Unfinished Business from American Slavery: Roots

A week or so ago, I saw the remake of the televised version of Roots. Actually, I only saw part 4, plus the commentary afterwards. Still, I got enough from it to think about the issues of Slavery, Racism, White Supremacy, and the place of African-Americans in the modern world. I think anyone would be touched in the direction of great introspection on these issues and life in general upon watching the series.

Although I saw only part 4 of the remake, I did see all of the original televised version several times spaced out over a few years. Like many, I see it, begin to remember something deep within, then after a time, forget. Again, I first saw Roots during the 1980s and several times afterwards over the years. When I was much younger, I understood certain things, but it wasn’t until I was more exposed to life years later that I would understand other things.

I am Black. My mother was born in the American South. She picked cotton but, not as a slave, but as a descendant of people tied to that industry. She won’t talk about that time with much detail. On the one hand, she grew up to be an extremely hard worker. Get up 3 or 4 am in the morning, work late into the night. I inherited some of that work ethic. On the other hand, there is a default acceptance of white authority, privilege and prerogative that may not be too healthy. I inherited a bit of that too. I was raised to be deferential in my demeanor to people in power (right or wrong). Traces of the behaviors socialized into the slaves depicted in roots can be seen in the echos of some of the behaviors into which I was indoctrinated. No escaping that.

What I can say about Roots, the movie (as I have not read the book) is that it clearly shows that my ancestors on my Mother’s side were brought to the United States against their will. Subjugated to deep psychological and physical intimidation and adversity. The descendants of those slaves live with the result of that decision. None of that excuses the decisions each of us make in this society but there is a historical context for many of the conditions of error people of color find themselves. What can be done?

I wish President Obama had a bill in the US Congress in which the native US descendants of African Slaves had the option of automatic dual citizenship with South Africa and regions active in the Slave Trade. The descendants of African Slaves should have a choice their ancestors definitely did not have, to voluntarily repatriate to Africa without string attached. Either in dual citizenship or to have primary citizenship in Africa. That is the unfinished business that would be far more valuable than reparations. Compensation can be easily lost, forfeit, rendered inadequate, but citizenship in one’s land of origin offers far greater opportunities.

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