I recently returned from a trip to the ABC islands. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are three tiny islands east of Venezuela which are governed by The Kingdom of the Netherlands. There is so much beauty to behold on these islands, each possessing enough individuality to attract a variety of travelers. White sand beaches, clear blue water, lovely resorts, quaint hotels, thriving ocean life, beautiful diving and a melding of African, Dutch, and South American cultures evidenced by the tossing about of languages: Dutch to Spanish to Papiamento to English.
There is so much beauty there. In the midst of all this beauty, there are reminders of a tumultuous past. A time in our world’s history where human beings were bought and sold as easily as a cow, a horse, a bag of salt.
Transported from a homeland on one side of the world to a foreign land on the other, there were many slaves who were brought to Curaçao, a stopping point where these humans were sold to the highest bidder from another place in the Caribbean or the Americas. There is now a museum that sits on land that may have been used as a slave depot. Some of those slaves were taken to Bonaire, a place that is now known as a scuba diver’s paradise. In those days, the slaves taken to Bonaire joined prisoners and indentured servants in the production of salt. In a land of sparkling blue water and clear blue skies, of pink flamingoes and thriving ocean life, existed the horror of being owned by another human being. These slaves were “housed” in white and red slave huts. Often, there were six individuals sharing one of these huts. As you’ll see, they are barely large enough for me, a woman measuring 5 feet, 7 inches, to stand up straight. I can only imagine how impossible it must have been for a bone-weary, full-grown man to get rest after working in the hot sun. The sound of ocean waves lulls me to a place of peace. Sitting at the edge of the ocean, I wonder what these slaves felt listening to those same waves. Did the sound help them remember home? Or was that sound just another reminder of their bondage?
It’s difficult to look at history and realize that the systems that allowed certain horrors to exist are the same systems that people are still fighting. How devastating it is to know that there are people STILL being killed simply because their skin is of a darker hue. It is horrifying to think that many still believe that an individual of a darker hue is not quite as human as the person who rules over said individual. It is disgusting to think that there still exists a mentality that says that one person’s life matters more than another person’s life. When one works so tirelessly to oppress and work to annihilate a person or group of people, the only reason is fear. So what is the fear? Strength? Power? Knowledge?
It is very easy to oppress and control someone whose spirit is broken. When individuals are forced into physical and social spaces that humiliate them and keep them from rising to the fullness of themselves, their spirits are broken. Their mental strength is broken. The memory of what they once were, how they once stood tall, free to bask in the light of the sun and the blue of the sky, begins to fade. And then they can easily be bound and controlled.
History is important. It is a weapon. It should not be used to justify resentment or hate. But it should be used as a weapon against the mentality of fear and violence and racism that required and allowed the slave trade, this slave depot, and these slave huts to exist in the first place. It is the weapon that must be used to tear down the walls of hate so that we all can stand in the freedom of the Blue.