TRANSFORMING HISTORICAL HARMS
Preventing the Multigenerational Transmission of Trauma
Czajkowski works for the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program coordinating
monitoring and evaluation and curriculum development. Amy is an adjunct
instructor teaching in the areas of program evaluation and peacebuilding
practice. She was the Program Director of Coming to the Table, an initiative
that addresses the legacies and aftermaths of the US institution of slavery and
has also served as Associate Director of the Practice and Training Institute
and Coordinator of University Accord, a campus-wide program at EMU that
provides mediation, facilitation and restorative justice services. Her areas of
interests include reconciliation, historical trauma, trauma healing, process
design and facilitation, evaluation and program development. Before coming to
CJP, she worked at the Iowa Peace Institute conducting mediation, peer
mediation, and conflict resolution trainings as well as intervening in
interpersonal and organizational conflicts. She holds a B.A. from Principia
College and an MA in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite
University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Amy is married with two
sons, a stepdaughter and stepson.
Yago: Amy, you are very much welcome to
this blog where we are exploring, naming, and deconstructing today’s energies
of enslavement. We believe that the mind-set behind modern slavery is the very
same one that behind slavery all through history. It is a mind-set that has
been transmitted generation after generation bringing immeasurable suffering to
humanity and to creation as a whole. You co-author a very enlightening manual
called “Transforming Historical Harms” (THH). In this interview we would like
to be empowered by the theoretical and practical framework of THH. We would
also like to benefit from your own experience as you are undergoing the
tremendous challenge of deconstructing and processing the legacy and aftermath
of slavery in the States; today’s structures of enslavement.
But first of all, you say that
the creation of the “Transforming Historical Harms” manual was a
“living research project”. Could you share with us how the initiative of
creating this manual originated? How is connected with STAR and Coming to theTable?
Amy: My involvement in Coming to the Table came out of
my interest in expanding and testing STAR’s trauma healing framework with an
incidence of Historical Trauma. In collaboration with individuals who were
direct descendants of people who were enslaved and enslavers, we conceived a
program that involved direct descendants in exploring theory and practice that
would support their own (and the US’, more generally) trauma related to the
institution of enslavement. It was a living research project because we were
creating the processes as we went and the participants were living into them
and responding. It had to be a living project because there aren’t very many
explicit efforts out there that are trying to transform the historical trauma
Yago: What was the big question you
were trying to answer in this project?
Amy: How do you help individuals and
societies heal from experience, beliefs and institutions that came from
enslavement and continue to be passed down from generation to generation? How
do you “interrupt“ intergenerational transmission?
Yago: What is the theoretical framework of “Transforming
Historical Harms” (THH)?
Amy: The framework is areas of activity
that need to be addressed to work at interrupting the transmission of trauma
from generation to generation. We describe those activities under the headings
of 1. Facing History; 2. Healing Wounds; 3. Making Connections with people on
the “other” side; 4. Taking Action to right the harms of the past.
Yago: The THH framework looks at
historical injustices and their present manifestations through the lens of trauma. But, first of all, in order to
help the reader, I would appreciate if you can briefly describe what is trauma
as understood in this particular framework?
Amy: Trauma is a response to an event
that is overwhelming. It’s a response to threat to ones physical being and
basic humanity. Trauma does not occur the same way for everyone, but certain
events tend to be more likely to overwhelm. My colleague who was the co-author of
the manual, David Hooker, talks about events as being traumagenic (likely to
cause trauma). The overwhelm response can look different to different people.
Trauma responses can range from shutting down emotionally to emotional
outbursts to difficulty sleeping. A common response is acting out and creating
potentially traumatic situations for others. The key to all of them is that the
response continues beyond the threatening situation if it’s not addressed.
Where it gets complicated is that when dealing with historical trauma, you have
a number of different kinds of trauma converging. You have people who have been
traumatized in the past who acted out and hurt others creating generational
patterns. You also have institutions that create conditions that continue to
harm and threaten people’s basic humanity and dignity. When we talk about
slavery, we talk about a system that created harmful dehumanizing situations for
people. You also have the justification of the institution through creating
beliefs about inequality related to skin color. Those beliefs are then
perpetuated through geographic boundaries (where people can live); the jobs
people can get or not; media messages; educational funding that privileges
those in areas wealthier areas.
