Here is what is likely true: Somewhere in my family’s ancestral lineage, an enslaved child was taken from her enslaved mother, breaking a family unit. While this chapter of my family’s story happened in Jamaica, many people of color with long histories in this country could also make similar assertions.
In recent days, we read of government officials implementing acts that separate children from parents seeking asylum at U.S. borders. Families in search of help face the possible splintering of their family unit. I’m reminded that to be a person of color interacting with this country is to hold a vulnerable family history. It means to exist on soil wet from tears shed over the stripping of basic human rights like the right to keep your child close.
This country (as with so many other countries) has been in the historical habit of separating children from their parents. Not all children. But some children. Black babies born into slavery ripped from their enslaved mothers. Native American children taken from their parents and placed with white families in distant states. These are just a few examples of the many ways families have suffered beneath brutal policies and laws.
We often teach children to follow the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” At the heart of this rule is a belief in the humanity of another person — both adults and children. I think it’s only possible to deny basic human rights when those in positions of power choose to instead view some people through a lens of dehumanization. We have over the course of hundreds of years become a country adept at not truly believing in the full humanity of many racial groups. It’s sadly woven into the very fabric of our lives. Our country is built on systems that fail to honor and affirm all people.
In this recent iteration, those in positions of power separate asylum-seeking parents from their children. These actions confirm the reality that parents of certain races and socioeconomic classes are more at risk of government entities removing their children from their care.
Hope, however, is not lost as many, many people use their voices to speak out against this injustice. And yes, we must speak out against what happens now, but let’s not think of this current injustice as an isolated occurrence. Rather what happens today becomes another example of what we have seen in the past.
If we are truly going to address the deep roots that cause the manifestation of this current heartbreaking policy, we must acknowledge that these situations are nothing new. This country carries the weight of being the very instrument used to divide families across many generations.
To truly seek change demands more on our part. The pursuit of change must go beyond calling attention to a specific occurrence, a specific person, and a specific administration. Instead, we need to recognize policies in the context of our broken history — a history that values basic human rights for some families but certainly not all. This recognition of history will not change the family splitting my ancestors or other people’s ancestors experienced. However, we will be in a better position to end this pattern for now and for the future.
It is only against the backdrop of accepting our country’s broken history that we can then attempt to repair and rectify and restore basic rights stripped from human beings. When we as a society pursue restoration and become a nation that truly affirms everyone’s humanity, it is only then that healing might flow like a mighty river and a never-failing stream.
Patrice Gopo is an essayist and speaker. She is set to release a collection of personal essays in her debut book, All The Colors We Will See.