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Discourse on Slavery: Two Different Worldviews!

When I discuss transatlantic slavery with my Western / Dutch friends, their answer is frequently, "that is the past, I haven't done it?" Or they say something like, "These slaves were sold by African chiefs themselves?" Speaking to my African friends, on the other hand, the theme is as fresh as if it happened yesterday! I'll never forget when an African pastor who was working with me said to me, "Pastor, there is a question that some of us West Africans live with every day, we wake up with it, we think about it all day until night." I asked him what the question was that was bothering them so much. "Why us? "How did Slavery come to befall us?" I also recall one of my African students asking me, "Is God a white man?" And if white is the color of God, what is Satan's color, which is black? If that's the case, who am I as a black man?"

Listening carefully to the arguments of both my Dutch and West African friends, I can tell they are coming from two quite distinct worldviews that are not always compatible. It is comparable to two distinct computer operating systems, such as Android and iOS. Unless we have adaptors or software that makes it possible, we can't operate an IOS device with an Android software. Let me begin by explaining:

"that is the past, I haven't done it? "I am responsible for my own deeds and not those of my ancestors.""

There are two fundamental concepts inside the worldviews that make understanding each other difficult for a West European and an African. The first is the concept of individualism, while the second is the concept of time.

In Western Europe, people have a strong regard for the individuals, their choices, and their own responsibilities for any decisions and actions they take. In other words, a person is not liable for his or her parents' or grandparents' actions, whether good or bad. The African sense of individualism, on the other hand, is more or less summarized in the Zulu concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that emphasizes 'becoming self through others': 'I am because of who we all are.' Individualism vs. community as one of the bases of one's worldview is again tied to one's understanding of the concept of time.

For the African the past and the present are strongly intertwined. As a result, an African person is inextricably linked to his or her ancestors...Consequently, what has been done to the ancestors is felt by the living now!

After the industrial revolution, the Western world's idea of time became linear rather than cyclic. Prior to then, life was more or less cyclical, based on the seasons. There is a season for planting, a season for waiting, and a season for harvesting. For example, "time is money" is an industrial and postindustrial concept. A giant clock was put in the middle of towns or city centers in the olden days, but eventually the clock became a pocket/wristwatch; quite significant in the sense that time also became individualized. That is why, in the West, we frequently schedule visits with our parents, aunts, aunties, sisters, and brothers. In the eyes of an African or perhaps some Asian person, this is pretty strange. One does not need to make an appointment to pay a visit to the parents; one simply pays a visit. Africans may regard visiting church as visiting family member, and hence can afford to be five or ten minutes late. For them, church is not like an office or a business where they must be punctual.

I frequently use a coil spring as a metaphor for the African sense of time because it is made up of circles, is flexible, and can also be compressed in size. In other words, the past and the present are strongly intertwined. As a result, whether consciously or unconsciously, an African person is inextricably linked to his or her ancestors. Even though the ancestors died two centuries ago, they are still alive and well in the "now." Consequently, what has been done to the ancestors is felt by the living!

This perspective is in direct contrast to the Western worldview that states, "I am responsible for my own deeds and not those of my ancestors." These two perspectives make it difficult for both sides to comprehend one another. They communicate in two distinct languages. Unless we come together and engage in heart-to-heart dialogues, gazing into each other's eyes from the perspective of the other, only then can we attain peace, reconciliation, and a genuine expression of love, resulting in sincere apologies and the willingness to forgive. It requires work from both parties.

-- Samuel Lee


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