Yago: Why do THH framework choses the
trauma lens? How fundamental is it? What kind of insights can we get through
Amy: Trauma is something to be
transformed or in other words healed. So instead of looking at a problem to
solve, we’re looking at something that needs healing. How you solve a problem
and how you heal can have some similarities, but there are inherent differences.
What’s required is incredible emotional courage. I think there are issues
related to enslavement and racial inequality that we have not been able to
address because they’ve been seen as problems and have not gotten the
emotional vulnerability and again, courage required to face the entirety of
what’s happened, the extent of the harm. Without that courage, you don’t see
what’s happening and can’t really address what’s wrong.
Yago: The THH framework uses terms such
as “historical trauma” and “historical harms”, what is the difference between
Amy: Historical trauma is the larger
concept developed to acknowledge that trauma can happen on a large scale and
get passed between generations. “Harms” is easier to understand for a lot of
people than “trauma.” Harms also represents the result of traumatic responses,
so I actually like using that language better.
Yago: This framework also includes the
levels at which healing needs to occur, which range from the individual to the
international level. I believe that this is a very important insight, the
interconnection between individual and collective trauma. How are they
interconnected? Can we be healed from both of them? How?
Amy: People make up societies. If
enough people are traumatised, you see those patterns in society. Collective
trauma is when many people have been traumatised by the same large harmful
event (or system). So slavery was a collective trauma because it created
dehumanizing conditions for many people. From what I’ve seen, individual
healing and collective healing are linked. An individual can participate in a
collective healing experience and experience healing, individuals who are going
through healing processes often turn to wanting to create collective processes
as a result of their own healing. The individual has to be committed to healing
for it to occur, but collective experiences provide such important support.
Humans are social beings and ultimately need the support of others. The larger
we go, in terms of numbers of people, the healing activity becomes more
symbolic - dedicating statues, creating holidays, writing resolutions. Those
need to occur, and they need to be led by people who have embraced a healing
process themselves because they are prepared to hear the broad range of
experience and need from those impacted by the situation that’s being addressed
on a national level. If a memorial is being created as a healing event, it
needs the input of all sides, which requires great openness to build the
relationships and process that go into its creation and dedication.
|Richmond Slavery Reconciliation Statue|
Yago: The THH approach focuses on harms
and those effected by them. It involves all people or representatives of groups
touched by the historical trauma and harms. In order to have a full picture of
an historical trauma harm we need the presence of the offender and the victim.
Why is so important?
Amy: Offenders have usually been
victims. And the harms they committed are usually explained by harm they
experienced. In order to understand the bigger picture out of which the harm is
coming, you need to understand where that harm came from. Part of what victims
need is an understanding of why they were treated the way they were. Was it
their fault? Was it the result of a random harmful universe? Just making sense of
what happened and why can be healing. When offenders really get the extent of
the harm they committed, it can actually have a rehumanizing impact. They see
another human being that was harmed rather than a stereotype. If there is to be
a larger healing initiative that brings people together, all the sides need to
be considered. One stage of the THH approach is connecting with the “other”
side. It’s also important to recognise that the labels “victim” and “offender”
are too simplistic. When dealing with large-scale historical harms especially,
individual have different identifications with offending and victimization.
Yago: You say that transformation is
considered incomplete unless both beliefs and structures, that have been
responsible for perpetuating historical trauma and harms, have been addressed.
You talk about the importance of disrupting the transmission of trauma. Another
objective of this manual is to identify how Legacy
and Aftermath describe the transmission of historical trauma and harms.
Could you share with us what is the meaning of Legacy and Aftermath? What is
the difference between both?
