Op-ed: Healing and Learning from Historical Traumas

Healing and Learning from Historical Traumas

U.S. Embassy Juba Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Larry E. André, Jr.

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which stands among the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.  A white supremacist mob, backed by local authorities, raided, firebombed, and destroyed the prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The mob murdered entire families, including children.  As many as 300 Black Americans were killed and thousands more were displaced. 

On Monday, in a proclamation on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, President Biden wrote, “I call upon the people of the United States to commemorate the tremendous loss of life and security that occurred over those two days in 1921….and commit together to eradicate systemic racism and help to rebuild communities and lives that have been destroyed by it.”

Today Americans still struggle to live up to our country’s founding ideal, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.”  Systemic racism and other forms of bias and injustice persist in the United States despite gains achieved in the struggle to advance racial equality and justice.  May 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a police officer in the U.S. city of Minneapolis.  Floyd’s murder was an outrageous act of brutality.  His death sparked a demand for justice and equity through renewed national efforts to dismantle systemic racism and to reform policing.  On April 20, 2021, a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty on all counts in the murder of Floyd.  This was a positive step forward in the march toward justice.

We are committed to the struggle for equality, which includes openly discussing difficult aspects of our history and our culture.  Our country has progressed to a point where we can commemorate an event as tragic as the Tulsa Massacre and have an open and honest discussion about it.  We recognize our faults and seek to overcome them to create “a more perfect union.”  Transparent, honest, and mutually respectful debates about the issues that confront us, amplified by a free and independent media, strengthen our country.

In my experience, bias and injustice are an unfortunate aspect of the human condition.  People around the world are harmed by the scourge of bias for myriad reasons and to varying degrees.  Like many countries, South Sudan’s past and present is marred by violence perpetrated against entire communities.  I am witness to scenes of horrific violence here in Juba in early 2014.  I am aware of similar episodes of indiscriminate violence that took place in other parts of the country during that terrible period.  Much of this violence has been fueled by ethnic division.  

I am a proud Texan, a U.S. state with a rich and diverse cultural heritage and a unique history.  As much as I love Texas, I am an American first.  In like manner, it is vital for South Sudanese to see each other first as fellow South Sudanese, and secondly as members of distinct cultural and regional communities.   Diversity is a source of strength when matched by a tradition of mutual respect.  Key to South Sudan’s future success will be the ability of its people to forge a national identity and work together to achieve your beautiful country’s destiny as a peaceful and prosperous land. 

A country’s ability to move forward also depends on healing, reconciliation, and cultural adaptation.  For the United States, this is what the commemoration of the Tulsa Massacre was all about.  On Tuesday, President Biden visited Tulsa.  In his remarks, he said, “We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened or doesn’t impact us today, because it does still impact us today….We should know the good, the bad, everything.  That’s what great nations do.  They come to terms with their dark sides.  And we’re a great nation.  The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild.”

For South Sudan as well, healing and reconciliation are critical to the effort of ensuring a lasting peace.  This means being willing to talk about past traumas, and being willing to forgive.  It means setting aside past differences in favor of a brighter, shared future.  It means committing to working together for the good of the country.  We Americans continue to heal and learn from our historical traumas.  As longtime friends of South Sudan, we are confident that you will do the same.