb. My impulse was to ask her to please turn back on the light – as she left it off for more than seconds – but the request got caught in my tightening throat.  How dare I think I am suffering when my ancestors lived and died in this dungeon at Cape Coast Castle.  How dare I.

I was standing on the feces of my ancestors (approximately 1,000 men and 500 women crammed in at a time) who had to defecate where they lived and ate. They were shackled, unable to lie down for months.  There was so much feces that it has covered the original brick and lay thick and solid 400 years later as a testament to the brutal ways that they were treated.

There were three small windows in the dungeon that let in so little light, that the kidnapped and enslaved men and women sometimes went blind when they were let out in the fresh air (only to be transported and sold).  These windows were also how they got their water.  If it didn’t rain; they didn’t drink.  I stared at those windows—those tiny, chiseled out holes, seemingly miles from where they stood in their own and others’ feces, next to deceased cellmates, dying of thirst and disease. Your circumstance determines your salvation. 

Sadly, these dungeons – segregated by gender of the captives – were nicer than the confinement cells – the pitch-black holes where males were kept when they were seen as rebellious or females were kept when they tried to fight back when being raped (the enslaved were regularly raped)

It is estimated that six million slaves shipped to other countries from Ghana alone; from approximately 40 different castles (over twelve million slaves shipped from West Africa overall – many whom died).  All Africans suffered horribly there; many died; and those that didn’t had to walk down a tunnel through “the door of no return,” a portal through which the slaves were lowered into boats, and then loaded like cargo onto big slaving ships further out at sea, never to set foot in their homeland again.  It is estimated that 10-15% died at sea and were then thrown overboard to be shark-feed.

I walked through the dungeons, peered down the confinement holes, grimaced as I peered into the nice, open, well decorated rooms that that religious and political leaders worked in comfortably while people died.  I felt heavy with sadness and apology.  But when I got to the museum at the end of the tour where we were told not to take pictures (which I did) is where I became so outraged that I had to go have a conversation with the older Ghanian man that sat at the doorway of the museum.

I wasn’t outraged at the shackles and chains on display as many would think; but of the way the narratives and accounts were written to still protect the abusers and minimize the victims and the crimes committed against them.

The people who were kidnapped, raped, murdered, and sold was written as almost a footnote. It is the final insult.  Their lives don’t matter more than the need for White people to rewrite history in a way that allows them to feel good about themselves and their history.  From the way almost every history book refers to people who were enslaved (making it clear that these were people who had something horrible happen to them) instead of slaves (a product that was bought and sold – distancing the act from the human tragedy that it was) Europeans and White Americans have chosen and keep choosing to tell lies that make them comfortable instead of embracing the truth, and owning the history so that we can build a better future.

No healing will happen until that reWhiting of history stops.

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About Randi B.

Randi is a diversity and inclusion strategist, speaker, trainer and writer, focusing on making connections and cultivating empathy in this diverse world one trip, speech, article, book and conversation at a time.

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