Dear People Tired of Slave Narratives

Dear People Tired of Slave Narratives,

*Side Note: Let me say that I am only addressing the opinions of Black Americans.*

I can appreciate your opinion. If you mean what I hope you do, I may even agree to a certain extent.

With the remaking of the 1977 classic, Roots, the question, “How long are we going to dwell on the past?” and the complaint, “I’m tired of slave narratives,” has returned. The same conversation emerged in previous years with the release of Django Unchained and 12 Years a Slave. Numerous Black Americans feel that we’ve heard and seen the slave narrative time and time again and it is time to heal and move forward. Still, stiff competition holds with the opposite opinion being similarly popular. That being, to stop retelling is to begin forgetting. I have thoughts regarding both sides. Before addressing my opinion on the issue at hand, it’s equally important to be patient in understanding both sides.

Today’s America tries to convince us that racism doesn’t exist. With the fight to eradicate Affirmative Action and the hushed sweep of gentrification pushing Blacks out with impossible rents in order to clear out the area for Whites, it seems that the systemic mess designed against us doesn’t count as racism. Wanting a fresh start, the country is on its way to both extinguishing and avoiding the creation of policies that would present evidence of White privilege and the need to protect Blacks from it. In light of this, it is no surprise that some feel that in America’s ignorance of today’s racism, slowly but surely yesterday’s racism, the kind our ancestors experienced, will be ignored into silence. Silence eventually finalizing forgetting. In consequence, this side of the argument pushes to keep the slave narrative alive, finding it necessary not only to remind the informed, but to share the stories of our enslaved ancestors with a new generation.

On the other hand, seemingly just as many Black Americans are much more focused on the present. They feel that the slave narrative and, specifically, its popularity, not only keeps us from healing past wounds, but from receiving recognition for roles outside of this narrative. This year is the second year in a row, but certainly not the second time in the Oscars’ history, with all white nominees. However, there are indeed times when movies with predominately Black casts receive endless accolades in Hollywood. Examples include Roots, The Help, 12 Years a Slave, and The Butler. Is the reason obvious? Well, these films feature blacks playing inferior roles; all focus on life for Blacks in America’s past. Interestingly enough, upon the release of these films, Blacks suddenly become the center of Hollywood for the time being and awards are finally given as if to say, “What a good job you do playing the roles that show just where you belong. Now, as long as you stay in this box and stay in your place, we’ll give you all the attention and awards you’d like. Don’t go astray now.” For this reason Blacks have relied on creating and keeping our own spaces for proper representation and recognition on all fronts. However, so much of our work deserves not just a BET Award but an Oscar. The argument is that as long as we replay and create new works based on the slave narrative, Hollywood will continue to honor us for no roles beside these.

I understand both sides. However, I don’t think that falling silent on our history will make America hear our cries any louder. If anything, I think Black films will become almost completely unacknowledged if we stop making films for ourselves. At the same time, there is definitely a need for MUCH more recognition in Hollywood. I don’t know the answer to receiving it but I wish I did. However, I do know that showing our stories time and time again is especially important to remember in this age of dangerous colorblindness. If others choose not to see our color, we must remember to see it, remind ourselves where we got this melanin and take pride in it. Retelling and remembering the beginning of our history outside of Home goes to recognize the African tradition of honoring the ancestors.

Blessed is this earth because my people lie beneath it

Blessed is the rain because it moistens their faces

Blessed is the wind because it brings their names back to us

-Matilda, Roots

May their names and stories always come back to me.

Sincerely, Ash.



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