For someone who doesn’t like books about slavery, I have been reading a lot of them lately. Already in 2020, I have read 3 so far. I think I’m discovering a reason why books about slavery don’t really get me excited.
So, I’m reading Roots and it has been an emotional journey for me. Remember how I couldn’t get past the first few minutes of the Hulu TV series because I didn’t want to embrace hatred of white people in my heart? Well, I pushed through with the book. I think for me, throughout this process I have experienced three main emotions.
The first is being triggered by Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, like PTSD, but a form of historical trauma passed down from generation to generation. I first learned about this term from research I did for a class on trauma. I knew there had to be a theory out there to explain why the effects of slavery (which, in the grand scheme of things, was not that long ago) are still felt among black people (besides all the foundations of like almost ALL our institutions today).
I had the realization as I was reading that slavery books (and TV shows/movies) are triggering for me (I don’t use this word lightly and I hate when people use the word “triggered” to describe a feeling of just being upset at something. Don’t trivialize reliving trauma). Reading about the atrocities of slavery and reliving the moment activates a feeling deep inside of me, one that seems connected to my ancestors.
The second feeling is this tremendous sense of guilt. Have you heard of white guilt? I think I have that in terms of slavery as a black person. I feel guilty for things outside of my control that happened so long ago that I am having a hard time coming to terms that I benefitted from slavery.
Like, I feel like I have been privileged over the years that I don’t have the right to complain about struggle. I feel guilty because I don’t know what true suffering is. I feel guilty because after all the strife black people have gone through, building a country with their literal blood, sweat, and tears, I had the audacity to want to distance myself from blackness growing up.
The last feeling I had was an overwhelming sense of wanting to connect with African roots, but I also feel conflicted about that. Sometimes I feel like I was born in America and these customs have been what my family and I have been going by for generations. Who am I to claim a culture when I’m unsure of which one to claim?
At the same time, connecting back to Africa seems like a revolutionary act. I see why there was a huge movement in the 70s. And when I went to Ghana, I felt an instant connection like it was a homecoming. Plus, the people there claimed me and that felt fantastic. It’s one thing to claim something, but it’s another thing to be claimed.
My Adinkra symbol tattoo feels as if it has taken on a stronger meaning. I have the one that symbolizes “Love never loses its way home”, and I intended for it to represent my life changing trip to Ghana and moving to a new state for the first time. Now, I feel like it also connects me to my roots.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll get a DNA test (turns out I’m 100% that bitch). Just kidding. Them storing my DNA kinda freaks me out (the rare time when I get that the-feds-is-watching paranoia from my dad).