How to Watch “Roots” with Your White Partner without Punching Him in the Face


I remember when the first installment of Roots came out, and my parents demanding my brother and I watch. I remember seeing that classic scene, when Kunta Kinte was broken by a white foreman and forced to take the slave name, Toby. I remember being angry and confused, and thinking, “Wow! White people are mean!!!” Seeing that series had a definite impact on how I viewed white folks as a whole, and I remember talking to my father about it. He was born in Texas in 1921, and had seen the world rapidly change after fighting in the army in World War II, when the United States Army integrated it’s soldiers, through the Civil Rights marches, black people being hosed down in the streets and hung from trees, the JFK assassination and then the MLK killing. Yes; my father had seen much.


And for that, I expected him to be bitter. It surprised me that he wasn’t. My father was a simple man from the country. A share cropper’s son who only got an eighth grade education. But he was still one of the wisest men I have ever known, and set the tenor of how I would look at people from all walks of life, because he taught me the very valuable lesson, to keep my heart open to love and friendship, regardless of race. To my dad, everyone was a friend, and he greeted white, black, rich or poor people with the same enthusiasm He was quick to smile, wink and share a joke. And when my father died, the church was full of people of every race and background, there to pay my father respect. His loving heart, playfulness and love of everyone had made an impact in the world, and in some small way, he changed it for the better.


It’s not always going to be easy to watch shows that depict the cruel race-based legacy of slavery–there’s no doubt about that. It was a horrendous practice for all who facilitated it–including the African chieftains who traded human beings in exchange for shiny inanimate objects. White people didn’t have to go into African countries and steal people–they were handed over willingly. The true victims are the actual slaves themselves, sold out once by people who looked just like them, and then by the slavers who further dehumanized and commoditized them. Everyone involved from beginning to end has blood on their hands.

You might also be tempted into a simplistic belief that somehow, the man you’re dating has some loose link to slavers from 150 years ago, when in fact, a very small percentage of wealthy white men owned slaves. The rest of the population was just there for the jobs and the food.

Nonetheless, the psychic pain of slavery with American blacks should not be minimized. It’s difficult to look at people who look just like you suffer under a brutal system that robbed us of our humanity. Any suggestion that black folks should somehow forget about it and get over it is an absolute insult. No one is telling the Jews to forget the Holocaust, are they?

However, to hold the people responsible TODAY responsible for the crimes and inhumanity of people long dead is unfair. Imagine the offspring of a concentration camp surviver blaming the offspring of any German for Hitler and the Nazi fascist regime.  Today’s American white people do not owe black people a blood debt. This isn’t the Middle East we aren’t the Sunnis and the Shias.

But that doesn’t get today’s white people off the hook. If you engage and involve yourself with a woman or man of African American descent, then you’re going to have to be caring enough to listen to their concerns about racial inequality without allowing a misplaced sense of guilt cause you to be defensive or dismissive.

What it boils down to is that two of you aren’t having a relationship with an entire race. You’re in a relationship with each other, and the same rules of respect, empathy and kindness apply. Because the two of you are writing a new page, that 150 years from now, will be the history everyone remembers.

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