Why I can’t watch Roots

The horrors, and the evil, of the Atlantic slave industry should NEVER be diminished or forgotten.

But how many times must we watch them played out on screen?

I sat down to watch the new remake of Roots on BBC iPlayer, and when it started to buffer an hour into the feature-length first episode, I turned it off with a gasp of relief.

I had finished watching the gleefully violent Taboo literally right before, but 60 minutes into Roots I felt sick.

I felt every strike of a whip or cane. Every cut of a blade. Every blow of a club, every bullet fired into black skin. Deep in my soul I felt it, and it was harrowing and upsetting.

It’s the same reason I didn’t make it past the first episode of the original, and why I haven’t seen 12 Years of a Slave. I just can’t put myself through it.

I may be out of line on this, but I feel blessed to have been born when I was, and I just don’t want to be made to relive the things my ancestors were subjected to for centuries.

There’s a reason people fight for marginalised groups to be represented fairly in media – movies, music and literature tell us who we are, and although I’m sure Roots would move into more uplifting territory if I gave it long enough, I struggle to get beyond the cacophany of “YOU ARE A SLAVE.”

I’m a young black man. I have a variety of interests that include rap music, French comics and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I want to be an investigative journalist. Generations of revolters, abolitionists, and civil rights activists fought so that I could be that free, so that my race wouldn’t feel like a burden, but the feeling starts to wash away after an hour of watching black people being kidnapped, stabbed, shot, beaten, whipped, raped, mutilated, and perhaps most painfully, subdued.

There are also more contemporary atrocities that deserve equal attention, and disgust. A few weeks ago, Paris police officers arrested a black youth worker, who had committed no crime, and raped him. This week Sky News published an investigation into the Congolese cobalt mines exploited by the smartphone industry, and their footage of an eight-year-old boy in the rain struggling to carry an enormous sack of poisonous dirt as men threatened to beat him nearly made me cry at my desk.

The bleak legacy of the slave trade lives with us. It’s my past. I prefer to focus on my future.


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