I was in Africa last month and visited Goree Island. It is a beautiful place with a deep, sordid history. It was a slave trading post for over 300 years. Millions of Africans were shipped to the New World, including some from Goree. Being there was overwhelming. Most humbling, though, was a certain doorway, infamously known as the Door of No Return, that some slaves may have walked through before boarding those ships.
I sat in that doorway for an hour just thinking. Chief among my thoughts was duality. On one hand, Goree had been transformed into a modern-day tourist attraction. But on the other, it was a horrible place with a terrifying history. Still, before I got upset about Goree’s duality, I started to wrestle with my own.
Because I was in Africa, I missed Thanksgiving with my family. So, while sitting on that island, I thought about how big Thanksgiving is in America. Yet the holiday has a violent origin. Much like Goree, a duality exists between a joyous Thanksgiving today and a torturous Thanksgiving back then.
Then there’s Christmas. It is probably our most celebrated holiday. We spend billions on gifts, pay huge electric bills and cut down living trees, just so we can watch that someone special smile on Christmas Day. But Christmas’s origin began when someone special was born in a dirty animal shed because his itinerant parents couldn’t find a place to stay. Christmas is the most materialistic holiday we celebrate, although it originates from a family that had nothing.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t escape this duality either. On one hand, V-Day is filled with love, poetry and expensive dinners. On the other, some historians believe the holiday has violent roots – that Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men, both named Valentine, on Feb. 14 in different years in the 3rd century.
As I stared out at the vast ocean around Goree, I thought about how this “one hand” and “other hand” duality applied to my life. Duality can lead to division, but I believe that we need to embrace other perspectives if we ever expect to find harmony. As a black man in America, I embrace the duality that I can be whatever I set my mind to (on one hand) with the competing reality that the system is deadly to black men (on the other hand).
Ultimately, if I can embrace any duality as it relates to history or politics, then I believe that I will find harmony within. Or at least that is how I felt when the waves crashed on the shore of Goree before quickly retreating into the ocean. Harmony. Peace. Duality.
Romain is an assistant public defender in Mecklenburg County. Email: Toussaint.Romain@