Acknowledging Our Past: The Importance of Inclusive Land and Labor Acknowledgments
As we celebrate Black History Month, it is crucial to reflect not only on the achievements and resilience of the Black community but also on the historical injustices that have shaped the United States and Maine. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need for land acknowledgments, recognizing the Indigenous peoples on whose land we stand. It is equally important to extend these acknowledgments to encompass the labor that built this nation, often extracted from enslaved African people. On the first day of Black History Month, 2024, we are exploring the significance of including labor acknowledgments alongside land acknowledgments and sharing some best practices to ensure a respectful and inclusive approach.
Understanding Our History
The United States has a complex history, built on land taken from Indigenous people, using the forced labor of people taken from their homelands in Africa. Recognizing this history is not about dwelling on guilt but acknowledging the systemic injustices that have shaped our nation. By understanding the interconnectedness of land and labor exploitation, we take the first step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
The Role of Acknowledgments
Land acknowledgments have become a common practice at events, acknowledging the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples. It is equally important to extend this acknowledgment to the labor that played a pivotal role in building this nation. Enslaved Africans provided much of the labor that fueled the economic prosperity of the early United States. By recognizing both land and labor, we honor a more complete scope of historical contributions and acknowledge the ongoing impacts of systemic oppression.
- Selecting Acknowledgment Readers: It is essential to choose acknowledgment readers thoughtfully. The acknowledgment should not be read by an African American whose ancestry is rooted in slavery, as it is not their responsibility to remind us of the trauma and injustices their ancestors endured, a legacy of harm that they continue to endure today. While a Black immigrant may read the acknowledgment, it is important to recognize the distinction between African immigrants and Black people whose ancestors' stolen labor built much of the wealth of this nation.
- Include Location-specific Information: It is important to be intentional about incorporating any specific history of the place where the event is being held. This practice increases awareness of the relevance of the acknowledgement, especially in places that are not often seen as having benefited from slavery.
- Follow Acknowledgments with Action Plans: Mere words without actions can resurface trauma. After acknowledging historical injustices, it is crucial to outline positive action plans. Encourage education, dialogue, and community involvement to address systemic issues and build a more equitable society.
- Community Education: Foster a culture of learning and understanding by providing resources and educational opportunities. Encourage individuals to educate themselves about the history of where they call home, promoting a deeper appreciation for the diverse contributions that have shaped our communities.
- Promote Allyship: Encourage individuals to be allies in the fight against systemic racism. This involves actively listening to marginalized voices, amplifying their stories, supporting honest history being taught in our classrooms, and working together to create positive change.
In recognizing both land and labor acknowledgments, we honor a more complete spectrum of the contributions that have shaped our nation. Black History Month is not just a time to celebrate achievements but also an opportunity to reflect on historic injustices that persist today. By incorporating inclusive acknowledgments into our events and following them with meaningful action plans, we take a step towards healing intergenerational trauma and building a better, more equitable place for everyone. You can find the Permanent Commission’s Land and Labor Acknowledgement here.