A recent post on the Black Issues in Philosophy blog explores the dangers inherent in forgetting this history of violence perpetrated on black people. The authors, Desireé Melonas, professor at Birmingham-Southern College, and Alex Melonas, and independent scholar, note that society’s forgetfulness in this area can cause “black people [to become] subjects thought existentially to inhabit the realm of the ‘unreal,’ having therefore no legitimate claim on reality….” Needless to say, this has negative consequences for black people:
“We know that keeping intact historical accounts that blot out or minimize the severity of black terror violence perpetuates the idea that black people aren’t human beings whose lives are worth preserving, that they aren’t human beings at all. Reality, then, continues to conform itself around this idea.”
Melonas and Melonas have been addressing this existential threat on a local level by “confronting historical erasure.” They do this through a community remembrance coalition, one of many such coalitions across the U.S., to memorialize the victims of racial terror, educate local communities about instances of racial terror that have been effectively erased from community memory, and then advocating for racial justice in the present day. They say: “By renegotiating the boundaries of our collective memory, we invite into our consciousnesses an alternative view of those whom we ought to consider valuable.”
Their blog post, titled “Why We Forget,” is thoughtful and readable, both in exploring some of the philosophical problems that arise from communal forgetfulness, and in suggesting concrete and practical ways to address those problems.