Cable TV has updated the classic 1970s Roots mini-series. I vividly remember watching the original. I was glued to the TV for several nights as I tried to comprehend the story of a family struggling to maintain their dignity and humanity in the depths of slavery. So is this just another Hollywood “what’s-old-is-new” for a new generation? Maybe. But I am struggling to find a reason to watch.
Flashback to the 1970s. Life in this society for the black community was definitely improving. There’s no question that educational success equated to economic success. For the first time ever, blacks were going to college in numbers never seen before. Thanks to the successes of the Civil Rights movement, the barriers to education were largely eliminated and black students were enrolling in colleges and universities previously closed to earlier generations.
So not only did the black community experience tremendous strides in educational attainment in the 1970s, but the resultant economic gains led to increased homeownership. But this new homeownership did not occur in the inner cities. Nope. It occurred in the new suburbs previously closed to earlier generations. See a pattern?
Here’s the Roots of the problem: The original mini-series happened at a time when the black community was still fighting for social inclusion. Those watching intimately felt, and too often experienced the injustices of racism. And not just the housing and educational segregation, but the violence as well. I vividly remember watching John Amos’s anguish at having half his foot chopped off to keep his character from attempting to run away from slavery. His character may have lost part of his foot, but he never lost an ounce of his dignity. That is when I remember my father literally blowing his proverbial stack. His word to me was to never allow anyone to take my dignity. His anger was real.
But I was young and remember thinking, “Dang Dad. It’s just a TV show.” Well, for someone who grew up in a racist society it was more than just a show. It was literally his life’s experiences. I understand that now. The impact of Roots was a reaffirmation that you can achieve no matter what obstacles exist. They can take your toes, but they can’t take your soul.
Well, here we are in the 21st century and Alex Haley’s story is back on TV. But this time many in the black community live in a society with little to no educational or economic barriers. The only limits are often self-inflicted. Ok, maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the opportunities are definitely real for those willing to work for them. So what impact will the new version of Roots have today? I’m not sure.
I know today’s Thundercats understand the social injustices surrounding the police. But I wonder if they’d understand the value of family and establishing a legacy for your children. Roots was never a story about one person, but about a family legacy where the body may have been enslaved, but the soul was forever free.
So, I may watch the new Roots, for old times’ sake. But it won’t be the same. For me, that’s the Roots of the problem.