I expected to feel pain when I stepped onto the island of Goree, nestled a 10 minute ferry ride away from the coast of Dakar. I expected to sense the mourning of the 20 million African slaves that passed through that island as they took their last steps on African soil. I expected to feel the anxiety those slaves felt just before their arduous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to their new life in the new world. I found, instead, an upbeat island town on a sandy beach. The island as a whole possessed an air of relaxation and laughter, exemplified by the children swimming in the beach beside the dock.
From Goree, I’ve begun to draw multiple lessons. The first is that a terrible atrocity, perhaps the most atrocious the world has ever seen, occurred on a tiny island just off the African coast and infected society as a whole. I learned that people experienced pain I will never be able to imagine. I even learned that Nelson Mandela once sat in the small, unlit room where uncooperative slaves were kept for seven minutes. When he exited the room, he was crying. Nelson Mandela was crying.
The second lesson that Goree teaches is the art of healing. At least, that’s what I found during my time there. It’s difficult for me to comprehend how one could live on such an island and not be perpetually upset. The transatlantic slave trade, I believe, still affects American society and will for some time to come. How could the very place where such a terrible thing began move on so quickly? The slave quarters still reside on Goree. The door of no return sits comfortably facing the ocean. Nelson Mandela’s tears still lie in the soil, but the islanders themselves seem to have moved on. I can’t imagine they’ve forgotten and I don’t think the slave trade’s memory will ever be wiped from that island, but the pain seems to have been washed away. My wish for the United States is that we will one day learn to heal as that island has. I’m not sure I comprehend enough to offer solutions, though.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. As I stood in the door of no return, the door through which slaves took their final steps in their home continent, I felt regret and sadness. I wanted to cry not for what I had done, but for what I, a white male living in the U.S, have benefited from and what I haven’t done to reverse the pain. I hope that one day I will find the solution. I hope that one day we will reverse the pain.