Kings and queens before we were 'niggers'
I resisted watching the movie 12 Years A Slave for almost two years. I stayed away for the same reason I don't need to see pictures of car accidents or mutilated bodies or sex tapes. I get the idea just from hearing the account: I don't need the imagery of a moving painted picture.
The first and only time I saw Roots was February 1988. I was almost six years old. That single brutal imagery of Kunta Kinte's feet being chopped off and the ensuing conversation with my mother about the savagery of slavery have stayed with me for life.
The gruesome details of both 12 Years A Slave and Roots, and, in fact, all graphic depictions of the reality of slavery do little but rile me up. They make me hate the white colonial master and hate the Middle Passage and hate even cotton and sugar cane.
There was a scene in 12 Years where Lupita's character was whipped for going to a neighbouring plantation and getting herself a bar of soap to bathe. "Whip her 'til her flesh separates from her bones," said Massa, and both he and a fellow slave did just that ... and they showed every blood-splattering, flesh-ripping lash on the screen. And if that wasn't enough, the next scene opened with a close-up of her back. Of her bloody, flesh-torn back.
How do I watch Lupita Nyong'o getting strapped with such barbarity and feel any emotion other than hate? Why should I use education to ferret out a message in all of that? Why should my intellect win over my raw emotion? How can I get to "I'm glad those days are over" when I am still angry that they existed in the first place?
No Confidence In Self
Part of the frustration in me is that 12 Years A Slave is as far as my history goes. That's what I've been taught. I am a descendant of slaves. Full stop. My lineage had no past prior to the plantation and the travesty perpetuated there.
I have the greatest respect for Mutabaruka for many reasons. He posits that, if you teach a child that we came here as slaves, you right away plant an inferiority complex within him. And I agree. You subconsciously are teaching that child that "you and your family started out as nothings, so anything above nothing that you become, you should be happy about".
Muta says, "There is no confidence in self in the classroom ... .' 'We came here as slaves' needs to evolve to 'We built the pyramids', 'we invented mathematics'."
I asked my little brother what he knew about black history, about his history, and his first word was 'slavery'. I asked him what about before then and he said "they don't really teach us about that". Who is THEY? We are our own teachers. We can't blame the white man for us not knowing because we set the curriculum and, today, we teach ourselves.
This week, I write my article ahead of Black History Month, in the hope that there is still time for change. That there is time for our children to be exposed to a history that they can be proud of. A history beyond the plantation and the whips and chains.
Sure, we've come a far way from slavery, but we've come an even farther way from King Tut and Nefertiti. This Black History Month, can we teach a history that reminds our children that, before they were niggers, they were kings and queens?
"If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence, you have won even before you have started."
- Marcus Garvey