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THE RETURN OF ROOTS by Shelley Wynter

The Return of Roots

Despite the exhortations of drug smoking, pimping, and gang banging Rapper Snoop Dogg, I watched Roots on memorial day and LOVED it. The historical accuracy was great and the little drops of information the writers and producers dropped in were fascinating and eye opening for those younger viewers. I disagree with Snoop, I believe all young people should watch this series especially if the next three episodes are anything like the first. Here is what I saw that I did not see expanded on in the first Roots mini-series years ago.

The exposition of the religion of the pre enslaved Africans. These ancestors were Muslim. In the 8th Century, trans-Saharan traders brought Islam to west Africa. It was not at the point of a gun but through contact. The spread of literacy and the written word closely followed the spread of Islam to these areas and it was shown throughout this first episode: Kunte Kinte father’s praying with palms up and spread apart, head bowed as his wife was giving birth was the first scene to show the religion of the about to be enslaved Africans. The next scene that showed the religion of the Africans was when Kinte held up his baby for the naming ceremony. A father alone with his God and son, bestowing the proud name upon his son.

The scenes on the slave ship of communication between the enslaved African through song was extremely interesting. We have always known that communication was over stretches of land was done by drum. It was illustrated in the scene where Kinte heard the drum beat that his son was coming. However, the scene on the slave ship where a rebellion was planned through song showed how important music was and more powerfully, how important communication through music is important. In other words, one can sing of death, life or rebellion to bring change. However, one cannot sing of self-inflicted genocide and not expect to kill off your culture.

Also, what I found to be exciting was the subtle way in which the writers showed that the people were advanced with a walled community, advanced weapons, and stone and mud housing, not thatched together huts. Also the image of kids in “school” being taught from books was a powerful image of learning being passed down. This were not “noble savages” who were being given a gift by the Europeans by being brought to America. I also liked the way the relationship between the different tribes was handled. It is fantasy to believe that all people’s got along in a loving and friendly relationship that was destroyed when the Europeans came. As with all Human beings, conquest and power exist in all the hearts of Mankind, to think that Africans had no desire to conquer and spread out, dehumanizes them and makes the “noble Savage” narrative more palatable. No our ancestors sought to grow and expand territory, as does every culture. I also thought the conversation of the role other tribes played in helping the Europeans enslave their “enemies” was impactful. As it relates to today, you can make a correlation between gang warfare in Chicago and this period of African and European trading of humans-in the end you are only leading you and your people to extinction. This is why I have a problem with Snoop’s statement of don’t watch. I understand his point, however, to not watch takes away the overall message especially as it is seen in the first episode-that WE are at once responsible for our own, and WE only can stop what affects us. Watch Roots on the History channel and watch it with your children and be sure to point out those pieces of the story that redefines the narrative you have been taught by HISstory.


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