Sankofa is a West African term specifically located in the Ghanaian cultural continuum. It means, treatment “Go back and fetch it.” Based on a fable that speaks of a man who goes on a journey and after he has been traveling for some time, find realizes that he has forgotten something very important. But instead of going back to get this “thing”, viagra his pride will not allow him to return and so he continues down the road. When he arrives, he recognizes that the thing he “needs” the most is the very thing he forgot. Often people forget to recognize that life is a continuum; history is a continuum and in order to fully appreciate where we are or where we are going, we must go back and find out something about where we have been.
Too many people wrestle with the times in which we live. They wrestle with various systems, policies and procedures involving race, class, gender and all of their intersectionality. Systems whereby some are a part of the dominant culture and others are oppressed by that culture. What is often not understood is that these systems that are entrenched so deeply within the “American” landscape and lifestyle have a history; they are a part of a continuum. How did communities of color come to distrust law enforcement? Why do we have clear color lines drawn in our U.S. cities, often creating segregated communities more racially and economically desperate than those in the Jim Crow south? What makes violence against women and girls an epidemic of unbelievable proportion? And how is it we once again are protesting in the streets claiming illegal immigration is “killing American jobs”? That argument is as old as dirt and it keeps coming up as if it is the “new politic”? These questions continue to cycle and recycle with new language and definitions but without actually being addressed in any meaningful or transformative way. The old adage “When you don’t know your history, you are likely to repeat It.” Rings true.
We take two steps forward to every three steps back. We are going backwards but not in any type of introspective or interrogative way. It is difficult to move beyond where we are, because we do not want to go back and get the information we need from our past that can truly inform our ability to construct a future that effectively addresses the inequities and disparities created in the inception and building of this nation, this American Dream. When people have been disadvantaged by a historic past while others have been disproportionally advantaged by that same history, it becomes imperative that there is acknowledgment of that fact before we can begin the process of redressing those inequities and disparities. It can be argued that what is impeding our progress, as a nation, is a lack of knowledge and/or a refusal to acknowledge how this nation was built, who built it, and what our shared heritage should be going forward. We need to Sankofa. If we are to become a nation that can truly claim to be the United States of America, we have some learning, re-learning, and recognizing to do. There are some things that we have forgotten, some things that we have never acknowledged…if we are to move forward, we must go back and fetch the things we have left in the past. The question is do we have the courage to do so?
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: What Ferguson Teaches Is About Justice