400 Years Project

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Beginning January 1, 2019, marking the 400th year since the first people were brought against their will to the North American mainland from Africa, I will: write 400 weekly words, offer 400 lessons, and get 400 commitments from 400 people who pledge to confront systemic racism more directly through concrete action.

Since 1619, when the first Africans were brought against their will to the North American mainland, systems of race-based oppression have evolved from indentured servitude through chattel slavery, post-Civil War wage-slave sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation, lynching, housing and loan discrimination, the prison-industrial system, and more. As a history teacher for a quarter century, I am continually challenged to acknowledge and seek ways to heal the devastating wounds caused by systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States.

Given the 400th anniversary of the arrival in Jamestown of approximately 20 African men and women, I am undertaking a personal project that I invite you to join. While there are many others working to commemorate this anniversary, like “The Angela Project,” I felt compelled to take action myself. Beginning on January 1st, 2019, I will make a part of my daily work as an Ethical Humanist Leader the following:

  1. Collect and distribute an annotated list of 400 history books and articles, primarily by people of color, on various aspects of systemic racism and the efforts to repair the harm done;
  2. Write 52 weekly blog posts of approximately 400 words in length about the 400 years of oppression in the North American colonies and the United States;
  3. Gather pledges from 400 people, especially those of us who consider ourselves “white,” to make the following pledge: “To mark 400 years of racial oppression in colonial America and the United States, I pledge to confront systemic racism more directly and take concrete steps to repair the harm done;”
  4. Share 400 ways, big and small, to help repair the harm done by slavery and racism. They can include individual acts and public policies that address racism, and empower and provide resources to descendants of slaves and people of color.

I undertake this project:

  1. With gratitude for numerous mentors, teachers, and friends of color who continue to advise me;
  2. Aware that my privileged position in our society affects my perspective on this issue – both theoretically and practically – and that I must continually educate myself by reading works of people of color who address this issue.
  3. Aware that I must avoid the bad habit of assuming that the people of color I know personally want to help me solve the oppression which victimizes them;
  4. Acknowledging that “race” is a social construction that affects many people who are not descendants of slaves, and that racism is clearly not simply a question of black and white;
  5. Acknowledging that there are many other forms of oppression and injustice – such as sexism, classism, and hetero-normativity – that effect many groups, which we must address as well. In this regard, we must educate ourselves about “intersectionality;”
  6. Admitting that this project is modest – particularly in comparison to the depth and breadth of systemic racism in our nation today. This project is meant as part of the larger, more challenging paradigm shift towards a more radical reallocation of public and private resources to help repair the damage already done to countless people and communities of color; and
  7. Acknowledging that reparations to descendants of slaves is complicated – that it is difficult to identify precisely who has been most harmed by race-based oppression and to decide how to repair most effectively. I hope this project contributes to a national discussion with African American cultural leaders to determine the form that reparations will take.

Will you join me in this project? You can read and recommend books, share my blog posts, take the pledge, and take deliberate concrete action. After 400 years, lets bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.

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