The Statute of Liberty

The need to protest is nothing short of being embedded in the DNA of Americans. Before this nation forged its own freedom, it frequently rang the bells of rebellion. Perhaps it was inherited from the brave seekers of freedom who risked their lives sailing to a land they believed possessed so much possibility they willingly risked their lives pursuing it.

Speaking up, out, against, and more specifically, “abridging the freedom of speech,” was so vital it was addressed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. It did, however, also clearly specify “the right of the people peaceably to assemble…”

The history of this country has suffered several failures of peaceably assembling dating back before the Civil War. But why have so many recent protests, since the killing of George Floyd, seemingly mutated into violent ones? Why have they not heeded the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and protested peacefully? Can’t any reasonable person deduce that any semblance of damage or destruction would be counterintuitive to the fight for justice, equality, and “Black Lives Matter” objectives?

After hearing about the destruction of a young African American’s business going up in flames, I was moved and gave to an online fund to help rebuild his life’s dream. From the perspective of a 63-year-old white male, this kind of destruction makes absolutely no sense.

Is there something I am not seeing? Is there an unforeseen logic, which because of who my biological parents were, I am not able to empathize or relate to why such extreme measures must be taken?

I realize it is impossible for me to perceive, much less experience what most African Americans endure daily. I wonder if there were some way I could attempt to gain a tiny inkling of the terrible oppression which their ancestors bore, and why to this day, many experience unjust and unwarranted actions?

After much reflection, the only way I could remotely approach that answer would be to ask myself questions about how I would feel if my ancestors, for the past six or so generations, had been abused, tortured, and dehumanized the way every descendent from slaves was treated. Although it would never come close to fully revealing all the trauma and suffering, this may be my only option.

I must be truthful, open, and honest about my reactions, reflecting deeply to see if this may unravel certain unseen biases or hidden prejudices which would explain why I could easily rush to judgement and swiftly condemn others’ reactions.

What if I had heard stories passed down through generations about a woman who was forced to take care of her master’s children before tending to her own? Hearing the screams of a sick child echoing in the distance while she brushes the hair of a child the same age. All while knowing there was nothing she could lawfully do to attend to her own flesh and blood.

How would she feel when finally finishing her duties, she hurried to the door but suddenly was called back to finish one more chore? How would she feel knowing that if she ever wanted to see her son alive again, her only choice was to respond with “Yes, Massa?”

What if her husband needed a gash on his back cleaned and cared for, but she couldn’t attend to his suffering because there was still dirt on the floor to be swept up? She could only hold back her tears from hearing his groans caused by three lashes from a taskmaster simply because her husband took too long to quench his thirst from hours toiling in the hot sun. Although he clearly had the strength to defend himself, that thought would never come to fruition because, at the first sign of self-defense, he could legally be lynched on the nearest tree.

How much shame would he be feeling while sitting in his room waiting for her return while she was being forced to respond to the unquenchable lusts of a reckless man? As he paced back and forth, he crashed his fists to his head and then to his thighs as some sort of punishment for not being able to save her. Upon her return, they both sat in silence. She, too crushed to speak and he believed she didn’t want to hear another man’s voice nor touch – even from the only man who truly loved her.

How would both of them feel when they would finally receive the news of the death of her brother who was sold a year ago because of his unique talents? His skills as a stonemason were worth a small fortune. However, his new owner noticed his back was unscarred and took him down to a local business where for a few dollars, he would be given 10 lashes so his back would match those of his fellow slaves. When her brother raised his hand to defend himself, it took five men and one shovel to stop him. After he was knocked unconscious, they dragged him to a tree, put a noose around his neck, and doused him with water because they wanted him alive while he experienced his own merciless hanging.

How would their children feel knowing the only time they played with toys was to clean them after they rolled through feces or had to risk their lives fetching it because it was floating in a lake? These children, who were told from the day they were born, their lives had no value except on the day they were to be sold. How would the children feel when they found out their oldest sister was taken in the middle of the night to be sold and never heard from again?

How would they feel if their masters alerted them he was donating money to erect a statue to honor the men who fought to protect these inequities, and keep them legal because their race was considered to have the same worth as a beast of burden? Daily reminders were bellowed at them of how lucky they were to be treated as nicely as they were; sometimes having it screamed in their faces so closely, their eyes would blink from the spittle spewing from those shouts.