Amy: In the simplest of terms, “legacy”
relates to beliefs and “aftermath” to structures. They are mutually
reinforcing, but they are still powerful on their own. For example, beliefs
about inequality spurred decisions about educational resources. Giving people
less educational resources fuels the belief that people are unequal. However,
the belief may change about inquality, but if legislation (structure) around
school funding doesn’t change, inequality is still being fueled. If the
educational structure changes, but the beliefs of teachers don’t, inequality is
still supported and passed down from generation to generation. This means that
to address the legacy and aftermath of the institution of slavery, beliefs and
structures must be changed to stop the on-going harm related to inequality.
Yago: What are the foundational values of the “Transforming
Historical Harms” framework?
Amy: Equality, mutuality, ubuntu,
community, justice, and truth.
Yago: The THH approach is a
multi-dimensional and multi-directional process. Could you briefly explain what
do you mean by that?
Amy: Multi-dimensional relates to the
framework that includes history, healing, connection and action. Each of those
dimensions is required for transformation to occur. However, it’s
multi-directional in that they do not need to occur in any particular order. On
a personal level, in some cases, you may start with connecting with someone by
hearing their story, which spurs you to learn more about the historical context
out of which their story emerges, which then brings up a realisation about harm
related to that history that needs healing and finally you choose to take
action in your life to address what you’ve learned if the causes of the harms
are still present in society. It also many not be that linear, it could be
action, connecting, action, healing, connecting. It’s not as important which comes
first or how often but that all are addressed.
Yago: The framework offers a
comprehensive approach to transforming historical harms. First of all through facing history. Here we are talking about “the
archaeology of history.” You were very
courageous in this process as you also took the research at a personal level.
In the context of this project, you had the possibility to do a genealogical
research on your own family, you know now that you had ancestors who were
slaveholders in Massachusetts. They were involved in the fishing industry. You
say that “their well-being, their livelihood was based on slavery. So my family
got a start in this country because of enslavement and that is how development
happened in this country.” Could you share with us now important is to name and
to own this painful history? Why do we have all kind of denial mechanisms to
escape from facing the painful side of history? Has it been beneficial in your
own life process?
Amy: It was most helpful for me to
learn that my family was involved in supporting the triangle trade through
fishing. The fish they caught were sent down to plantations in islands to feed
the enslaved population. That helped me more deeply understand the economics of
slavery (especially in the North). Knowing that my family, who were some of the
earliest European settlers, got their foothold on this continent through taking
advantage of a system that enslaved people helped me see my legacy - the legacy
of justifying stepping on people to make a go of it. A lot of who I am is based
on those who have gone before me. If I have benefited from what they have done,
I also need to take some responsibility for a system they created that has
wreaked havoc on Africans and people of African descent and continues to harm people.
I also need to deal with the belief that community is about people who look
like you and those who are not in your community do not matter. These are
common beliefs throughout the world, but ones that don’t serve the very
integrated global community that we have become. It’s important for me to see
myself as both part of the problem and part of solutions because that’s what’s
true, and how things actually are is where we have to start a healing or change
process. It is painful to see your
family as part of a problem. We all want to be “good guys”, but the narrative
of pure good and evil rarely holds up in reality. A significant step in healing
is to acknowledge where one has gone wrong. My family participated in harming
people for their own good. I have grown up with beliefs about my own
superiority based on my skin color and background and most of the time have not
challenged undeserved privileges. I now see how those beliefs harm others (and
more subtly, myself) because I have connected with other human beings who have
told me their stories. That makes me feel bad, but that’s not where I stop. I
need to recognise the pain that my behaviors created, apologise and try to do
better in the future. All of this to say that understanding my family’s involvement
and how I have been part of or privileged by beliefs that put me above others
is an important part of being engaged in transforming historical harms. It’s
personal; I’m involved and a huge need in the country’s healing process is for
more people to recognize that about themselves.
Yago: You say that the model of
development in USA and many other countries was forced free labour, based on
skin colour because that was the easiest way to keep it going from generation
to generation. You also say that to acknowledge this reality is an important
point in healing historical harms. It is getting people to the point where they
recognize that this is not just in the past, this is still happening. The past
is in the here and now. Could you share more about this?
