Friday, January 8, 2016

Finding Your Roots: The Stories We Tell (S3 E1)

This is my favorite genealogy series because it is the one that really most closely examines American history with it's particular leaning to the history of African-Americans.

However, I am kind of over the experience of white people discovering their black ancestors and African-Americans discovering their white ancestors. "The intermingling of the races" - Dude, their is one race; the human race. Our skin comes in different shades and tints of brown. Raise your hand if you don't get this yet so I can come yell at you directly.

This is not to say that skin color is not deeply entangled in the American experience, oh it is! But just because I have some degree of great-grandparent who was labeled a different race than my own did not make me inherit their experiences; perhaps it develops in me a different respect or admiration for the life experience they endured but I am not a different color and I will be judged by the color I appear to be.  

African-Americans are not the only group of people to experience discrimination in American history and so I am deeply looking forward to the next episode of this series subtitled, The Irish Factor. Not that Finding Your Roots hasn't addressed the discrimination toward immigrants before, it has.

I'm not shocked that actor Ty Burrell's 4th great grandmother was a black slave or that artist, Kara Walker, who's artwork closely examines slavery and the African-American experience, has a white direct ancestor. Shocked is such a strong word. 

Rather, I love (another strong word) Burrell's amazement at the researchers' ability to find documentation and images of this woman he had only heard about and the admiration he expressed for his female ancestors. You could see his struggle to accept the fact that she had been the victim of a rape by her slave owner who he too was descended from. 

I loved Walker's furrowed brow and pursed lips as she shook her head during the reveal that her 2nd great grandfather was a white male stepping out on his wife to father a child with her black 2nd great grandmother; that white man evidently supported his biracial illegitimate son's career. But I also ached with her as she obviously grappled with what she already kind of knew, that her surname was that of the white man who owned her black ancestors.

One of my favorite moments though was when Gates revealed one of the sources used in researching Ty Burrell's ancestry was a family history called, Saga of the Mask Plantation North Carolina: Slaves Journey  to Oregon. Write down what you know of your family history, people! It will help future generations even if your facts aren't absolutely correct.

You are the culmination of your ancestors hopes, dreams, efforts, and life forces. You are not them. Some of them were good people of noble character and some of them, I assure you, were not. I promise you all of them were imperfect humans, except for my Jacob Raynor. I still think he might have been an alien.

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