By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
The Trump administration met its match when outrage over putting children in cages in detention centers flooded mainstream consciousness. It was a moment in the history we’re making, where as a nation we came to a full stop and said, no, not just no, but hell no.
The chorus of outrage was driven by a sentiment we all want to believe.
This is not who we are. Americans don’t do this. We aren’t Nazi Germany. We’re better than this.
Except, the inconvenient truth is, we are doing it and it’s not the first time we’ve been exactly the thing we’re railing against. Family separation is a special kind of torture. It’s a masterful kind of psychological warfare that people in power use against those they oppress. Historically, it’s something we’ve done again and again. It’s uncomfortable to talk about. We want to forget. However, it might be time to embrace the uncomfortable and tell ourselves the truth.
The United States was founded on genocide and family separation.
The slave trade was a thing. Children were unwilling participants in that dark chapter of our history because let us not forget, black children were just as much property as their parents were.
The woman pleaded for God’s mercy, Henry Bibb, a former slave, recalled in an 1849 narrative that is part of “The Weeping Time” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History and Culture, which documents the tragic U.S. history of enslaved children being separated from their enslaved parents. “But the child was torn from the arms of its mother amid the most heart-rending shrieks from the mother and child on the one hand, and the bitter oaths and cruel lashes from the tyrants on the other.”
Her mother was sold to the highest bidder.
Enslaved mothers and fathers lived with the constant fear that they or their children might be sold away.
“Night and day, you could hear men and women screaming … ma, pa, sister or brother … taken without any warning,” Susan Hamilton, another witness to a slave auction, recalled in a 1938 interview. “People was always dying from a broken heart.”
Native American children, some as young as 5, were taken from their families and brought to government-run boarding schools. This practice began in the 1860’s and continued for almost 100 years. Children ripped away from their families hid their native selves.
“The act of ripping children away from their parents is nothing new for the United States. Separating children and their families to ‘kill the Indian to save the man’ by sending Native children to boarding schools, and doing it in the name of religion, is one generation removed from my family,” wrote Peggy Flanagan on Twitter. Flanagan, an Indigenous member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe, is a candidate for lieutenant governor in Minnesota. “Trump’s ‘zero tolerance policy’ is nothing more than a clear violation of human rights. We must learn from history. We must stand with immigrants and refugees.”
Almost half of the Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during WWII were children. While they may not have been separated from their families, they were ripped from their lives and forced to live in unspeakable conditions behind fences they could not pass. The psychological effects of that internment have been nearly impossible to measure because those children suffered in shame and silence long after the camps were torn down.
The events at our Southern border are shameful. It’s hard to swallow that anyone can do what we’ve done. However, it’s time we stop telling the lie that this is not who we are as Americans as if we stand on some moral high ground of history. We do not.
The unrelenting pressure on the Trump administration to stop the family separations may pay off. More importantly, it may signal that this is not who we want to be anymore. For those families, and especially for those children, it’s an unconscionably high price to pay for us, as a nation, to find a moral compass that won’t allow that kind of human mistreatment moving forward.
However, generations of black and brown people in our country are still paying the price for a reality most of us do not want to remember. Until we own our past, it is unlikely we will ever fully learn how to stop the cycle of history repeating itself.
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Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.