Amy: If people are still being harmed
today because of beliefs and structures promulgated to support enslavement,
it’s not in the past. Unless you believe that racial inequality is true, all of
the remaining inequalities between descendants of Europeans and Africans such
as education, health, and wealth are a legacy and aftermath of
enslavement. It’s also not in the past
in that our society continue to exploit groups of people, dehumanising some
groups for the benefit of others.
Yago: Another very important example of
the need of facing history is the fact that there were children born to
enslaved women and euro-American slave masters. You say that “there is still a
lot of denial on the fact of blood related connections between enslaved people
and slaveholders”. You say that this was a big issue. Why is so important to
unmask this reality?
Amy: There are several factors at
work from a European American perspective. I’ll mention a few: a sanitised version of slavery that has been
passed down to diminish the guilt of European Americans and a contradiction to
the belief that supported slavery, which was that Africans were inferrior (less
than human). Rape was sanctioned during slavery and happened all the time. This
is something that people want to forget. They don’t want to think of their
European ancestors as rapists.
Children who came out of those relationships
contradict the notion of “inferior, less than human.” Children meant family.
With children born of enslaved women sometimes far more European than African,
complexities arise about beliefs about Europeans and Africans. Acknowledging
the reality of mixed heritage today - many people who look “white” who have
African ancestors and people who look “black” have many European ancestors.
This complicates and brings into question current beliefs about their being any
real divisions between people who are labeled as “black” and “white.” By
acknowledging family across color lines, we’re given a new image of the
shallowness of color distinctions and everything that comes with them. One of
the participants in CTTT who was European American said that after he knew he
had black family members, he started seeing people differently. It was no longer “those” people over there
and “these” people here. Everyone could be family.
Yago: Another dimension of the THH
approach is “making connections.” You
say that “the dominant narrative is that slavery is in the past, that it is not
a big deal anymore. There is a great disconnect with what has happened.” You
also say that “in order to deal with the dramatic event of enslavement it is
important to find the connections between now and then.” How fundamental is the
discovery of this link? Is it totally necessary?
Amy: Making connections between the past and
present is one dimension of making connections (the other is building
relationships across color lines). Making connections between past and present
is so important because it helps you understand why things are they way they
are today. Do African Americans tend to be poorer than European Americans because they are of African
descent? No! They tend to be poorer because of hundreds of years of severe oppression,
very recently total segregation in all societal structures and remaining
beliefs and structures that continue to limit. Why are European Americans
scared of African Americans? Fear of reprisal. You have to understand the
history to understand all that African Americans have to be angry about. There
are exceptions to all of the above, and there are lots of white people who are poor and African Americans who have made incredible strides economically and in all areas of life. However, general patterns today are
explained concretely by events of the past. If we don’t know them, we will
continue to base our beliefs and actions on myths, lies and lack of
Yago: You say that “one of the most
fascinating things for you in ‘Coming to the Table’ was getting at these deep
stories of descendant of people who were slaveholders and talking about the
harm and the pain that was pass from participating in that institution and how
they experience parents who were so emotionally disconnected." Could
you share more about this?
Amy: While slavery dehumanised Africans, it also dehumanised people
of European descent. To treat other people so unfairly for your own gain takes
away a part of your own humanity. And although churches, social norms and
“science” of the time tried to justify that Africans were less than human, on a
certain level people still knew that was not the case. Thomas Jefferson even
I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice
cannot sleep for ever . . . ." - Notes on the State of Virginia, Query
XVIII. So to continue to treat people as less than human requires
turning off your own emotions - an important center of human intelligence and
means of connecting with others. Several descendants of people who enslaved
others talked about their parents as emotionally cut off. They never felt close
to them. Some of their fathers tried to control everyone through fear, much in
the way that their fathers would have controlled enslaved people. The lack of
care and emotional neglect created a certain kind of trauma. Child development
experts talk about emotional neglect often having worse consequences than
physical abuse. It’s difficult to trace this legacy directly to slavery, but it
makes a lot of sense. For many years, society ignored the consequences of
soldiers harming others during war. However, now we’re learning that there are
serious traumatic consequences to harming others. So part of the negative
legacy of slavery is the impact on descendants of enslavers.
