The Burden: African Americans and the Enduring Impact of Slavery is a plea to America to understand what life post-slavery remains like for many African Americans, who are descended from people whose unpaid labor built this land, but have had to spend the last century and a half carrying the dual burden of fighting racial injustice and rising above the lowered expectations and hateful bigotry that attempt to keep them shackled to that past.
The Burden, edited by award-winning Detroit newspaper columnist Rochelle Riley, is a powerful collection of essays that create a chorus of evidence that the burden is real. As Nikole Hannah-Jones states in the book’s foreword, “despite the fact that black Americans remain at the bottom of every indicator of well-being in this country-from wealth, to poverty, to health, to infant mortality, to graduation rates, to incarceration-we want to pretend that this current reality has nothing to do with the racial caste system that was legally enforced for most of the time the United States of America has existed.” The Burden expresses the voices of other well-known Americans, such as actor/director Tim Reid who compares slavery to a cancer diagnosis, former Detroit News columnist Betty DeRamus who recounts the discrimination she encountered as a young black Detroiter in the south, and the actress Aisha Hinds who explains how slavery robbed an entire race of value and self-worth. This collection of essays is a response to the false idea that slavery wasn’t so bad and something we should all just “get over.”
The descendants of slaves have spent over 150 years seeking permission to put this burden down. As Riley writes in her opening essay, “slavery is not a relic to be buried, but a wound that has not been allowed to heal. You cannot heal what you do not treat. You cannot treat what you do not see as a problem. And America continues to look the other way, to ask African Americans to turn the other cheek, to suppress our joy, to accept that we are supposed to go only as far as we are allowed.” The Burden aims to address this problem. It is a must-read for every American.