The Boy in Striped Pajamas
What a strange coincidence that “Twelve Years a Slave” has won the Oscar for best motion picture at the same time Richmond, Virginia is planning to build a ballpark right on the top of one of the largest slave market districts in the country: including several slave auction sites, slave prisons, slave hospitals and, most importantly, a burial ground for enslaved people. Hollywood has recognized so many movies commenting on other atrocities, movies such Schindler’s List and The Boy in Striped Pajamas, for example, depicting the suffering of the Jewish people, and we have all developed compassion for that theme and acknowledged that pain. Nevertheless, the suffering inflicted by slavery is so close to home, that it makes it hard to tolerate - to have a dialogue about it. And the easy solution is always to try to forget.
In 2000, while studying Cultural Anthropology and Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, I presented a paper at American and Howard Universities entitled, “Healing the Rupture: A Jungian Perspective in African Religion/Mythology in the New World” in which I commented on the fact that, due to slavery, the complexity and depth of African Mythologies were neglected, dismissed and stigmatized under terms such as “barbarism” and “animism,” being constantly subjugated underneath the values of other religions and Western perspectives. I alluded to the fact that, while the Greek Mythologies were widespread, inspiring so many philosophical schools of thought and so many literary and artistic works, African mythologies, with a similar system of archetypes, were repressed, mocked and undervalued.
I discussed as well the fact that the stigmatization had limited access to that knowledge -even the oral traditions had been discontinued due to the fact that groups from the same language were broken apart, therefore making the preservation of common myths more difficult. This caused as much damage to the African psyche as did centuries of enslavement. The reason I had included “Jungian Perspective” in the title of my paper is duo to the fact that Carl Jung in the book, “The Man and its Symbol,” lectures on his concept of “collective unconsciousness” with he defines as a “part of the psyche that retains and transmits the common psychological inheritance of humanity” for Jung, as later for Joseph Campbell, myths hold the key for the understanding of the human kind as a whole.
When in Richmond’s City Council opposing the construction of the ballpark on such an important site in the context history of slavery, I mentioned that a site where such atrocities took place doesn’t belong to a city or a country any more, it falls under the domain of humanity. This was the case for Auschwitz, the Berlin Wall, Hiroshima or the TwinTowers. That history cannot be forgotten by being buried underneath a baseball park. The whole extension of that area has to be exposed and acknowledged - to be used to promote peace. The lives of the individuals sacrificed on the place, as the depth of the cultures that were, on that site, broken apart, have to be restored and brought to light. It is not a matter of reviling past atrocities that cannot be undone. It is a matter of creating access to what was lost. It is a matter of reminding all human kind that we are all connected and therefore have to work on our common values lost in many egocentric times. A place, such as the burial ground in Shockoe Bottom, Richmond, has to be used for conducting the right studies and for the creation of communal spaces that promote and include access to the deep knowledge of the cultures that were stigmatized. In this way we gain access to the mythologies and complex philosophical thoughts of these cultures as a patrimony of all humanity.
A deeper discussion about the impact for the world of building a baseball stadium on the site of what was once the second largest slave market in the country.