New novel on the legacy of slavery
'Homegoing' is the best-selling debut novel by new author Yaa Gyasi. It tells the story of a family over several generations, exploring the impact of their being taken as slaves from late eighteenth century Gold Coast in Africa, through to Southern US slave plantations and up to modern-day Harlem. The Times review called it "an awe-inspiring debut that gives an insight into the toxic legacy of transatlantic slavery". Gyasi also confronts the involvement of Africans in the enslavement of their own people, not to provide an 'everyone was doing it' excuse but to get us to consider '"the tangled chains of moral responsibility that hang on our history". The Guardian review comments: "If there must be a purpose to the creation of yet another slave narrative other than to show how cruel, unfair, debased and horrific slavery was, it should be to convey the impact of it on modern life. ... [S]lavery is a source of our confusion and discomfort, regardless of which side of the colour divide we descend from. So here is a book to help us remember. It is well worth its weight."
As the world watches the transition from America's first black president to one that has been supported and welcomed by many far-right and racist groups, there was a timely reminder this week of Barack Obama's reaction to the church shootings in Charleston.
On 26 June 2015, a 21 year-old white supremacist entered Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined a prayer meeting and then murdered 9 of the members present, including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Obama's moving tribute reflected his own deep Christian faith, and described the power of God's redemptive grace, even in the worst of situations (at one point he led the congregation in a verse of 'Amazing Grace'). He also referred to the legacy of slavery as a root of the hatred behind the tragedy. "For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present."
"Maybe we now realise the way racial bias can infect us even when we don't realise it, so that we're guarding against not just racial slurs, but we're also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognising our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the colour of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American – by doing that, we express God’s grace."
Read the full text of Obama's speech.
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