Reconciling the Sins of Our Ancestors
A guest post by Marie W. Watts
I, like many Caucasian Americans, have ancestors who were slaveholders. Case in point is documentation I have uncovered about my ancestor Francis Dorsett (my great-great-great-great-great grandfather) and his son John Dorsett (my direct descendent).
Francis was born in England in 1740 and migrated to the United States. The family settled in Chatham County, North Carolina. (West of Raleigh). Francis served in the Revolutionary War by furnishing supplies. Upon his death in 1813, he owned 277 acres of land. A complete inventory of possessions is fascinating and includes the following:
- a hymn book and Bible, although he was illiterate,
- one looking glass,
- one wagon,
- blacksmith tools,
- Livestock: seventeen hogs, three horses, two cattle, four sheep,
- Kitchenware: two kettles, two pots, one skillet, one tea kettle, one set of teaware (sic), and One Negro Woman, Mime. (Note: Mime was left to Francis’s wife, Rebecca, in his will.
Slavery is abhorrent to me, and I am not personally responsible for it. Unfortunately, the remnants of slavery—racism—are woven into the fabric of our social and economic systems, leaving persons of color at a disadvantage. This impediment is not in keeping with the Christian tradition of loving your neighbor as yourself.
The question then becomes, are we responsible for the sins of our ancestors?
Dr. Michael Rhodes, in the article “Should We Repent of Our Grandparents’ Racism? Scripture on Intergenerational Sin”, suggests a closer look at Leviticus 26:40–44 for guidance. He states:
"…one reason the present generation needs to repent of the sins of their forebears is that sin causes a rupture that must be repaired. What’s required is not just that the present generation confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors, but also that they “make amends (yirṣû) for their iniquity” (26:41b, 43). If the damage one generation does is not fixed in their own day, that damage does not simply disappear at their death. The wrong must be righted, and the job may well fall on their descendants."
The healing process begins by naming our intergenerational sins and realizing how we, personally, have benefitted from them. For instance, depriving persons of color economically through the lack of good jobs, bank loans, and full participation in the American dream has left the rest of us in a better financial situation.
The second step is to actually make a change, starting within ourselves. Are we perpetuating stereotypes? Do we walk the talk of Christianity?
Until our hearts are clear, we cannot begin to take action in the community to undo the effects of racism. Once self-healing has occurred, we can take action by supporting efforts to create a racially just society.
Marie W. Watts is a former employment discrimination investigator and human resource consultant with over twenty-five years of experience. In pursuit of justice in the workplace, she’s been from jails to corporate boardrooms seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of humans at work.
Her on-the-job observations came in handy when she co-authored a textbook about how to behave at work, Human Relations 4th ed. Additionally, her work has been published in the Texas Bar Journal and the Houston Business Journal as well as featured on Issues Today syndicated to 119 radio stations, NBC San Antonio, Texas, and TAMU-TV in College Station, Texas.
A popular diversity and employment discrimination trainer, Marie has trained thousands of employees to recognize their own biases and prejudices and avoid discriminating against others in the workplace. She has brought her experiences to life in the trilogy Warriors For Equal Rights about the struggles of ordinary people who work at the little-known federal agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
She and her husband live on a ranch in central Texas. In her spare time, she supports a historic house and hangs out with her grandsons. For more information about Marie and her stories about life, visit www.mariewatts.com.
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