The Challenge: “Unexamined pasts fester, and become open wounds.” – Susan Neiman, “Learning from the Germans: Race and Memory of Evil”
The United States of America rests on a broken system. A system built on the pain, exploitation, genocide, and terror of Black people since its inception. Our current ways of life have continued to perpetuate injustices and inequity against Black Americans, and has refused to look at itself and make proper repair. The COVID-19 pandemic made those inequities more prevalent to mainstream America and made stark the rampant State violence against Black people, wealth and health inequities in Black communities, and the continued racial divide that exists in our worlds. Additionally, this moment of time also revealed the starkness of racial inequities around the world.
Yet, to save our Democracy and to rebuild a world with equity and justice we need to confront the past, harm-doers must be held accountable for the harms and make amends, and those harmed must have a system that attempts to restore and repair life for them and their descendants. For many years, this practice comes in a form known as reparations, which is vast and comprehensive. While interest in reparations for Black Americans has grown dramatically in recent years, but several barriers stand in the way of national success.
Efforts toward truth telling and reparations in the United States are under-resourced, fragmented, and are highly disconnected from crucial wisdom around the world. While the US context is unique, countries of all stripes have reckoned with complex legacies of abuse and developed programs to redress them. A whole field – called transitional justice – has been developed to study these processes and their hard-earned lessons. Yet the US movement has virtually no access to these projects, their leaders, or the robust practice of the field. Additionally, pockets of this movement have been and are taking place, with varied levels of success in advocacy, retribution, and history-telling. Yet, these pockets of expertise and practices are often disconnected and lack infrastructure to learn from one another and build on a movement together to instigate change at scale.
What Can Be Done: The challenge of our time is to deal and heal from our past, develop accountability and repair. This can be best accomplished in the following ways:
- Restitution for slavery and centuries of racial subjugation in the United States is critical to achieving justice for millions of Black Americans. It is also key to securing the future of American democracy.
- Scholarship shows us that societies that fail to acknowledge and redress histories of abuse give rise to shame, division, resentment, lost faith in institutions and the rule of law, and civic cynicism. It is no coincidence that all these factors threaten our democracy today.
- Without truth telling and reparations in the United States, we cannot become a truly United States. Without resolving history, we’re doomed to repeat it, with escalating cycles of distrust, contempt and violence.
How Canopy Collective is meeting the challenge: Canopy Collective is a global group made of artists, movement leaders, activists, and researchers, and led by those with the closest proximity to the issues and who have been most harmed through these unjust system. Canopy Collective works together to end and heal from systemic racialized violence in our lifetimes. Canopy Collective believes to achieve this we must learn from – and build solidarity with – kindred struggles for liberation and transformation from around the world. CANOPY COLLECTIVE focuses on grief, mourning, repair, healing — because virtually no one is invulnerable to the power of these processes — they thread dead center through the human experience. To thrive together, we must heal together.
There are three pillars to our strategy, each served by a focus on international collaboration:
- Support the US Grassroots: Provide funding, capacity, and global mentorship to the front lines.
- Build Public Narrative: Inspire and educate the public through journalism and culture.
- Shape Policy: Help institutional leaders take action – across government, industry, and NGOs.
Canopy Collective aims to launch three signature initiatives:
First, in partnership with Vox, create and launch an eight-part podcast miniseries for a US audience that tells the stories, triumphs and tribulations of truth-telling and reparations work from other countries that have reckoned with legacies of atrocity and abuse.
Second, in support of this liberatory work, build a transnational collective bringing together US practitioners with leaders abroad who have ushered in truth and repair efforts in their own countries — from Sierra Leone to New Zealand, to Guatemala to South Africa to Germany. Through the transnational collective, we will support practitioner-to-practitioner collaboration, learning, and experimentation.
Finally, fund and directly support US-based truth-telling initiatives and their collaborations with our global peers through learning communities, art activism, and best practice in advocacy and praxis.