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Editor's note: This letter is in response to the opening of the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama, a memorial dedicated to remembering the discrimination and lynching African-Americans have been subjected to in America.  

I am originally from Tanzania and came to the U.S. almost two decades ago. I came to this land by choice, but others from Africa arrived here by force. One of Tanzania’s islands, Zanzibar, was an epicenter for the slave trade. A quick Google search rewarded me with a collection of bone-chilling images of men, women and children in chains. These images were from a memorial in Stone Town, Zanzibar, and the people in chains were stone statues, but the impact of slavery was clear.

As I ponder the images of the slave statues with chains around their necks, I feel the images traveling to my heart; my heart begins to hurt.

How did the slaves feel?

As I look closer at the desperate faces of the slaves, I feel a shift in my sense of who I think I am. I feel connected to the slaves; I feel their presence within my soul. I can see my family, I see my children and I see humanity chained to itself. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity is how to break the invisible chains tying us to suffering and despair.

The notion of breaking the “chains” might conjure up an image of a sledgehammer slamming into rusty iron links — sparks flying as each blow strikes the chain! There is a need for energy, effort and intentional blows to the chain to break it and free the prisoner, but alas, what if the blow lands on a body part?

For me to be aware, I must perceive the reality of the situation. If what I see causes discomfort in me, I might find it reasonable to hate what I see. The problem, however, is by hating I become attached to what I hate. An invisible chain forms between what I hate and me.

The next reasonable action might be to move away from what I hate, but I am bound to my object of hate. The more I pull away, the more the chain tightens around my neck, cuts into my flesh, mixes with my blood and corrodes the life stream in me and the one I hate. Unfortunately, I do not see that my effort to separate from the one I hate is slowly decapitating my soul. I am in trouble, yet I continue to flee from the enemy.

In my insanity to free myself from my hurt, I seek more perplexing solutions — I might hate more enemies. As a result, a network of entangled, suffering beings expands across the world. More hurt, more fleeing, more hate, more enemies — the cycle continues.

The invisible chains that hold the hater and the hated can be made less painful if the subjects stop fleeing from each other. As I nurse my wounds from the friction and pressure of my invisible chains, I recall Greek mythology about how Theseus used Ariadne’s thread to guide himself to safety.

Is it possible that my invisible chain will lead me to freedom? Could the invisible chain become my Ariadne’s thread to help me emerge from Minotaur’s labyrinth to embrace humanity for its virtues and vices?

Since Ariadne offered the thread to Theseus out of love, would it be possible to offer my chain to my enemy? That might make sense because if I turn toward my enemy to offer him the invisible chain, its tightness around my neck loosens. As the pain subsides my breathing improves. I awaken from my nightmare to realize that inside my enemy lives a heart formed inside his mother’s womb. This heart has known love and that love is always pure. When that heart stops beating, the struggle between my enemy and I will cease to exist.

Would you help me break my invisible chains?

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(1) comment

Steve Gregg

Professor Suza,

Slavery is the original sin of America, a hateful repudiation of the freedom we professed to base our new country on. It was contentious from the beginning and led to a civil war in which it was defeated at the cost of 600,000 American lives. Now, the descendants of slaves in America live in greater freedom and prosperity than their distant relatives in Africa.

So, we have solved slavery in America. However, the slave markets in Africa from which Americans bought their slaves remain. Chattel slavery remains a common practice in many African countries. If you want to fight slavery, I recommend you direct your attention to Africa, where it remains, and fight it there.

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