Monday, February 15, 2021

Roots

“Good anticipation on her part!” that’s what the commentator said as we watched the back and forth of a tennis match. Good anticipation – being in the right place to return the shot. However, there was nothing good about our anticipation as we discovered one family’s history through a TV show.

I was twelve, a new immigrant. Before moving, we lived in the Bahamas. Life, for the most part, was uneventful, stable, and content. Then without warning, Daddy informed us that we’d be moving to NY. We were never given a good reason and just accepted what we were told. Also, in our household, no one, at least none of us children, questioned authority. My mom presented it as an adventure, but it couldn’t have been easy moving to another country with seven children and all of our earthly belongings. The only thing we anticipated was a life similar to what we left. Within a year of being in

NY, my hardworking parents were able to purchase a house. Until that point, we, a family of nine, lived upstairs at my uncle’s house in what is now considered a historic brownstone—nine of us in a space better suited for four. 

Our house's purchase was a milestone for our parents, which created a sense of normalcy and stability for our family. We had one TV, and every night in January of 1977, we were all glued to the TV as we watched Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Mummy, the more outspoken parent, probably was the one who made us aware. But after that first night, all nine of us watched with anticipation as we learned the mostly sordid truth of African American history. It was at once horrifying while instilling in us a sense of pride. Each night, we had no idea what to expect; we were riveted to the screen.
My family is loud. We talk loud and loudly at each other. As we watched Roots, you could hear a pin drop; one of the few times there was a commonality in our rapt attention. I think we were all so shocked that each night after the show, we said goodnight and went to bed. There was no discussion that I could remember, just each of us marinating in our feelings.

But that was my parents’ way – forge ahead regardless of unpleasant circumstances or feelings and forge ahead we did. 

Roots was a seminal event for the culture, both Black and White. It was the first time many were learning the history of black people in America – where we came from, our customs, celebrations, hopes, dreams, and disappointment. The portrayal of the African American family in Roots turned out to be one disappointment after another, yet we watched each night with anticipation.

I wondered how the story would unfurl. The pride of Kunte Kinte’s birth and his heritage juxtaposed against him losing his identity as he is whipped into submission, finally calling himself by the name the slave master gave him, is a lingering memory. 

Imagine discovering your new country through the eyes of another family. It was almost too much to process. It wasn’t just one man's story; there were too many scenes that resonated, which were truthful for us. By the end of the series, we were angry, sad, mad, and a bit depressed. But life goes on.


Roots received thirty-seven Primetime Emmy Award nominations and won nine. It also won a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award. It received unprecedented Nielsen ratings for the finale, which still holds a record as the third-highest-rated episode for any type of television series and the second-most-watched overall series finale in U.S. television history.

Watching Roots each night was a visual representation of deferred hope. Time and time again, the African American family endured disappointment upon disappointment through generations based on nothing but a legacy of hate. There was no happy ending. At least not on this Earth. Any little bit of joy was squashed and stomped on. How much can a person take in the name of hope? Of anticipation?

As I watched, I learned we can take a lot. But there’s an antithesis to deferred hope.

This show became an opportunity to put my faith to the test. How do I deal with people who maliciously squash my dreams, tear me away from comfort, beat me into submission, separate my family, assault me? How does one? How did Black people do it? They had to look beyond this life because nothing in this life rewarded their hope. Nothing!

Watching Roots for the first time as a 12-year-old gave me a steely determination I didn’t know I possessed. I forged ahead through many experiences with the Script Writer of my life guiding me even as I questioned big things like racism, injustice, hate, and dehumanization. Somedays, my hope was deferred; I felt hopeless because racism and all its ills take a toll. 

I want to wrap this up neatly with a bow, but life is messy. It was messy for the African American family. It’s messy for you and me. But the mess ends with Jesus. It’s why the African American family could remain hopeful. They had to believe there was something better in store than this world, these foreign shores, their awful circumstances. I can say the same, my anticipation is not wasted; my hope is not deferred when I trust Him. He is a tree of life. 

When my hopes are dashed, the will to live placed in me by the Creator keeps me going. Just like it did for my ancestors those many years ago. Good anticipation, if not on this Earth, then in Heaven.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

Did you watch Roots? What did you feel as you watched Roots? How did this show shape your views?

--Nylse

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8 comments:

  1. Roots had a major affect. Roots was not my introduction to how we suffered. My mother was somewhat militant. As far back as I can remember she taught American history and how slaves came to be and were treated. She explained there was a normal life prior to slavery for our ancestors. We as a people were not born to be slaves. She taught we were stolen, snatched, and captured against our will and forced into a life of slavery and mistreatment. We watched Roots as a family as did all of my friends. It was a tough time to visualize what we endured. It made many angry including me. I am not ready to watch it again. I watched it twice. Once as a young girl and then again with my children. I got angry all over again. I'm not ready for that angry again. I'm still angry about Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Ahmayd Arbery, Eric Garner, George Floyd to name a few.

    P.S. I thought you'd like to know. I had to look up juxtaposed. Thanks for that.

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  3. I was probably the same age as you when we watched Roots in England. It was a shock, our first real exposure to slavery and white supremacy. Thank you for adding this thought provoking post to the link up.

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  4. I grew up in the Bronx and didn't give thought to skin color as everyone was my classmate and friend. Yes, I did watch Roots when it came out and I was shocked to realize the extent to which people were mistreated and abused. May God fill our hearts with love for all people everywhere and to be a people that are just for this is what the Lord calls us to be. May we all hold on to Jesus for He is our hope. Blessed for having read your post and I'm grateful you shared it. Blessings!

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  6. I was almost ten when Roots aired on television. My parents let me watch it. I don't remember a lot of the series, but I remember hurting for the African Americans who were so mistreated. Roots was my introduction to the white supremacy and the visual complement to my beginning to understand the brutality of slavery and all that was inflicted and the injustice. I've been thinking about Roots a lot. I think I need to either get the video or read the book as an adult. Thank you for sharing this post.

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  7. I was about the same age when I watched Roots too. I remember it being terrifying. I didn't want it to be true because it was too awful. I appreciate the lessons you're making that life is indeed messy down here. If not for Jesus, I can't imagine how much worse it would be. Thank you, God, for grace!

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