History Channel had me head over heels with the remake of the 1977 major hit TV series, Roots. Until this day, Roots remains one of the best ranking shows on American television. So when I read about the project I was excited and nervous at the same time.
Nervous because I didn’t want them to screw up such an important piece of TV history and was afraid it could stir up more racial tensions already at an all-time high.
Nevertheless, excitement took over. I was too impatient to see a new take on this important piece of History, a call back on a narrative people forget, would rather to or want us to. Anyhow, I wasn’t disappointed by the 4 episode mini-series.
Initially, I wanted to do a classic review, a simple comparison between the 2 shows and the book — book that I encouraged you to read if it’s not done yet. But, as I was strolling around on the Internet, watching and reading reviews to have an idea of the overall reception of the show in a highly sensitive social context, I did what I usually refuse to do: read the comment section. Rookie mistake, I know!
We all know it, comment sections are full of trolls begging for attention and with them, an army of ignorant people of all sizes, shapes and colours. Nonetheless, stupidity being the fuel to my anger, you can easily imagine how my level of sanity rapidly went down in the gutter.
So, I thought I would participate to the common effort and rectify a few misconceptions about the slave trade period.
Slavery vs servitude
More often that not, people like to argue that slavery already existed in Africa and Africans sold their own to the slave traders. Let’s rewind a bit. What existed in most parts of Africa had nothing to do with the European chattle slavery. Closer to indentured servitude, servants could not only be part of the family they worked for but they also could rise to prominent positions. More importantly, they were not considered like a property that could be sold, traded or beaten to a pulp.
I will concede proofs of practices of slavery can be found around the globe BUT it’s still not an excuse to justify centuries of an inhuman trade across the Atlantic and the mistreatment of millions of people either.
Africa, land of no culture?
White supremacists and racists like to scream at the top their lungs Africans had little to no culture, that civilisation was brought to them by the Europeans. I will suggest the few of you who believe so to open a book.
I was very happy Roots mentioned, out of many, the city of Timbuktu where Kunta wants to go and study. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu harbored three madrasahs (learning centres) – which formed the University of Timbuktu – where no less than 25,000 students could access higher education.
This is just one example and many more are easy to find for those willing to look for them.
People complained Roots wasn’t historically true. That is true and false. You have read Roots was supposedly based on Haley’s family’s history… but it’s not hard to find that dates are not concordant with the storyline. I understand the move. They wanted to give a realistic feel that would allow millions of African Americans to identify to a shared part of History.
Nevertheless, what Haley depicts in his books is accurate. From how Africans were snatched from their lands, to their horrific journey to the Americas or their lives on the plantations and so on. All of it is true and maybe it is the accuracy that scares people so much. No one wants to believe humans could treat other humans so heartlessly.
The truth about the Civil War
The Civil War that opposed the North and the South is always brought forward as the ultimate proof Whites fought for the emancipation of slaves, therefor couldn’t be racist. Nope. As pretty and kumbaya as it sounds, the welfare of slaves wasn’t the primary reason that led the North to fight Dixie even if slavery was one of the catalysts.
The North had passed antislavery laws the South couldn’t abide to because they believed the very core of their society was based on slavery and feared they would disappear without it. Hence why they seceded from the North. But the North, more and more industrialised, needed the agrarian resources of the South. Understand why they couldn’t allow the South to just go and quit the Union?
Blacks were free in the North, but it doesn’t mean they were treated any fairer or more equally…
Not all masters were bad
I guess not all masters were bloodthirsty monsters indeed. Sometimes, they would even care, be nice or grant freedom to their slaves. But they were still part of a system that abused, tortured and killed millions of human lives for centuries. So don’t expect us to smile fondly when we think about them.
We’re not guilty of our forefathers’ actions
No you’re not and nobody said you should feel guilty for something that happened centuries before you were born.
But if you fail to see the issues faced by Black people today, if you’re not ready to fight alongside them against a system of oppression that benefits you or those who look like you, it’s a problem.
Rest assured, there is no secret war waged against White people, White heritage or White culture. We’re supposed to live under the same banner, under the same Constitution with the same rights and duties — and I’m not talking about the US only. Of course, as ‘minorities’ we have a few expectations like not being overlooked or killed for who we are.
Roots is a highly visual reminder that slavery is undoubtedly a painful memory that we all share. It’s not only Black history. It’s European history. Although slavery is over, it still has multiple consequences we need to see for what they are and fight. All together.
In the meantime, check out the trailer for Roots! Let me know if you watched the show and what you thought of it.