June 6, 2016

The Root of Who I Am

Roots, the landmark 1977 miniseries based on the work of Alex Haley, was remade in a modern and edgy way via the Will Packer produced 4-night series which aired starting Memorial Day. Like most African-Americans, I hold Roots near and dear to my heart. I connected with the stories of Kunta, Kizzy and Chicken George..... and I was really skeptical that a remake was going to be good.

I was so wrong.

Not only was it gut-wrenching, it was well researched and visually stunning. The team of historians integrated and interwove elements of culture, music, food and art into not only the scenes involving the Mandinka, but were also careful to show the ways in which the Middle Passage didn't destroy our cultural ties. I was moved. Some things were hard to watch but so necessary. And I totally scoffed at the idea that some black people were "tired of all these slave movies". I never hear Jewish complain about the Holocaust movies... or Vets complain about war movies..... We can never forget our history no matter how much THEY want us to. And as Silla (played beautifully by the handsome Derek Luke) reminded us... "The shame is not ours". No, we shouldn't be ashamed of slavery. And while that isn't the totality of black experience in America, it has profoundly shaped the black experience of those of African descent.

My husband and I sat there,watching, and holding our daughter with tears in our eyes... wanting to know more about our people.... and our history. We did, however, take a first step as an anniversary present to ourselves.

Last year for our first anniversary, my husband and I decided to give the traditional gift of "paper" . Our interpretation of that was an AncestryDNA kit. I was pregnant at the time and I wanted to know my history and ancestry before the baby came. My husband and I were both excited, thinking about what we would impart to our little one. She is a mix of the American South and the Caribbean. We couldn't imagine what it would say...

It took almost 10 weeks to receive the results. By that time, I had given birth to our little girl and I thought that this would be the missing piece to the puzzle.

My DNA results were as follows:

The ethnic results made all the sense in the world. I was mostly C'ote d'Ivorian/Ghanaian, a crucial slave trading area of the time. Despite what my father wanted to attest to, I was clearly NOT Native American (as are most African-Americans....) and a lot of European (that was a given due to the nature of slavery). On my face and in my DNA told the story of the Middle Passage. My big almond eyes could be attributed to the 2% Asian in my DNA as well as the West African. I was excited. I had something to tell my daughter about her matrilineal line (because as a woman, that is all my DNA could tell me) and her father (whose DNA produced more European than African results actually, with Nigerian being the main country represented) could piece together her paternal lineage. Although I was disappointed that I was not able to pinpoint the exact tribe I was from, I felt like this was a start.

As I look at my daughter who is the perfect mix of my husband and myself, I am reminded that my roots matter. OUR experience as people.. as stolen African cargo matter. The fabric and fiber of my DNA and my existence matter to her, even if it doesn't matter to a society who systematically wants to kill and destroy black people, especially black women.

I hope someday to travel to Accra with my family. To see the slave castles and to see the Kente cloth prints...eat some real jollof....to see my people..to see home.

For those who haven't seen it, the new version of Roots is available on Demand and via Amazon Prime.

AncestryDNA kits are also available via Amazon Prime at $99 each, 

For Tribal matches, visit African Ancestry's website.



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