How would my great, great grandfather feel after he was given his freedom and a promise of restitution, only to have it taken from him because of the bigoted beliefs of the President of the United States? How would my grandfather feel after toiling decades and earning enough money to buy a home, only to have it denied because the contract stated it was not to be sold to anyone of his race? This same document also proclaimed the original buyer of this home, likewise, could not sell it to my grandfather as well. How would he feel after taking that contract to court only to have the U.S. Supreme Court uphold that decision?

How would I feel if I couldn’t drink from a water fountain, sit at a lunch counter, not given a restroom key, have a store manager deliberately follow my every move, be stopped for driving because of the color of my skin, assume I’m a drug dealer if I drive a nice car; or be avoided, looked down upon, or be denied because of the color of my skin?

Have I ever been guilty of irrational prejudice? I am guilty. But that does not mean I cannot change. I can also speak up against those who because of their skin color, deem themselves better but truthfully are filled with insecurities, fear, and self-entitlement.

Perhaps the next time I am quick to judge senseless and violent actions, I might consider how I would feel if, for generations, my ancestors acted non-violently, only to be rewarded with brutal treatment on nearly a daily basis. What change was made after all those generations humbly repeated countless times, “Yes, Massa,” only to have their submissive words be remunerated with neglect, disregard, and behaviors I don’t want to even ponder.

I want to give my sincerest apologies for even thinking I could summarize the undeserved plight of millions in one brief essay, and I do hope to be forgiven. With that said, how many more years must anyone face repeated, systematic, and deliberate racism while the ones who perpetuated those despicable behaviors believe they have the right to deem the others’ actions wrong?

There must be a decision to bring a complete change and it will take a great leader to begin the transformation. It’s not simply a Black and White issue. It involves all races, all colors, and all levels of society. But I do believe there needs to be an awakening; mostly from the descendants of those who perpetuated these despicable actions and beliefs.

You are not immune because you weren’t the one who cracked the whip. Acknowledgment of the sins of our ancestors is the first step of healing. How the rest works together will be discussed and figured out by much wiser people than I. The one thing I do know is refusing to admit to the shameful deeds of the past will not change actions in the future. It is time for a national awareness; that there was and continues to be a great injustice and discrimination to many regardless of race, creed, or religion. It’s time everyone becomes aware and participates in the collective change which will ensure our nation continues to be one with liberty and justice for all.


John Dunia
John Dunia
John has a passion; and that is helping others heal from past difficulties and abuses. Healing became important when he realized how much it freed him from his own past and now works to help others experience that liberation. The key to his success was discovering that the most debilitating damage was his own shame and the destructive things he believed about who he was. Throughout his own healing journey, he became hyper-aware of how shame was affecting him while having little clue of its presence. Others noticed these changes and reached out to him for help. His methods were so effective that he made it a mission to shift his career into helping others. Adopting the term “ShameDoctor”, he continues to teach others to empower themselves through his remarkably effective techniques. “Shame is one of the biggest yet least talked about issues we face as individuals and society yet so very little is mentioned about it.” It is his purpose to change the way the world perceives shame and promote helpful and viable techniques to heal and overcome those past struggles. John’s book, “Shame On Me – Healing a Life of Shame-Based thinking” was self-published in 2016. In addition to working with clients, John also writes healing and insightful articles each week. He is also looking forward to speaking on the topics of shame and healing throughout the globe.

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  1. Thank you, JoAnna. It wasn’t easy to write, and I’m sure there were much more horrific tragedies beyond my comprehension. The point is we – every citizen regardless of our background – need to look at this. I will guarantee you and bet every last cent I have, that if the situation were reversed, it would be the same outcome. If we expect our healing to occur through time only, it won’t happen. We must accept the wrong that occurred, own up to the faults and show, in some substantial ways, that we really do care.

  2. Thank you for using your words in such a powerful way, John. I regularly think of the compound issues that arise from generations of trauma. Trauma beyond my comprehension.

    This essay – as well as some books I’ve read – shed light on the reality. The reality of the oppressed. Year after year. Generation after generation. Trauma rewires the brain.

    There is an image that comes to mind when I read your post. I often think of it and wonder how much trauma a person can endure.

    In a podcast I recently listened to, a women suggested that reparations be paid in trauma therapy. It isn’t the full answer, but I do believe it’s a start if we want to see a better world for the generations to come.