Monday, May 30, 2016

Roots: The Second Take. A Black Man's Opinion

Tonight, a remake of the "Roots" mini series makes it's way to the television screen.  I recall watching the original version as a college sophomore in the 1970's while attending a college where European- Americans were the majority.  Seeing a visual depiction of the main character, Kunta Kinte, being taken away from his life, family, and traditions in Africa was an emotional experience to view on television.  Visually seeing a depiction of how Africans were forcefully brought to the land of Native Americans (now called the United States of America) and forced into slavery was something I had never imagined.  The mistreatment and abuse of Africans by European-Americans who were supposedly civilized and intelligent is difficult to understand or comprehend.  What race of  moral civil people would condone slavery as a viable means of promoting progress?  What kind of people would then move on to annihilate an entire civilization of Native Americans?

After viewing the original "Roots" some 40 years ago, my viewpoints and attitudes towards European -Americans was not improved.  Instead I wondered if "they" had left us alone who knows what the future would have been for many Africans and their families?  But, life is made up of many "what ifs?"  We all have to deal with the reality that events occur because they are destined to happen.  Not everything in life has a happy ending.

As this remake of Roots occurs, I am personally stalled in trying to document my family history.  With the help of others, I've been able to track descendants back to 1814.  Those being my great-great grandparents who were slaves in Tennessee when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. United States Census records helped me to track who they were enslaved to prior to the Proclamation.  I understand that it would take some extraordinary research to be able to track my African descendants prior to 1814.  That documentation of the selling of people as property may have been lost or documentation not kept.

As with many African American families, there appears to have been some interaction in my family line between European-Americans and Africans brought to the "United States".  My guess at this point was that it was an interaction forcefully done to my great grandmother's part of the family connection as she was categorized as being a mulatto.  A mulatto was defined as someone who had one parent who was African and one who was European-American.  I wonder if European-Americans discuss  at their family reunions those events when their European-American descendants raped African women brought into slavery?

In my opinion most of my family members do not care about the family tree or our heritage.  They are product of a society and surrounding culture that does not want us to think about or dwell on the facts of our family history.  Our "American" culture does not want us to think about the major immoral and selfish actions which has lead many to declare that the United States is the greatest country in the world.  Those making such "greatest country" statements need to pause and consider just how the United States moved into such a position.

As I read books about the early Presidents of the United States, I am struck by how unjustly and immorally each President dealt with the issue of slavery and how European immigrants to this continent dealt with the Native Americans who already lived here.  It is not a part of the American story that is proudly discussed when someone says the United States is the greatest country in the world.  I would challenge any one to honestly make that statement if they review the facts of how the government dealt with Native Americans and the institution of slavery.  For African-Americans the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction did not last long as the selfish side of European Americans quickly returned to ensure European-American dominance in the United States.

The timing of the remake of Roots is interesting.  Of course I believe this generation of African Americans hasn't been exposed to the full story of our history.  But, I also believe the media and entertainment industry attempts to keep us in a mode of "slavery topics only" mode when it comes to telling the experiences of African Americans.  I hope film makers and others with the finances to make movies back more stories of the development and experiences of African Americans since the Emancipation Proclamation.  Those are the stories I would like to see depicted on television or movies.  Especially those that define how African Americans overcame social, cultural, racial and economic barriers to become successful.

I don't want to see more stories about slavery, black athletes and black entertainers.  Yes, their stories are important.  But, the African-American experience is not limited to tales of slavery, athletes and entertainers.  So tonight we will be shown a recycled story of our days in slavery and a small part of life after slavery.  It's something, but for me it will be, "yeah I already saw this.  Show me the story of the African American experience that we haven't seen."

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