As told by Writer, Nicole Webb:
The remake of Roots aired Monday night on the History Channel and since its debut, there have been countless commentaries on whether or not the remake of the 1977 miniseries is relevant, and if the story of Roots remains a monumental story to be told even today.
From Snoop Dogg’s video protesting the remake going viral, to people like Roland Martin policing the Twitter trolls for not knowing their facts about the history of slavery, it all took me back for a loophole.
Growing up, I never watched Roots, the same way I’ve never seen Baby Boy (judge me not and read this through before reconsidering taking my black card). My parents were more so keen on me reading about my history than watching it. My childhood library included texts like “The Willie Lynch Letter,” which I had read by the time I was seven. By reading, I had knowledge of the aspects of my history that I was never taught in school. From preschool to my last year of high school, “The Willie Lynch Letter” was not once a part of my formal education, until I attended my HBCU, The Lincoln University. For me, understanding what slavery was and its severity on our people and culture, even hundreds of years after it became illegal, happened very young and without the original Roots.
As I got older and found myself developing this deep love for hip hop, I found myself in this love-hate relationship with its lyrics. Ava DuVernay put it so perfectly once, saying:
“To be a woman who loves hip hop at times is to be in love with your abuser. Because the music was and is that. And yet the culture is ours.”
As a female hip hop fan, you’re in a sense abused sometimes by the lyrics of the same artists you love and support. As a female commentator on the culture, you’re in a constant battle fighting to be understood and accepted as equal as your male counterparts in intellect, knowledge of the culture, and voice, not realizing this African American male-female division historically began with our past in slavery.
Historically, both our men and women were put against each other and also divided because we were once seen as property and not people. Entire families were separated—slave owners knew that removing specifically the male figure from a family would create a mental and emotional vulnerability on both ends; in other words, the slave owner became the “father figure” or authority figure/shot caller in the black family.
On into today’s society, the affects of slavery on us are very much so still relevant in our music, the way we interact, and especially within our thinking. Let’s take Roots’ well known and beloved character Kunta Kinte and the scene where he’s told by the overseer to say that his name is “Toby” and not his African birth name. The concept of refusing to be called something other than your birth name in and of itself it still an issue today. Relating to our music, we use the words “b*tch,” and “n*gga” as terms of endearment; we argue that we’ve taken the negative power from both words, and easily accept such labels. With Kunta, he made up in his mind that he would not be reduced to being called anything other than his birth name because to him, his name meant lineage and royalty. Today, it seems as if we’ve lost the pride and understanding of what our names mean, accepting words never intended to be names of appreciation.
The lessons embedded in the storyline of Roots are endless, but also timeless. You cannot put a time stamp on whether or not a story being told still matters if the lesson rooted in its plot applies long after it’s been created. The most important takeaway, I believe, from Roots that will forever reign true is that slavery is a mindset—when you know who you are in your mind, no one can take that from you.
The remake of Roots is important—not because it’s telling the story of slavery, but because it introduces the horrors of such a time that today’s generation is not taught formally and informally. It’s relevant because for millennials as myself, we need to be reminded that our history did not start with slavery, but our identities became swiftly shaped and maneuvered by it. Also, it’s important that our youth are able to put a story behind a name dropped in a Kendrick Lamar song…Just saying!