Life + Culture

Family Roots

square Image result for family historyWelcome back guest writer Eileen Howard, as she explores some of her families history and what it means for her today:

I am researching my family genealogy and it has been fun (and time consuming).  I’ve traced ancestors back to the pilgrims and to the revolutionary war.  I’ve found some really hilarious and interesting family stories.  I’ve also found that I cannot escape the sins of our nation.

All my life I have thought of myself as part of a family that was above the sin of slavery.  We were northeasterners who moved to the Pacific Northwest.  You won’t find a Morrill (my maiden name) that owned slaves.

Ah...but now I find my family goes back through other branches to North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.  And there, in black and white, thanks to Ancestry.com, are records that list slaves. and ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.

Not only that, but I discovered a very intriguing story about one branch who lived next door to Daniel Boone’s family in North Carolina.  Boone led some of my ancestors to settle Kentucky!  How exciting! Until you realize that by “settle” they mean “kill Indians.”  They fought at Fort Boone against the native peoples, killing them and taking their land.

Image result for the best apology is changed behaviorI wonder if we will ever be a truly free nation until we boldly face and repent of our original sins? The backlash against “political correctness” has some basis in truth – people just want to move on and want to stop the back and forth labels of racism.  They feel they want to just live and let live and treat people as humans.  I do think there have been overreactions to minor things and I, too, find these frustrating.  But I now think they are rooted in this issue:  We still have not fully repented of our original sins so, like a festering wound, it just keeps opening up again and again.

In 12-step groups, this is called Step Eight.  Make a list of all persons we had harmed and make amends to them.  But this is difficult when the core of the harm is generations ago.  However, the benefit to me of that original sin is clear as I do my research!   Generations of my ancestors had land, power, and money because they either built it on the labor of slaves or took land from native people.

So, in 12 step groups, this is what you do when you can’t directly make amends to a person you’ve harmed:  A Living Amends.  A Living Amends is when you start living your life the way you should have lived it back when you were harming others.   A living amends, means rooting out the current forms of institutional racism and unconscious privilege.  It requires acknowledging that generations of oppression have led to an inherent systemic inequality from birth.  Stop pretending that we all start on a level playing field.  It requires deep self-examination to see where our institutions have inherent bias against people of color, such as in our policing and justice systems, hiring practices, real estate sales, and schooling.
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And, for the Native People of this country, wow… I don’t even know where to begin, the sins are so deep.  Maybe by just stopping taking their damned land and using it for oil pipelines!

My hands are not clean.   I did not just drop on the planet without a family history.  While I cannot go back and change the actions of my ancestors, I can participate in repentance and make a living amends to the ancestors of those who were harmed.
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