To borrow vocabulary from the mighty Toni Morrison, it is past time to recall the disremembered and account for the unaccounted. Her novel Beloved coaxed us to face slavery’s atrocities and enduring effects. We can also, though, extrapolate from her concept of the disremembered a call to witness the glory of African American achievement. Our country has denied not only the extent of our four-century legacy of oppression, but also how profoundly we’ve profited—in every way, intellectually, financially, culturally, artistically, scientifically—from the people oppressed.
A countervailing tide arose in reaction to slavery: The utterly diverse population enslaved, sharing little more than a continent and skin color, managed to bridge the language and culture differences between them, come together emotionally and spiritually, forge deep bonds of interdependence, fight against overwhelming terrorism, and build a common culture and community so strong—in order to endure slavery and oppression—it in turn profoundly shaped (even, I would argue, almost swallowed whole) the culture of their oppressors. Wakanda’s Vibranium is right here in America, in the form of black Americans’ overwhelming contribution to what actually makes us great.
Every time America studies, reads, discovers, calculates, sings, or listens to its music, it is face to face with a story we haven’t wanted to hear for 400 years, and a vast panoply of African American heroes without whom we would not be America.