In Cape Coast Castle’s female slave dungeon, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared noticeably distressed. Harris laid a bouquet of flowers on the floor of the infamous slave trade outpost’s dungeon and put her hand on a centuries-old wall to directly connect with the anguish of the slaves it had formerly held.
It was an unusual display of emotion from the usually stoic barrier-breaking leader, who is frequently reluctant to discuss her own struggles as a Black woman in America. But when Harris spoke from a makeshift platform in front of the cannons that were positioned along the water, her voice cracked and she occasionally made impromptu comments to convey what she had seen.
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At the castle, a monument of American cruelty, Harris remarked, “Being here was immensely powerful.” VP Harris added, “The crimes that were done here. The blood that was shed here.”
Western politicians now visit Cape Coast Castle as part of their trips to West Africa as a means to atone for the crimes of the countries that exported and sold African corpses in the past and to envision a bright future for those descendants who still live on the continent and throughout the world.
Obama visited the landmark with his family in 2009, and Harris’ visit echoed that of Obama at the time. As the first president with a direct lineage to the continent, Obama put his stamp on Cape Coast Castle, which Harris could see as she glanced at a plaque that was revealed by him on the wall to the left of the male prison entrance.
Her personal connection as a Black American woman and person in authority, however, was not mentioned in her statements. Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, has frequently talked about how she decided to pursue a career in law enforcement before joining politics in order to address the injustices she saw while growing up in a predominantly Black area in Oakland, California.
Harris just provided a general overview of Blackness and the steps that need to be taken toward equality at the castle on Tuesday.
“We must then be guided by what we know also to be the history of those who survived in the Americas, in the Caribbean, those who proudly declare themselves to be the Diaspora,” Harris shared.
“All these stories must be told in a way that we take from this place, the pain we all feel the anguish that reeks from this place. And we then carry the knowledge that we have made gained here toward the work that we do in lifting up all people. In recognizing the struggles of all people, of fighting for as the walls of this place talk about, justice and freedom for all people, human rights for all people.”
The situation facing Black Americans has gotten worse in many respects since Obama, the last Black White House chief, assumed office over 15 years ago, and this is a challenge for Harris and the larger Biden administration. That’s in spite of the fact that racial issues and racial inequality have received more attention in the US after the outbreak and protests against police brutality in 2020.
Obama stated in a 2009 Cape Coast interview with CNN that students should learn about slavery to make the connection between historical wrongdoings and present situations. As Black History courses have come under assault in American conservative circles, a move opponents have labeled whitewashing history to obfuscate the truth of slavery and its impact on America, Harris reiterated that viewpoint on Tuesday.
Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff repeatedly shook their heads in shock during the tour at the horrible treatment slaves endured in the exact spot they were walking. Harris took a solo detour at one point to look across the ocean while holding her hand beneath her chin and appearing to wipe her eyes. Frequently, the man next to her appeared just as upset. She discussed what she discovered in her remarks on Tuesday.
“They were kidnapped from their home. They were transported hundreds of miles from there not really sure where they went. And they came to this place of horror,” she noted. “Some to die, many to starve and be tortured. Women to be raped before they were then forcibly taken on a journey thousands of miles from their home to be sold by so-called merchants and taken to the Americas to the Caribbean to be an enslaved people.”
The vice president and her spouse were given a warm welcome by Cape Coast Chief Osabarima Kwesi and other authorities before seeing the slave outpost grounds.
He gave the vice president a warning there about what she would shortly see.
“When you go there and you carefully look around, you will ask yourself so many questions. Why should anybody treat anybody the way our ancestors were treated. And this is a lot of thought,” he shared with the US VP. He added, “But we are not in those days now. Now we are here to mend and build to hold each other’s hands for a better future.”
Harris’ diplomatic journey to the continent is motivated by a vision for the future. In an effort to restore US influence and rebuild connections, she became the highest-ranking Biden official to visit Africa this year. China’s investment clout served as a crucial background to her historic journey.
Kwesi urged Harris to organize a trip for Cape Coast officials to the US to strengthen their dialogues and assist in creating a slavery museum for the community as a representation of the diplomatic benefits the US will find itself reliant on as a result of their accelerated push for collaboration. In response, Harris designated the US ambassador to Ghana to serve as the White House’s point of contact for Cape Coast.
Harris and Emhoff were both given traditional Kente cloth; Harris’ was thrown over her shoulder and Emhoff’s was wrapped around his torso as a sign of community and a developing friendship with America’s most prominent Black leader.
Throughout her tenure in government, Harris kept coming back to the same issue before leaving the slave castle: the struggle for justice.
“The descendants of the people who walk through that door were strong people, proud people, people have of deep faith. People who love their families, their traditions, their culture, and carried that innate being with them through all of these periods,” she noted. “Went on to fight for civil rights, fight for justice in the United States of America and around the world. And all of us, regardless of your background, have benefited from their struggle and their fight for freedom and for justice.”