Yago: You also say that “the North in
the States have presented slavery as a Southern problem. This is a constant
pattern.” Could you expand on this?
Amy: The North omitted slavery from its
history and instead highlighted its role in abolishing slavery during the civil
war. Growing up in New England, I never learned that enslavement was practiced
in the North, when in fact, early development depended on slavery, if not from
direct labor, money from the triangle trade. There were huge slave trading
enterprises in the North.
Yago: Another important element in this
framework is “healing wounds”. You say
that it took time to see how people were thinking about healing in this
process. Could you share with us your discoveries of how healing was
Amy: People who talked about healing
described it as a gradual process. A key theme in healing was the process of
being able to tell ones own story in the context of the historical harm. Over
time, people’s confidence in telling their own story grew - first in seeing
that they had a story, then that the story was connected to something bigger
and finally seeing that that story could be strengthening instead of limiting.
And the strength could be used to help others and address other effects of the
harms. That’s a bit simplistic and
healing was described in different ways, but this was a common theme.
Yago: You also say that healing
happened as people started understanding the patterns that were passed down
from enslavement, and started to look themselves as an identity separated from
those stories. How important is this disconnection? What about acknowledging
responsibilities as different from feeling guilty?
Amy: Seeing oneself as a person who has
been impacted by the story but not stuck in it seems to be crucial in any
healing process. When people begin to see their own individuality that is
bigger than their trauma experience, it’s where people find their spirit, their
life giving energy, sometimes their connection to the Divine. Acknowledging
responsibility is owning that you’ve done something wrong. Guilt is more of a
feeling that sometimes leads to acknowledgement, but not always. Sometimes
guilt is responsible for exactly the opposite, lying to yourself and others
about the responsibility you have for your actions or how others actions
benefited you at a cost to others.
Yago: Another crucial issue in the
process of healing is forgiveness. You say that forgiveness is recognizing that
somebody is more that those patterns that relate to slavery. Could you expand
Amy: Forgiveness is complex. Most
simply, it’s letting go of hating someone who has harmed you. In that process,
you release the person who has harmed being seen only in light of the harm they
committed. This acknowledges that their humanity is bigger than the act. Being
seen beyond ones harmful behavior as potentially good can be a tremendous
gift. So for European Americans whose
families have financially benefited from slavery, being forgiven ignites a part
of their humanity that they don’t always see. “Seeing” plays a huge role in
acknowledgement of responsibility; apology and forgiveness. Seeing the impact
of the harm, understanding it, seeing the person behind the harm - on both
sides, victim and offender, and seeing the possibility for a different
relationship all relate to seeing.
Yago: You very often talk about issues
of “identification.” This is important because as you say “…in the end, we have
to be really conscious and take our time, because it is not about us, this is
about all of these patterns that we have been developed for hundreds of years
and we are just living those out.” Probably here we are talking of becoming
aware of the “enslavement of the mind”. Do you agree that we can become
enslaved of internalizes structures in our minds?
Amy: Yes, this is again seeing the good
in ourselves in spite of patterns we have been born into. Much of the
enslavement is not seeing ourselves outside of the patterns we have been born
into. We think about ourselves and others and act in ways that we have been
taught. We often don’t even know that we are “enslaved” in our minds. We don’t
feel like we can make choices that we actually can make.
Yago: What connections do you see
between what we called “modern slavery” and “historical slavery”? Could you say
that the patterns of thought that created slavery in the past are still
Amy: Yes, absolutely. What’s
particularly troubling about slavery today is that most of us in monetarily
wealthy nations can really distance ourselves from slavery. It’s not legal and
we don’t know how we’re benefiting from it. However, it’s still about people
finding ways to justify the inhumanity of others for their own financial gain.
There are likely people in slavery conditions making clothes that I own, but I
don’t know about them. They are so far away. There are people in other
countries living in poverty because of international trade law and practices
the World Bank promotes make my economy in the US stronger. In those situations
of poverty, conditions are prime for enslavement.
