I was worried. I was worried it would be too much. My children and grandchildren represent a range of different generations but I couldn’t have asked for a more unifying experience. This unity brought understanding to my own sacrifice, something I didn’t expect. Roots, with Will Packer as the executive producer, turned my heart to my children and back towards my future. It was painful. It was powerful. It was everything. It reminded me how important my children are to my legacy and how important I am to my own.
When I heard there would be a new series, I cringed. ‘Who on earth would touch such an historic work, such a cultural shift in literature and film?’ I wondered. They were either out of their minds or had the uncompromising ego of a nutball. What I learned was this reimagining of Roots would become a life-changing experience for us all.
My eldest daughter is having a baby. This baby girl is something we were told would never happen. My grandson, a strong-willed, handsome, sweet knucklehead is with us and, as I help them through what is likely one of the most important and difficult transitions of their lives, I realize there is a disconnect.
You see, I live in North Carolina. This state is currently embroiled in hate and controversy: our governor fighting to keep a law that not only discriminates (HB2), but leaves the door wide open to take the state backwards 50 years to a time when we, as Black Americans, were prey for the hungry rifles and whips of slave owners and their descendants. Legislation is also on the books that will likely defund HBCUs and result in their eminent demise, using a law created to protect freed slaves. #relevance My daughter is having the baby that we all thought would never be and yet, through this transition, is soon to come, odds be damned. This set the stage for all of us to be open to learning.
Roots tells the tale of what can seem like a complicated family – but it’s only complicated if you don’t understand history. “Ain’t no right way to be a slave,” Chicken George tells his son who is eager for the attention and affection of his slave master only 20 years after being tricked and sold himself. His son doesn’t know the truth. He believes his father’s absence was fault of his folly, his thirst for attention and fame – a mask often worn by all of us at some point. We fake comfort, complacency, agreeability. We go along to get along. We go on and wear the mask for survival. We code switch so we can live and keep living. Being willing to choose life is a theme that is consistent in this series. Life is for the living AND the willing. It’s a choice. It’s a story and a legacy of survival in the quest for freedom at all costs and the cost of that freedom is our flesh. Our flesh for the future of the lives we bring into this world with the hope they will live freer than we.
The challenge is we see each and every character in this story in our present day lives – and we judge them without consideration, without mercy. We see the beauty in our aesthetic, in our artistry, our creativity, and our persistence. We see the horrors and effects of children without fathers, mass incarceration, and state sanctioned murder but still judge the women who are forced to sacrifice their bodies, minds, and spirits for the survival of their families. We don’t recognize it. We overlook it. We judge it harshly and count every move, every misstep, and blame her for the demise of the family, but it is so much deeper. We see the product, not the pain. We see the foolishness and refuse to acknowledge the path that led to it. We see Mona Scott Young capitalize on it, melanin-full and rich from the sale of her own people – and we call it entertainment.
There were many who refused to watch. I respect their boundaries, regardless of whether those boundaries were created by ignorance (Snoop Dogg [yeah I said it], a self-proclaimed ‘real nigga,’ or, in my vernacular: a dumbass) or apathy. They have boundaries, nonetheless. What we don’t realize is many times those boundaries are created out of fear that has been whipped into us, not out. We don’t acknowledge that this art imitates life, even now.
It was said that every band in the county played Kizzy’s song, having no idea where it came from. The daughter of Kunta Kinte carried the lullaby of his mother. The lullaby turned song traveled through generations and carried life. This production of African descendants 100 years removed, the score of QuestLove, the voice of Mahalia, and the echoes of the truth of American history beckon unto us.
I hope those who did not watch will change their minds. I hope they will watch with their families and face it, afraid.
Caron J is a writer, artist, activist and the host of The CARONISMShow on 100.1 The Heat and a writer and co-host of BlackGirlNerds and BGNPodcast. In her spare time, she is a lover of all things beautiful, a hot granny and a pimp.