This week in the antiracism circle, we looked at some of the historical and structural underpinnings of racism in this country, and in particular in Minnesota. The Dakota and Anishinaabe people were subject to violence and dispossession of their lands, of course, and Minnesota was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history, when 38 Dakota men were hanged in 1862 after the U.S.-Dakota War. Minnesota was not innocent when it came to the enslavement of African-Americans, either; slaves powered the operations of Fort Snelling, tourist towns welcomed Southerners and their slaves, and the government colluded with slaveholders by assisting with the capture of people fleeing slavery. Today, Minnesota ranks worst and near-worst in the nation in terms of racial disparities; as one example. White Minnesotans have twenty times the net worth of Black Minnesotans.
One of the main understandings I’m gathering from the circle is how deep and fundamental racism was in this country’s origins, and how the reverberations of our legacy of genocide and enslavement continue to be felt today. As we learn from our Buddhist practice, actions have consequences. Understanding where we come from helps us understand where we are now, and how we can move forward. One of our facilitators, a person of color, told us that when he moved to Minnesota, he experienced a new, subtler kind of racism. He didn’t quite understand what was going on, but later, when he came across the Original MN Constitution, with its unapologetic and explicit white supremacy, it made more sense to him why he didn’t feel quite welcome, even now.
History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.