Yago: You insist in the value of
community in the healing process. As you say “you have to be conscious that by
being in community together you see the value of all these things.” Could you expand on this value? In the end is it all about relationships?
Amy: I think relationship is an
important end but it’s not the only end. Loving ourselves, others, working
through really challenging social and stuctural issues, and freeing our minds
and then behaviors from harmful societal ways thinking and doing require
community. It’s really hard to do these things on your own. You can get to a
certain place, but we are social beings and need support. So good relationships
and community are a means and an end.
Yago: The last aspect of the THH
framework focus on the importance of “taking
action.” You say that “the action piece is fundamental in healing. We
have to be actively engaged in trying to overcome the patterns transmitted from
slavery”. Are we talking on the importance of actualization? What is the role of
our imagination in creating new realities?
Amy: You have to see a possibility
before you can do something and change structures. It may not end up as you
thought it would, but I don’t see how you can separate seeing and doing -
especially if you want to do something differently than it’s usually done. You
have to see differently.
Yago: Now we have gone through the four
part of THH Approach. You say that “this approach is holistic because each dimension is
interconnected with the others. This
approach only works when all the dimensions are present.” Could you expand on
this insight? Why is so fundamental the presence of all the dimensions?
Amy: There are so many reasons. I’ll
start with a few here. Without history, you don’t know what you’re trying to fix or
heal. If you don’t know that your house was built on a landfill with toxic
waste, you can try to manage your health issues through medical treatments, but
they won’t fix the problem. Without healing, you can’t free your mind and
identity from the negative patterns of the past and be free to create a new way
of seeing and doing. Without connection to those on the “other side,” you can’t
know the whole history or fully understand and acknowledge how and why we’ve
gotten to this place. Most history is written by one side or the other. A whole
history requires engagement from both or many perspectives and solutions must
have joint input. Without taking action to make changes, especially structural
changes, people will continue to be harmed.
Yago: Let us move to the practices of
the THH approach. The THH approach uses the multifaceted tool of narrative.
What is the role of narrative, discourse and storytelling in the transmission
Amy: Narrative can certainly serve to transmit
trauma. If the stories people and societies pass down create fear and
isolation, people can become overwhelmed - those stories along with lived
experiences that confirm those stories add to the potential for a traumatic
response. If the stories I hear about a group of people are negative, I tend to
look for and respond to situations that confirm those stories. I become more
isolated from that group of people and begin to think of myself as superior to
them. This serves to create isolation and fear. This may be true even if more
of my experiences do not confirm the narratives. On the other hand, people who
are the target of narratives about inferiority often internalize those stories
about themselves, which can also be overwhelming. We learn about the world
through the narratives of others.
Yago: You say that “a lot of today’s
structures of enslavement (patterns) are invisible to people, because there
isn’t a dominant narrative creating the linkages between what happened then and
what is happening now, and how everybody is involved.” THH, through the
practice of narrative for history, seeks
to uncover and enliven previously unknown and undervalued histories. How do you
do that? What is the main purpose of this practice?
Amy: If the narrative we got through
our families and societies doesn’t actually represent reality, we need to
expand our narratives. I didn’t grow up with any narrative about enslavement as
the economic foundation of our nation, nor did I learn about contributions African
Americans made to our nation. The narrative I grew up with was that the North
freed African Americans from slavery which was a backward practice for greedy
and immoral white southerners. So there must be something wrong with African
Americans who can’t “get over it” and move into middle class white society. The
images I saw on TV and the news did not depict African Americans as equal to
European Americans. If there were positive depictions, they were not considered
are many ways to highlight aspects of history that have been under-represented.
They can be included in books, school curriculum, people can share them in
talks, in interviews on tv, the web or print articles. Street names, buildings,
memorials, museums, and other historical markers can share these narratives.
Yago: THH also seeks a narrative for connection as it aims at
building a more truthful, just, and connected society where individuals and
groups recognized the shared humanity of other people and other groups. Could
you enumerate different narrative techniques that could be used to accomplish
the goal of connecting?
