Laura Flanders interviews Katrina Browne, director of the forthcoming documentary Traces of the Trade on her personal journey into her family’s past, the legacy of the slave trade, and the question of reparations in “post-racial” America.
Katrina Browne’s New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. In this remarkable film Browne tells the story of her forefathers and of the North’s complicity in the slave trade. When Browne was 28 her grandmother gave her a booklet about their family history, which included a few sentences on her ancestors, the DeWolf’s, slave traders in Bristol, Rhode Island. Browne was shocked. Not only at the revelation but also at the fact that she had somehow buried the memory. The bigger shock she says was her own amnesia, a metaphor for the North’s own repression of its role in the political economy of slavery.
Browne, who wrote her undergraduate thesis about Vichy France’s complicity in the Holocaust and the country’s subsequent amnesia, says that in retracing the history of her family’s role in the slave trade a core theme emerged: The idea of regular folks, “good people,” who participate (wittingly or unwittingly) in systems that do immense harm. Find out here why the legacy of slavery still matters and what repair, spiritual and material, might really look like. Traces of the Trade airs on PBS Tuesday, June 24. You can learn more at www.tracesofthetrade.org.