Beyond the Book of Negroes

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Recently I watched an interview with actress Aunjanue Ellis, the star of The Book of Negroes Miniseries that aired on BET this past week. In the interview she spoke about having a realization I have been thinking on for years. “When people say they are tired of seeing stories about people who were enslaved, what they essentially are doing is saying their story does not matter. You’re saying this is the sum total of their lives. It’s a bigger story than that.”

As African Americans, we tend to get angry when we see each other depicted on TV and in movies as slaves, because we have been taught slavery is something that is shameful for us. In truth, this was the reality of most people of color who lived on this continent during that that time in history. Who are we to say their stories do not matter? Who are we to think the total sum of who they were could be confined to their circumstances and not look at who they were as people? If we do this we are condemning them, just as the slave masters did, to be invisible. They have stories worth telling and those stories are muti- dimensional. There should be no shame in being a slave, as many so called enlightened people may believe. Truth be told, the shame is the burden for those who did the enslaving to bear. Unfortunately, as blacks in America, we are still defined by the conditions of our fore fathers, so much so that often times, their accomplishments are disregarded. It is only through telling the stories of triumph and resilience that we make progress in changing this way of thinking.

I remember as a child watching Roots every year when it aired. To me it was something to look forward to; like watching The Wizard of Oz or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. My mom, on the other hand, always got angry and refused to watch it. Not understanding her angst, this confused me as a child, but I get it now. I still don’t agree, but I get it. Growing up in a different era, she was taught to think differently. Having former slaves as grandparents negatively impacted her view of the world. However, my way of thinking was different and I couldn’t wait to watch Roots, because it was a way for me to make a connection to my history. Being raised in the south in the 70s and 80s, you can imagine there were not many opportunities to talk with elders about the past. It was just not something you did. It wasn’t as if my great grandparents were sitting around the fireplace talking about slavery with nostalgia, recalling “Remember the time ole massa made us pick cotton till our fingers bled.” My sarcasm is rich here, but seriously,they would prefer to forget memories which are not pleasant, therefore children were taught not to ask questions, especially those questions that would be painful for anyone to answer.

With no one to go to with questions, I found curiosity manifests itself in strange ways, and so I turned to the one place I thought could quench mine; television. I chose this source of information because black history was not being taught in school at that time. Even what is being taught today is somewhat inaccurate. As an adult I have chosen to educate myself through reading a variety of books on historical subjects, but as a child it was almost impossible to do; there was no access. Learning about new events that took place during slavery should be a passion of the youth, but how will this happen if all those stories are never told? How will the world ever know about the heroes and heroines of the past if we chose to overlook hundreds of years of our history? Of course no one wants to watch the horrible beatings and the conditions, in which slaves were forced to live, but it was the reality of millions of people. It needs to be shown, otherwise, we run the risk of slavery being romanticized without people feeling its horrors. Every American needs to feel the pain of slavery to prevent this diabolical institution from legally rearing its ugly head again.

For those who say we don’t need another story about slavery, I say open your minds. The Book of Negroes is not a book about slavery, just as Roots is not. The Book of Negroes is a story about Aminata Diallo, an intelligent, multi-lingual woman who just happened to be a slave. It is a love story. A story of never ending hope. She did not allow the fact that she was forced to do someone else’s bidding prevent her from realizing her childhood dream of being a story teller. She accomplished so much more than her adolescent mind could ever have imagined, despite the fact she was enslaved. The same holds true about Roots. It is a story about survival and love of family; about passing on the customs and heritage of Kunta Kinte so his family can remember their origin. Being a slave was just their surroundings in each of these stories, but getting to know the person is so much more rewarding. The next time you see a movie or book that has a slave as the main character, I challenge you to get to know the person instead of their circumstance.

Friday Happy Dance – Ibeyi

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This week’s little ditty is from French/Cuban duo, Ibeyi, pronounced ee-bey-ee. The 19 year old twins hail from Cuba and have a rich heritage in music; their father being the famed Cuban percussionist, Anda Diaz. Their debut album dropped on Feb 17th and their vocals are insane. The song, River is one of my favorites, but it is not fast paced. Who said a “Happy Dance” had to be fast anyway? Enjoy:

The Pain of FGM

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Today is not just any old Friday; it is February 6th which means it is International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. People around the globe are speaking out against this outdated, barbaric practice forced upon young women in some African and Middle Eastern countries. Today, over 125 million women and girls are affected by this cruel custom.

If you’re not familiar with this practice, essentially it is a female circumcision that can be done in several ways. It is a gruesome act of removing the clitoris with a razor, sometimes removing the labia as well, or sewing the labia together leaving a small opening for menstruation. This is usually done around the age of 10, before the girl begins menstruating. Children die from loss of blood or infection.

Once the girl marries, this act proves to create more issues than just health. Most women, as you can imagine have issues making love to their husbands, and they definitely are not enjoying it. If they become pregnant, most have trouble delivering the child and must have surgery; there is also a very high death rate during birth. The old custom affects the females throughout her life and the cycle perpetuates from generation to generation.

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I first became aware of this practice in 1992 after reading Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, the sequel to her award winning novel The Color Purple. The story focuses on Tashi, the wife of Celie’s son Adam. Tashi chooses to have the procedure in her teens, because she is torn between her African culture and American culture. Eventually she must seek psychiatric help to deal with the trauma sustained by this mutilation. This story touched my heart, and the memory stayed with me when I met a young lady in person who was a victim of FGM. The lady was in her early 30s, and was still psychologically traumatized by her experience even after she had surgery to correct the procedure.

Below I am posting a video about this act. WARNING: This video contains a graphic scene of a young Ethiopian girl being mutilated. I would not suggest it for the faint at heart. Usually I would not post such shocking videos, however I am a firm believer that you must see it to believe it.

Now you see why we must insist on eradicating this monstrous custom from the world. I hope you will support the effort to break this generational curse. #ENDFGM

UPDATE: Since I first wrote this post, the graphic video has been removed from Youtube, so I decided to add a different video that is far less shocking. However, you will hear the accounts of several women who are victims of FGM. Please take a look:

Friday Happy Dance

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Today’s choice is International! Afro Panico is a group from Africa who does house music. I was unable to find any information on them in English so that’s all I know about them, except their music makes me want to dance! Can you do some of the moves in this video? If so I would love to see them…