Memorial Day

June 4, 2020

On Memorial Day, one human being violently took the life of another human being. One
was sworn to serve and protect. One was born into a system of entrenched inequality
and oppression. The world bore witness, and it sparked an outrage, because as horrific
as this one act of violence was, when viewed against the backdrop of generations of
suffering of the Black people of this nation, it was just one more of the countless other
instances of the violent suppression of human beings, spanning the entire history of this
nation.


We have struggled with what to say in response to the murder of George Floyd—as well
as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the myriad of others—and the social crisis that
it has brought to the surface. We want to convey the authenticity of our outrage at the
entrenched power structures in our society that have marginalized and oppressed
people of color for so long. The truth is, each and every one of us is implicated in the
perpetuation of these power structures, whether we realize it or not. The predominant
cultural and socioeconomic structure of the modern world—in which we all find
ourselves immersed, and we all participate, in myriad ways—is rooted in the conquests
of European colonialism. If we are collectively to move this global culture in a better—
more just, more inclusive, more loving—direction, then we must start by recognizing
that foundation.

 

Here at Dharma’s Garden, we see the primacy of the human experience in the tending of
the land. We see relationship as foundational to the health and happiness of human
society—our relationship with one another, and our relationship with the natural world.
And we believe it is vital to recognize our culture’s shameful history in regard to these
relationships. Before the European invaders founded this American nation, the human
inhabitants already here had developed deep relationship with this land over countless
generations. Across the Atlantic, there were other human inhabitants of African lands
who themselves had developed deep relationship with those lands over countless
generations. We violently took the land from the native people; and across an ocean, we
violently took another people from their native lands. We forced the stolen people to
tend the stolen lands, exploiting both to build up the personal wealth and power of our
newly anointed American nation.

 

America did not start out as a prosperous nation. It was almost entirely upon the backs
of enslaved African people that our economy was built into what now stands today. By
1860, after over two hundred and fifty years of slavery, the value of the human beings
(slaves) in this nation far exceeded the value of all the factories, railroads, and other
industries combined. Banks loaned money to individuals and businesses through
mortgages not on property, but on their human “assets.” Banks then bundled and traded
this debt on global markets. The global economy that continues through to this day is all
built upon this shameful exploitation of stolen people working stolen lands. There is
much talk today about “reparations” for slavery—financial payouts to the descendants of
slaves to offer some measure of compensation for their forced labor and the subsequent
injustices wrought. But make no mistake about it, the true amount of money that is
rightfully due to the slaves and their descendants is everything. Every dollar in your
pocket and every bank and every investment portfolio and every American industry is

wholly dependent on the past exploitation of human beings as slaves. And every one of
those dollars and banks and portfolios and industries is equally wholly dependent on the
genocide of the so-called American Indian and the theft of their lands. To the
descendants of the African slaves, we owe everything, plus interest. To the descendants
of the indigenous people of America, we owe everything, plus interest. And even if we
could pay that impossible sum, it wouldn't even begin to atone for the original atrocity
itself.

 

It’s an almost hopeless predicament to be in, to see the shameful foundation of our
modern way of life. We don’t pretend to know the answers as to what needs to be done
by each one of us or by society as a whole to correct the systemic problems and build a
better human society going forward. But we do know it starts with facing the reality of
our predicament. And as inheritors of an agricultural legacy, we feel a particular
responsibility to be aware of the entrenched social inequalities that have come before us,
and to actively counter these entrenched patterns. Dharma's Garden is a project of the
community, by the community, and for the community. And that means the whole
community. We pledge to continue to find new ways to reach marginalized
populations and people of color to ensure we are truly accessible to everyone.

“The white man, preoccupied with the abstractions of the economic exploitation and
ownership of the land, necessarily has lived on the country as a destructive force, an
ecological catastrophe, because he assigned the hand labor, and in that the possibility
of intimate knowledge of the land, to a people he considered racially inferior; in thus
debasing labor, he destroyed the possibility of meaningful contact with the earth. He
was literally blinded by his presuppositions and prejudices. Because he did not know
the land, it was inevitable that he would squander its natural bounty, deplete its
richness, corrupt and pollute it, or destroy it altogether. The history of the white man’s
use of the earth in America is a scandal.”

 

–Wendell Berry, The Hidden Wound, 1968

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