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  • Raeanne Newquist

So Much I Don't Know

This post is honest and a bit embarrassing. I'm embarrassed by how much I don't know about slavery and how little I was taught in school about it. So as you read this, please give me grace. What I didn't learn in school growing up, I'm now choosing to now learn myself.

Prior to going to Senegal I read up on places to visit and of course restaurants to try! One place I was looking forward to visiting was Gorée Island. It was the "hub of the Atlantic slave trade" and there is a museum called The Slave House that I was interested in exploring. I had no idea that when we docked in Dakar that I'd have a daily view of Gorée Island from my cabin.

Within a few weeks of arriving, we made the quick 15 minute boat ride over to Gorée Island to explore. A man who went by the name "Papi" agreed to be our tour guide and showed us a few historical places on the island, ending up at The Slave House. As we walked through the rooms, Papi, an African Man, told us horrible stories of how the slaves stayed there until the ships came to take them away to various countries, far away from their own. I felt very uncomfortable. Although this happened many years before I was ever born, it felt awkward being a white, American woman, listening to a black, African man tell of the horrors of this place. The uncomfortable feelings weren't just from hearing unimaginable things. The uncomfortable feelings didn't come from my children hearing these stories that I probably wouldn't have told them so graphically. The uncomfortable feelings came because somehow I wasn't so disconnected from what I was hearing and experiencing.

I did not know this at the time. To process these feelings hadn't even occurred to me. But now, almost a year later, after living in West Africa and returning to The United States a week before George Floyd was murdered, I'm understanding those uncomfortable feelings all the more.

We were coming upon the famed "Door of No Return," the last place an African would walk through before stepping on board a ship. That ship was more than just a transportation vessel. That ship was more like a machine out of a sci fi movie where once you stepped in, your identity, family, customs, heritage, language, security, comforts - everything familiar, was erased and you were completely disconnected. Your father might be shipped to South America, your mother might be shipped to North America, your brother to Europe, you would never know that and you'd never see them again or be able to contact them. WHAT? I never knew other countries were involved in slavery. I was taught about slavery just in America and thought it was an American thing. (first embarrassing confession)

As the Door of No Return came into view I heard my friend quietly say, "I remember that in Guinea." WHAT? What do you remember? She told me that she remembered seeing the "Door of No Return" in Guinea. I was a bit confused. I thought this was the "Door of No Return." Then I learned that there were doorways all up and down the coast of West Africa, not just on Gorée Island. How did I never know this? I was never taught the extent of slavery, let alone the impact it had on the world.

With each moment, I was growing more and more uncomfortable not only with my surroundings, but with my own lack of education about this place and the many others like it. I also was uncomfortable taking photos in this place, as if it were a tourist attraction. Yet it is a "tourist attraction." And I don't think that is a bad thing. If I, as a tourist, hadn't visited Gorée Island, I wouldn't have realized that there is so much I don't know about slavery.

As I spent almost a year living in an African country, I was embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about this continent and the African people. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to start to learn more about Africa while being surrounded by beautiful African people.

One week before I left the ship I was having a conversation with an African crew member. He told me that he was raised to believe that white people are superior. WHAT? This young man was in his 20s and I was so confused that such a thing would be taught to him. The slave trade is long over and now generations apart from this young man. How could he be raised with this archaic, damaging, false way of thinking? Why was this being handed down from generation to generation? This young man was born and raised in West Africa and has never been to America or Europe. I was so confused.

One week after I left the ship George Floyd was murdered and my country erupted. The whole topic of slavery has come up once again and everyone is saying that the effects of slavery are still very evident in our country. WHAT? I was once again confused. Slavery? Why are we still talking about this? I just visited The Slave House that closed down somewhere between 1807-1810, which means it's been over 200 years since it was operational. How is slavery still showing effects today, 200 years later?

There is so much I don't know.

In the past few weeks I have desired to get away from my lack of education and start to learn about slavery and it's lasting impact, not on a generation, but on an ethnic group. I'm learning about racism and all that I don't know about my African American friends and the challenges they face here in North America. I'm overwhelmed by all that I don't know, but I'm determined to read, listen and ask so that I can begin to learn and understand.

(In this post I am referring to the African Slave trade. I do realize that slavery has happened all over the world for thousands of years and still happens through human trafficking.)

Do you have any good resources? Books? Podcasts? Anything that has helped you learn more? Please share! There is so much I don't know and the best way to learn is from each other. Here are 2 podcasts that I recently listened to that completely blew me away!

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