Amy: Listening to each others stories
is a powerful way to connect as long as the stories are self-reflective and
come from someone’s lived experience. Telling a story in this way requires vulnerability and courage. These stories
can be told in many ways - one-on-one, in circle process, even to large groups
or in films. The closer the listener and speaker are to one another, the more
potential for connection. How narratives are told is more important than the
venue or process.
Yago: Can we say that narrative have the potential to be a
transformative healing power? How?
Amy: Yes, just as narrative has the
ability to harm, storytelling has the ability to heal and again, it’s how the
narrative is shared and the support people have - the safe space - to share
their narrative that matters the most.
Yago: You say that one of the greatest
contributions of “Coming to the Table” is the encouragement of telling stories
tat has been transmitted from participant to participant. You say that there is
a significant difference in the USA between the stories people were telling in
the nineties and the stories that are being told now. Could you share with us
what is the difference you have noticed?
Amy: There were very few stories in the
media about families connected through enslavement and very few stories about
people looking into their genealogies to discover that they were descendants of
people who were enslaved and/or slaveholders. When we started doing this
through Coming to the Table, many more stories were written and told. It’s
difficult to know the contribution Coming to the Table made to others telling
their stories. Others could have been influenced, or perhaps it was just time.
Yago: Marshall Ganz says that “stories
not only teach us how to act, they inspire us to act. Stories communicate our
values through the language of the heart, our emotions.” THH introduces the
‘public narrative’ model developed by M. Ganz as an organizing tool. Could you
share with us the intention of this tool?
Amy: Marshall Ganz suggested that
personal stories can be told in a way that motivates action from others. That
was one of the goals of Coming to the Table - to get other people to share
their stories related to slavery, its legacy and aftermath.
Yago: Could you share with us some
different practices that support a narrative
Amy: Memorializing historical
incidents, unveiling plaques or memorials,
offering appropriate reparations, correcting historical records, and
revising school curriculums are a few examples.
Yago: As the project has evolved the
project is totally focus on the needs of reconciliation and transformation, and
this is emergent. You already changed the wording from “healing historical harms”
to transforming historical harms. Why? What does it mean in practice?
Amy: Healing is one of the dimensions of the
approach we have tried to describe. It was confusing using the word “healing”
as a description of the overall approach and using “healing” as one of the
dimensions of the approach. Conceptually, history, connecting and action are
part of healing, but when we talk about the healing dimension of the approach
is it about becoming free from unhealthy and limiting beliefs and behaviors.
Yago: To end the interview, you say that "the biggest lost in
today’s world is that we have created a structure where people are not
bringing their best, some people don’t have their voices on the table at all,
we need voices from all sides, all aspects, all kind of creativities, all kind
of skills… we are not accessing them because of these patterns of isolation, of
separation, of hierarchy… we are not nearer as good as we could be… We are
enslaving ourselves in small identities…"
I believe that we are all enslaved without having the courage of saying
it… Would you agree?
Amy: When I was watching the winter Olympics,
I was thinking, these are supposed to the be the best athletes in the world,
and obviously they are very accomplished, but really they are the best athletes
who have access to their sport’s training facilities. What would the level of
competition look like if access was easier? That is an example of how we limit
potential with structures we create - poor schools and unsafe neighborhoods are
also good examples. Our structures also limit our ability to get to know people
who could really challenge, love and support us - who could help us be more
human. And yes, we are stuck in models of hierarchy that are not only reflected
in physical structures but in our heads; that is the place of imprisonment for
many of us. It is our own limiting voices “I can’t do that” or “who am I to do
that” that keep us from creating healthier structures and communities. Even people
who have great confidence in acting in the public arena have those voices
related to topics they consider weaknesses such as emotions and feelings. Those voices are particularly insidious
prisons because you can’t see them and they come across as our own thinking.
They are fearful thoughts that are always concerned about not having enough or
being enough, and I believe speak to most people.
Yago: Thanks Amy for your wonderful
contribution to this blog!
Amy: Thank you Yago!