In light of the most recent violence against African Heritage people and communities, I have hesitated to post references to my project I Am My White Ancestors. I don't want to continue the pattern of white people benefiting from the labor and hardship of people of color, and specifically Africans brought to the US and elsewhere against their will. Yet I see articles and pleas on social media discussing the role of white people and I have seen requests from African Heritage people for whites to own their whiteness. So I felt compelled to add my voice.
I have many South Carolina ancestors who benefited from the plantation economy and the colonization of Native lands. One of them featured in the installation will be John Salley. He was born in South Carolina in 1740, the son of Swiss immigrants recruited to settle (colonize) central South Carolina and serve as buffer between the Native tribes and the coastal settlements. At 18, John fought in the Cherokee English War, later was a captain in the Revolutionary War and represented his district in the State Continental Congress. He died with huge land holdings and many slaves. His story is not unusual and reflects the centuries long relationship between family, land, profit, and racism.
Right now, the state of South Carolina and other states are being demonized for their confederate past and slaveholding histories. Yes, it is time for states to retire the Confederate flag as a government symbol. It is also easy for Americans who live outside the southern states to point a finger and blame the south for all our problems. But let's not forget that our history of slavery and racism stretches north and west. Just ask any person of color anywhere in the US.
When it is displayed in Fall 2016, I Am My White Ancestors will create a forum and historical context for white people to look directly at our heritage. I want to help us to talk about what it feels like to be white with such a conflicted history and take responsibility for how that history affects us all now.