Saturday, January 12, 2008

Guilty for the Deeds of Others

I always feel guilty when I see, either in person or on television, an African-American with the same last name as me. There was Anita Hill, who accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment back in the 90's, the basketball player Grant Hill, the U of Wisconsin runningback PJ Hill, just to name a few. Yesterday I was in Starbucks and met a black woman (either going to work, on her break, or just leaving work) with a name tag on, and her last name "Hill" seemingly staring at me. It's embarrassing to me, knowing that some of my ancestors owned slaves (thankfully not on both sides of my family though). There is a family story of my paternal grandfather having a similar run-in with a well-dressed African-American man in Kentucky (where the Hill family has its roots) when he was younger, and the black man thanked him for his grandfather sending his freed slaves to college (or something to that effect), which seems to give some members of my father's side the view that they were "good" slave owners, it still doesn't take away from the fact that they owned other human beings as property, and undoubtedly committed some of the same atrocities as any other slave owners of the time.

I am currently reading a book I have just bought (thanks Grandma Sue for the huge Barnes & Noble gift card!!!) about Rastafarianism. Though the book as a whole is a focus on the Rastafarian religion, the first few chapters deal with the state of the African slaves in Jamaica, which was far worse than the slaves in the USA. If you thought "Roots" was bad, you should see what it was like for the slaves in the Caribbean.

All in all, I realize that my time in Zambia with the Peace Corps will not delete the ugly past of slavery in my family. But perhaps, by helping the status of an African country's education system, I could slightly make up for it somehow? If not that, maybe it will help at least distance myself from the bad deeds of my ancestors and past countrymen. Then again, that might take a lifetime of work. Perhaps I could do another Peace Corps stint in the Caribbean, or be a teacher at an inner-city school. Some of you are already aware that I prefer working at schools that qualify as "underpriveledged."

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