The moment that it was announced that an updated version of Alex Haley’s Roots was in production, I knew that only a small portion of the American populace would be receptive to this classic work re-appearing in American homes. If we know nothing else, it is that the issues of race, power, economics, culture, sex, and history are supreme dividers in a nation that we ironically call The United States of America. Put simply, at terse moments when racial matters do arise, a more apt description of this nation would be The Dis-United States of America.
I intuitively realized that the vast majority of whites would not be very receptive of Roots re-emergence. So it was purely out of curiosity that I perused message boards to garner some understanding of what many whites were saying about Roots. I was totally unsurprised by the statements whites were presenting under the cloak of anonymity that message boards present to users. Here is a mere sampling of a few comments.
- “Why is it that Blacks cannot let this slavery thing die?”
- “I never owned slaves and they were never slaves why can’t we just move on beyond this point.”
- “I wonder if they are going to talk about the fact that they sold themselves into slavery?”
- “They are always looking for a handout.”
- “I am sick of talking about race in America. They need to either get with the program or go back to Africa.”
I have always found it interesting that when the issue of Race, more specifically African-American racial matters, are injected into any conversation, not only does the tone-and-tenor of the discussion change, but also the true feelings of whites, many of whom have little politico economic currency in this nation, appear. Make no mistake about it, America’s racial past brings the worst out of its citizenry for one simple reason, it remains a veritable unknown for the vast majority of them.
Quite possibly, the only thing that is more troubling than the equally horrific and ignorant racial prescriptions that uneducated citizens prescribe to heal America’s obvious racial divide, is the fact that the alluded to uninformed irrationality is eagerly accepted by like-mind individuals. Roots will do little to impact the thoughts and views of such individuals because they are refusing to engage Haley’s work with an open-mind, a key ingredient in the learning process, rather they are entering the project with a closed-mind and unmistakable desire to advance their personal view point.
The re-emergence of Roots provides us all, regardless of race/ethnicity, an opportunity to look directly into the hellish American institution of ‘chattel slavery’ and learn a great deal about not only the founding of this nation and its unprecedented rise to leading nation status, a position that it has yet to relinquish to this day, but also the creation of a new people whose cultural adaptations and formations have proven to be far more influential on the cultural formations of this nation than any other group.
Unfortunately for us all, the vast majority of American’s will continue one of this nation’s greatest traditions, that being a dogged refusal to investigate the ugly past and see from whence this nation’s economic might, cultural ingenuity, and heritage actually comes from. Instead of engaging our past, most Americans deal with the issue of Race via half-truths, generalizations, and mischaracterizations that do absolutely nothing to address the cavernous racial divide that still exists in this nation.
The most fervent desire of most whites, and quite a few African-Americans, is for this pesky issue of Race to magically disappear forever; time has repeatedly proven that such individuals are destined to be disappointed. If we know nothing else about history, nation’s have to deal with their past or it will continually serve as a thorn in their side.
It is beyond time that Americans of all races/ethnicities took a long look at its past if for no other reason than the harsh truth that a nation that is false to its past, false to its present, has no choice but to be false to its future. Only through viewing that past will this nation ever have an understanding of its past and without that critical understanding there is no hope for peace on the frontier of racial relations.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III
©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016.
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Author, Creating Revolution as They Advance: A Historical Narrative of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Author, ‘Foolish’ Floyd: The Life & Times of an African-American Contrarian
Author, O’Bruni: An African-American Odyssey Home?